PORTLAND, Maine — Mainers look to have given their approval to two bond issues totaling nearly $15 million.
With 70 percent of precincts reporting, nearly 52 percent of voters on Tuesday were favoring Question 2, a $5 million bond package aimed at improving dental care. Of the total, $3.5 million will be awarded to a Maine university or college to assist in the creation of a teaching clinic, a major step toward the formation of Maine’s first dental school.
Question 3, which sought nearly $10 million to acquire conservation lands, was favored by nearly 60 percent of voters.
Half a million dollars will go to the Department of Conservation to preserve state parks and properties it manages. The remainder will be distributed by the Land for Maine’s Future board.
Question 2 asks whether the state should borrow $5 million to create a full-fledged dental school and upgrade community dental clinics. Proponents, such as Kneka Smith, associate dean of planning at the University of New England in Biddeford, say the money would create more dentists while increasing dental visits in Maine by some 60,000 a year. That number would be accomplished under the drills and suction tubes of dental students studying at the school and interning at upgraded dental clinics throughout Maine.
Frances Miliano of the Maine Dental Association said her organization supports Question 2 but views it as just the beginning of a solution to a complex and daunting problem.
“We don’t think that a dental school in the state of Maine is going to be the be-all, end-all that will end barriers to dental care in Maine,” said Miliano. “We do think it will be an important piece of the puzzle.”
Question 3 calls for borrowing $9.75 million for land conservation, working waterfront preservation and investments in state parks. Matched by $9.25 million in federal and other funds, that money would provide $6.5 million in state funds to the Land for Maine’s Future program, which has conserved more than 500,000 acres since 1987. The rest of the bond would provide $1.75 million to purchase “working waterfronts,” $1 million to protect farmland and $500,000 to preserve state parks. Those amounts would be matched nearly dollar-for-dollar by federal cash and other grant funding.
“It’s a great day for conservation in Maine. The continued funding of the Land for Maine’s Future program demonstrates that even in a down economy, Maine voters understand the importance of environmental conservation to sustain Maine’s resource-based industries. This fifth reauthorization of LMF will help secure a sustainable future for hikers, hunters, farmers and fishermen all across the state,” said Tom Abello of The Nature Conservancy. “Working forests, farms and waterfronts are being lost to development every day, and both the $9.75 million in LMF funds and the $20 million or more in federal and private matching funds that we can expect LMF grants to attract will ensure access to these resources for future generations.”
Since 1987, four out of five Land for Maine’s Future bonds have passed. A $5 million request failed in 1991, which Land for Maine’s Future Director Tim Glidden attributed to the fact that it was lumped into a larger bond question as opposed to standing on its own.
The total cost of the two bonds would be $18.4 million, of which $3.65 million would be interest.
Chris Cinquemani, spokesman for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said any borrowing by the state, especially in this economic environment, is unwise.
“Our debt burden just continues to grow and it’s putting the financial security of our kids and grandkids at risk,” said Cinquemani.
BDN writer Chris Cousins contributed to this report.