Explainers and endorsements for the referenda

 What those questions mean
By  |  October 31, 2013

Voter’s choice for Question 1
This is a $14 million bond with two main purposes. The first $11 million would pay for maintenance, repairs, and improvements to 17 Maine National Guard buildings around the state. Some of these include replacing heating systems that are far less efficient than modern ones would be, but others involve more mundane (and essential) things like fixing broken windows, crumbling concrete, leaking roofs, and asbestos-bearing floor tiles. The second part would allocate $3 million to purchase “up to 6000 acres of land to be used for training purposes,” to augment training space available in Vermont and Massachusetts. All told, approving this question would make the state eligible for as much as $14 million in federal assistance over the next five years.

The number of Maine National Guard facilities may seem excessive to some; in fact the state has already sold five armories, and may indeed sell more in the future. But whether they remain in public hands for public purposes, or are transferred to private ownership, the public will likely still be on the hook for repairs. (Or, as in the case of the South Portland armory, the building will continue to crumble, even if it has some private use.) So we can spend the money now, when borrowing is cheap, or we can wait and pay more later.

As for training land, our military relies on the National Guard more now than ever in the past — witness the repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan of Maine’s Guard units. For them to increase their training without long trips out of state seems like a good idea. That said, it’s unclear (at best) how useful Maine’s wet forests will be for training people to handle desert warfare and urban combat — the two most common military scenarios these days.

This is a tough one to endorse either way: on the one hand, it’s a load of money to spend on ancient buildings and on land of questionable use. On the other, landmark structures (some with historic elements) would turn to dust, and our local servicemen and -women may go without useful training.

Yes on Question 2
The University of Maine System wants to upgrade its science labs and other classroom space, to the tune of $15.5 million. This would break down as follows: $5.5 million to the Orono campus to modernize space and equipment for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; $1.2 million to the Augusta and Bangor campuses for science and nursing labs; $1.2 million to UMaine-Farmington for improving science laboratories; $1.2 million to UMaine-Fort Kent for expanding the nursing lab and improving access to geographic information system technology, specifically as applied to forestry; $1.2 million to the Machias campus for fixing up the music and arts building, as well as upgrading science labs; $1.2 million to UMaine-Presque Isle to improve science labs; and $4 million to the University of Southern Maine to fix up labs for basic sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), Earth sciences (geoscience and environmental studies), and medical training (nursing and occupational therapy).

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