Maine officials aren’t sure what to make of Trump’s infrastructure plan yet

Good morning from Augusta, where the State House is pretty quiet this week in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.

So, we’ll look to one of President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest policy plans after an often unspecific campaign — injecting the mind-boggling sum of $1 trillion into infrastructure projects in the next 10 years.

It has only been vaguely outlined by Trump’s team, but the Republican aims to do this through a private financing scheme that gives a tax credit to those who would finance projects. They’re billing it rather hopefully as revenue-neutral, saying tax credits could be repaid through increased tax revenue on projects.

This idea is getting criticism from both the left and right: An architect of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan called it “a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors” in The Washington Post, while the libertarian Cato Institute it will likely finance “pointless projects” and won’t fix infrastructure problems.

The big rub here is that states can already borrow lots of money at low interest rates to find road, bridge and other transportation projects: Maine voters approved a $100 million bond for that purpose in November.

This is a complicated federal problem, with the Congressional Budget Office saying in 2014 that $157 billion in additional revenues would be needed to maintain the current level of transportation spending through 2024.

The federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993. Gov. Paul LePage has opposed raising it at the state level, but earlier this year, he publicly mulled ways to get electric and hybrid cars to contribute to road funding.

Matt Marks, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said he was happy that Trump is discussing the future of transportation funding, but more details are needed to evaluate his plan. He added that private financing may only be part of an overall fix, which likely has to include a gas tax increase.

“I like the idea of some private financing, but I think it’s really going to come down to a market where you can borrow at very low interest rates,” Marks said.

The LePage administration backed that bond and the governor has endorsed Trump. But his transportation commissioner, David Bernhardt, the head of a national group of commissioners, declined comment on Trump’s plan through a spokesman on Monday, saying he wants to learn more about it.

Maine’s congressional delegation also had a somewhat muted reaction, while stating support for infrastructure investment generally.

Spokespeople for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Sen. Angus King, an independent, saying in a joint statement they’re “encouraged that President-elect Trump identified rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure as one of his top priorities when he assumes office” and “they both look forward to reviewing the details of the President-elect’s proposal.”

“I can’t comment on something that doesn’t exist yet,” said Brendan Conley, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District. “However, the Congressman does support investment in infrastructure and believes that it is certainly needed in Maine.”

And U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, said she has “a lot of questions about the details, specifically on the impacts of private financing” and will “be looking closely at what exactly President-elect Trump presents to Congress.” — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was in South Portland on a book tour on Monday. Scores of fans went to see him at Books-A-Million on his junket to sell “Our Revolution.” The former presidential candidate and top national progressive voice especially after Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss gave a short stump speech urging progressives to not disengage from politics, saying, “When millions of people stand together, we will be successful.”
  • FiveThirtyEight called Collins the Republican senator most likely to defy Trump. The site created a “Trump support score” and found Collins most likely to vote against him among Republicans, citing her “not having much in common with him on the issues, never having endorsed him, and hailing from a blue state” — although Trump won the 2nd Congressional District, where Collins is from and still resides. She didn’t endorse Trump, but last week, she hailed Trump’s pick of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, as the nominee for attorney general.
  • Pingree hailed a federal form change as an improvement for victims of military sexual assault. The change to a national security clearance former was finalized by outgoing U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week, according to Pingree’s office. Before, the form had a question that asked if service members have recently consulted with doctors on mental health conditions, but people with combat-related conditions didn’t have to report it. However, that didn’t apply for victims of military sexual assault. In 2013, Clapper allowed them to answer “no” to the question, but the question now allows people who don’t think their condition impacts their judgment to say “no.” Pingree said the change would allow veterans worried about their job status to seek counseling.
  • Vice President Joe Biden praised Maine’s referendum to increase the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 in a video address this week. “It really matters because no one in America should be working 40 hours a week and still live in poverty,” the outgoing Democrat said of four successful referendum questions here and in other states. However, business groups are wary of the piece of the law that phases out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and are lobbying for the Maine Legislature to amend it next year.
  • Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap’s office is meeting with campaigns on both sides of the two referendum questions slated for a recount. After the 10 a.m. meeting, we may get a timeframe on the recounts on the two successful questions legalizing marijuana and approving a 3 percent tax on income over $200,000 to fund schools, said Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Queen City shuttle? A woman and her boyfriend “don’t want to be stuck in Bangor for the holiday,” so they want a ride to Portland “hoping to appeal to someone’s kindness and holiday fricken spirit.” (She also tried posting this in another section of Craigslist and got … explicit pictures. C’est la vie.)
  • This raccoon story is unverified: A man says he was running around Back Cove in Portland and he saw a woman on her hands and knees near a bush. A baby raccoon jumped out of her purse, she dove in the bush after it and the raccoon’s mother swatted her away. He calls it “kinda weird,” yet “also kinda hot.” This the only soundtrack I know of about a rogue raccoon. — Michael Shepherd

Programming note

We’re shutting down the Daily Brief for the rest of the week in honor of Thanksgiving. It’ll be back on Monday. Here’s your bonus soundtrack. As always, send tips or song requests to — Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.