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Tuell: Sloppy administration of Janet Mills led to failure of bonds, GOP will “get it right” on rural broadband

Rep. Will Tuell (R – East Machias) on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives.

Hello, this is Representative Will Tuell of East Machias.

I am not usually critical, but last week’s special session has me shaking my head in disappointment.

Governor Mills herself stated: “I’m sorry it’s come to this. I’m kind of sorry I called them in.”

With proper planning and foresight, the Governor and her administration could have either seen this outcome as inevitable, or avoided it altogether.

After the Legislature passed an $8 billion dollar budget, Republicans held firm against borrowing another $163 million or even more.

Republicans are also concerned about the Governor’s repeated references to a looming recession and by rumors that she will present a multi-million dollar supplemental budget to us in January.

Rep. Will Tuell, September 6, 2019

We agreed to pass a bond to fix roads and bridges because it was an emergency and is matched by federal funding. For every dollar Maine spends, it is matched by anywhere from 2 to 9 federal dollars.

Republicans are also concerned about the Governor’s repeated references to a looming recession and by rumors that she will present a multi-million dollar supplemental budget to us in January.

The one item that people have asked about the most is broadband for rural areas.

Everyone agrees that it is of critical importance to Maine’s future.  

So, why didn’t Republicans vote for the broadband bond request during the special session instead of asking for it to be considered when the legislature reconvenes in January?

Before I answer that, some important things to keep in mind:

– Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham asked for the Administration’s broadband plan last January. She renewed her request throughout the session and again in the days leading up to the special session. Leader Dillingham was continually told that it was forthcoming but nothing was produced.  Finally, on the Friday before the special session, she was provided with some basic details.

– Legislative Republicans were never invited to participate in crafting the revised bond proposals. There was not any agreement prior to the special session that we would pass anything but the transportation bond which we repeatedly stated publicly, and

– Thirdly, competitive grants are not funding for rural broadband. They may pit one community or region against another, but they are not real dollars going into rural areas in need.

It stands to reason that if you ignore repeated requests for clarification, responsible people are going to approve of your proposal.

Especially when it is a non-emergency borrowing request made after passing an 11% budget increase.

To express disbelief and anger at the outcome of the session shows either arrogance or a lack of awareness that has the potential to hinder future legislation. 

Governor Mills has referred to the Republicans as the “Party of No.”  One editor reportedly referred to the Republican approach as “Not the party of No, but the Party of not now.”

We are, in fact, the party of “get it right.”  Rural broadband can be taken up responsibly in January without interrupting the timetable for approving and issuing bonds.

Rural broadband can be taken up responsibly in January without interrupting the timetable for approving and issuing bonds.

Rep. Will Tuell, September 6, 2019

Republicans want a responsible approach that truly targets rural, underserved communities. Just because a bill title includes the words “rural Maine,” doesn’t mean that it will, in fact, help rural Maine.

The administration’s plan was to take the bond money and offer it through competitive grants.  I don’t know where you live but down here in Washington County our towns don’t have grant writers, but towns in Cumberland and York do. 

So, rather than spending borrowed money to bring Cumberland and York counties from 99.8% and 99.5% coverage respectively (according to broadbandnow.com) to 100% coverage, we should be focused on rural communities that don’t have the advantage or luxury to staff grant writers. 

It is nothing but lip service to pass a bond for rural Maine, when structurally, it benefits the most populous counties in the state. 

If we want to bring broadband to rural communities, we should develop a work plan similar to the Department of Transportation that will identify the areas most in need and most ready for broadband expansion then begin using money to move through that list.

House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham and I are submitting broadband legislation for next session that will seek to develop this plan and ensure any funding will go to municipalities most in need and ready for expansion. 

The goal is not to reward towns with large bureaucracies and staff grant writers, but to serve rural Maine.     

The legislation will direct the Department of Economic and Community Development to rank the most underserved counties and identifying the municipalities within those counties most in need and most ready to accept expansion. 

The department would issue a work plan identifying which communities they are working in, why those communities were chosen and how the communities not receiving the investment can begin to move up the list.

I am confident this approach will better serve rural Maine in achieving the common goal of expanded broadband.

Taxpayer resources are limited. They are even more limited after a session of one-party rule.

Republican majorities worked hard to set priorities, help create a strong economy, practice fiscal restraint, maintain modest debt, and create a budget surplus.

We returned millions of dollars to taxpayers and reduced the size of government.

In this era where Democrats are systematically undoing these accomplishments, Republicans will continue to fight for responsible policies that benefit all Maine. 

This has been Representative Will Tuell with the Republican Radio Address.

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