Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Road Not Yet Taken in the Maine Woods

Two roads are diverging in the Maine Woods. Let’s take the one that will make all the difference!

In the final days of June, two different pieces of legislation came before Maine lawmakers, and they put in stark relief our choices and our priorities. One path takes us in a circle right back to where we are now—without jobs, looking in the rear-view mirror for solutions. The other path leads us forward.

The first road was a legislative resolve that gives Maine Governor Paul LePage authority to accept on behalf of all tax payers a “gift” of the Dolby Landfill in East Millinocket – complete with $17 million of clean-up costs and unknown, unlimited future environmental liability. The billion dollar corporations and foreign investment firms that are gifting us their polluted landfill said if we don’t accept it, they will board up the two paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket where the unemployment rate is above 20% and sell off the equipment.

The second road was a resolution opposing the acceptance a different kind of gift. Thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, plus a $40 million endowment to create and maintain a national park in the Maine Woods, just up the street from Millinocket, East Millinocket and the Dolby Landfill. This gift comes complete with economic benefits of jobs, new residents and businesses, in addition to preserving a national treasure.

The two paths – one succumbing to corporate blackmail and clinging to the past, the other charging in to the future with a bold vision that embraces change and aspires to add value – highlight the conflict in America today about the role of government. One view is that government’s function is to serve the interests of corporations. The other view is that government works to protect the public interest and for the public good.

Shall we take the first road because we hope it brings us back to when American paper mills employed thousands of people who lived comfortably within the confines of a union-protected pay check, and when American patron landowners opened the gates to the forest for all to use? With rose-colored glasses shall we deny the realities of the unregulated global economy, and the availability of cheap labor overseas?

Or will we take the second road? The road to a magnificent national park and thriving gateway community. The path to jobs, community vitality and preservation of America's great forest. The road that will make all the difference for Maine people.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Death by a Thousand Tax Cuts

Why has the Governor of Maine ordered $100 million in cuts to state services? So he can finish what he started back in January.

Governor LePage and Grover Norquist don’t believe in government and they want to starve it of revenues by cutting taxes, and then telling everyone we are broke and have to cut spending.

Our Tea Party Governor began starving the beast when he proposed his draconian budget. There was no way to go but left for the Appropriations Committee, who took steps in that direction until Stockholm Syndrome set in.

The hypocrisy of now applauding the state budget that puts Maine in debt, while escalating the rhetoric about our national debt problem is nauseating.

It’s time to stop slapping each other on the back and start looking each other in the eye.

Yes, the budget just signed in to law by Governor LePage lowers income tax rates, lines up state deductions nicely with the feds, gives businesses big tax breaks and incentives, and increases the exemption for big estates by a million dollars.

This sounds really awesome! But there’s just one thing. IT IS NOT PAID FOR.

All these wonderful tax decreases and reforms create a $400 million hole in next year’s budget -- like that fabulous all-inclusive vacation to Cancun for the whole family! Put on a high-interest credit card.

Even the Chamber of Commerce is back-slapping and gushing about how wonderful the session was because businesses are getting tax breaks.

We haven’t got one fatherly lecture yet about living within our means. There’s been no angry rhetoric about personal responsibility. Why? Because the future $400 million hole provides the perfect excuse to further shrink government.

Get ready, though. The Governor’s order to cut $100 million in response to Congress’s “deal” about increasing the debt ceiling will be followed by many rants about the need to pay our bills, and run the state like a household. "Living within our means" when we create a big future deficit means cutting programs.

And how easy it will be to make these cuts with a republican majority in the legislature and a republican governor. There will be no need for a two-thirds vote. A simple majority will wipe out the social programs everyone thought were “saved” in the recent budget.

We will pay the $400 million bill created by tax cuts with all the social programs Governor Lepage set out to eliminate in the first place. School budgets will be cut, and public health programs slashed. “Welfare” will be further restricted to only married heterosexual pro-life women. Roads won’t get fixed. Investments won’t be made in technology, or research and development.

Public institutions will weaken, we will continue to decline as a society, but we will keep hearing how “broke” we are, and how we have to pay our bills.