The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across Maine.
KENNEBEC JOURNAL, AUGUSTA
Alfond's Birthday Wish
Now, that's some birthday present. Five hundred bucks just for being born.
The late Harold Alfond's dream of helping every child in Maine pay for college has become a reality. At a gathering in December at the University of Maine at Augusta, [Greg Powell, of the Harold Alfond Foundation (right)] Alfond family members and various other friends, business associates of the Dexter Shoe company founder, and Governor John Baldacci gathered to announce the "Harold Alfond College Challenge." The challenge will award a five-hundred-dollar grant to a special college savings account set up for every child born in Maine; the pilot program begins with children born next year in MaineGeneral facilities in Augusta and Waterville and expands statewide in 2009.
Like most Alfond grants, it's got golden strings. The money's available only if that special college savings account is set up for the newborn child - thus priming the pump for college savings. It's a classic Harold Alfond move; the philanthropist's legendary generosity was nearly always contingent on the recipient meeting a challenge in order to get the money. In this case, the grant will grow to two thousand dollars in 2026 without any other contributions, but if fifty dollars per month is put in the savings account, the value will increase to twenty-five thousand dollars by 2026.
Paying for college is a daunting proposition. The College Board reported recently that tuition and fees at private and public colleges and universities are rising at double the rate of inflation - the rate is rising faster at public institutions than at private ones, a reflection of diminishing government financial support to those institutions.
The Alfond grants will help students afford a college education almost two decades from now. But while there's a movement among private colleges to offer grants rather than loans to students, unless the trend is reversed and support for public institutions is increased, the typical public college or university student is still going to face a huge bill for their post-secondary education that the Alfond money will barely dent.
Its value, in the end, is both tangible and symbolic. In a state where only 25 percent of high-school graduates get a college diploma, Harold Alfond's gift could very well make the difference for some families between crushing college debt and manageable college debt. But beyond that, the gift is a vote of confidence in Maine's children - that they both deserve and will vindicate Alfond's faith in them, their abilities, and their dreams.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
Rough Road for Bridges
As if they needed it, lawmakers received word recently of another item that should go to the top of their priority list. A panel of fifteen engineers assembled after the Interstate 35W collapse in Minnesota this past summer recommended that Maine boost its maintenance budget by up to sixty million dollars a year to repair and replace bridges.
A safe transportation system is one of state government's basic responsibilities, and avoiding this kind of investment would be at least short-sighted, if not, in the case of a catastrophic bridge collapse, negligent.
But in the current atmosphere in Augusta, what are the chances that a commitment of this scale will be achieved?
Unfortunately, this will likely be another item on the list of problems that look too big to address right now.
The old system for funding transportation projects is crumbling, and even without the report on the state's bridges, lawmakers know they face a long-term deficit for road construction and maintenance. The state is also sitting on a multi-billion-dollar unfunded liability in the system that pays pensions and health insurance for retirees, at a time when a large segment of state employees are headed toward retirement. As with the road system, Maine is on a collision course with a problem that will only get harder to fix with time.
Some tough choices are required. Either the government has to reduce the services it provides to make funds available for long- term investments, or taxes have to go up to meet the demands. But no one in a leadership position has yet made a convincing case for either option, and there is no sign that a majority of the public would support them if they did.
Because of Maine's high tax burden, raising broad-based taxes enough to make a dent in these long-term needs is a political non-starter. With 80 percent of the state budget committed to education and human services, so are deep program cuts. Even modest proposals designed to make government more efficient, such as consolidating school administration or putting all correctional facilities under the same management, meet with vigorous resistance from local-control advocates.
So, government moves from crisis to crisis, leaving the underlying problems for some time in the future.
Let's hope that when the bill comes due, it's not in the form of a collapsed bridge.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
A Shared Vision for the North Woods
Some believe environmentalists want to turn Maine's North Woods into a vast tree museum, suitable only for Thoreau-like contemplation. Others think hunters, snowmobilers, and ATV enthusiasts see the North Woods as something like an amusement park and don't understand the fragility of the natural world. Neither statement is close to being true. But until the various groups who are passionate about the largely undeveloped parcels in the Katahdin region sit down, face to face, to discuss their different visions, the stereotypes will be perpetuated.
The latest deal involving the North Woods did just that. The deal, struck by preservationist Roxanne Quimby and the state, allows recreational access to 11,500 acres while preserving 8,900 acres of wilderness land. The deal, and the way it came together, suggests a broadening vision for the region, balancing recreation and preservation.
Ms. Quimby's commitment to protecting the land around Baxter State Park through her philanthropic purchases is often viewed with suspicion by the recreational users of the North Woods. She is unapologetic about her desire to see a North Woods National Park established, or to at least create a de facto version of such a park through her purchases. That vision has hunters, snowmobilers, and other recreational users of the region believing they will not be welcome if such a park is created.
Despite the anti-Quimby sentiment in the region, it's likely the grand-children of today's hunters and snowmobilers will be grateful for Ms. Quimby's efforts. And it appears that Ms. Quimby's view of recreational users of the land has evolved, so that she sees them as valued stewards, who appreciate the wonders of the woods as much as she does.
Development proposals such as Plum Creek Timber Company's plan for the Moosehead region suggest how quickly the traditional character of the North Woods could change. But there is still room enough for recreation and preservation. The key is allowing recreation on suitable parcels, while preserving and protecting those that are not suitable. The latest deal does this.
This more sophisticated analysis of large parcels of undeveloped woodland is hard work, but it is the only clear path to take as Maine continues to see unprecedented change of forest ownership. Such an approach will ensure the North Woods provides fiber for paper mills; the tourism draw for hunters, snowmobilers, and ATV users; and the transcendent beauty that spurred visionaries like Percival Baxter to action.
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM, PORTLAND
Anti-Smoking Money Well Spent
With all the attention given to how Maine ranks with regard to taxes, it's easy to forget that some of that public spending has done some good. Certainly, Maine could use its public resources more wisely. Its inefficient network of small municipal governments, its many school districts, and redundancies among state agencies all contribute to wasteful spending.
But not every state program is a waste of money. Among the best examples of government spending getting positive results are the state's various efforts to combat tobacco use among its citizens. For the sixth year in a row, Maine ranks Number 1 in funding programs to protect children from tobacco, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maine is just one of three states spending as much or more than the CDC recommends on curbing youth smoking. Maine is getting results, too. It spends $16.9 million a year on smoking prevention among kids and has a 16.2 percent smoking rate among high-school students. Compare that to New Hampshire, which spends only $1.3 million annually on youth smoking and has a smoking rate among high-school students of 20.5 percent. Roughly one-third of smokers die from the habit. Along the way, they rack up heavy health-care costs.
Maine needs to do more to cut government spending and reduce its tax burden, and in that sense, New Hampshire serves as a model. But when it comes to youth smoking, the lesson runs in the other direction.