The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
Photograph by ©Istockphoto.com/coleong
A Lot of Government
While total employment — public and private — in Maine declined from 605,960 in 2003 to 602,196 in 2008, the number of government employees — federal, state, and local — grew by nearly 1,000. And though Governor John Baldacci may claim otherwise, the number of state employees grew by more than three
hundred for the same period.
The number of state employees climbed from 24,269 in 2003 to 24,582 in 2008, and the average weekly wage of those workers grew from $694 to $816, according to Maine’s Department of Labor statistics.
Over the same period, the state’s federal government work force increased from 14,075 to 14,561, and the weekly wage of those employees grew from $1,003 to $1,221. Those wage levels stand in sharp contrast to the average weekly wage of all workers, public and private, which climbed from $569 in 2003 to $696 in 2008.
Only in the case of local government employees, who numbered 60,700 in 2003 and 60,883 in 2008, are the average wage levels — up from $536 in 2003 to $636 in 2008 — below the averages for all employees in the state.
In Hancock County, the number of government employees declined by 125 over the five-year period, with state workers decreasing from 598 to 458 and federal workers down from 355 to 347. The number of local government employees grew slightly, from 2,383 to 2,406.
The wage contrasts are less dramatic in Hancock County. For all employees in the county, average weekly wages climbed from $504 in 2003 to $627 in 2008. In the same period, the average wage for state employees climbed from $565 to $647 and the average federal worker’s wage here grew from $650 to $757. Again, local government wages were below the overall average, increasing from $478 in 2003 to $564 in 2008.
Figures for 2009 are not yet available from the Department of Labor, and the effects of the severe recession likely will have an impact on the more recent numbers, especially for workers in the private sector. Maine had a population of 1,316,207 in 2008, according to U.S. Bureau of Census estimates, and a total of 108,334 workers on the various government payrolls. With one worker for every twelve Maine residents, that’s a lot of government.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Calming Wild Waters
Imagine a world in which convenience store owners, under cover of darkness, take hacksaws to the hoses on their competitors’ gas pumps. Or where restaurant owners unplug their competitors’ freezers and refrigerators, spoiling their food. Or where a newspaper company smashes or steals thousands of its competitor’s delivery boxes. In any of the scenarios, would law enforcement and the public respond with a “well, that’s par for the course” shrug?
Of course not.
The public would be outraged at such intimidation, such lawlessness, such costly destruction. Yet in the lobster business, there is a “ho-hum” response to incidents where one fisherman cuts the lines to fifty, one hundred, or more traps. The victim who loses one hundred traps has to spend well over five thousand dollars to replace the gear. It’s easy to see why some turned to violence on Matinicus Island last summer.
Lobstermen see themselves, and are understood by the public, as rugged individualists, answering to no one, making their own rules. This image must change. They are business owners, often with $250,000 invested in their boats. Cutting competitors’ traps must not be tolerated by the public, by law enforcement, and, most importantly, by the industry itself.
Raising the penalty for those convicted of trap molestation, the charge that comes with cutting traps, would seem to be a logical step.
Not so fast, says Lieutenant Alan Talbot of the Maine Marine Patrol, who oversees the region from the St. George River to the Canadian border, including Matinicus Island. A couple of years ago, trap molestation was reduced from a criminal offense to a civil offense, primarily to make it easier to get convictions. In a civil case, the burden of proof is lower. Yet Lieutenant Talbot notes that twice in the last year juries acquitted cases in which marine patrol officers witnessed men cutting trap lines. He believes jurors were reluctant to convict, knowing the defendant would lose his license for three years.
Marine patrol officers are frustrated. “We can’t hide behind a tree,” Lieutenant Talbot says, and getting an officer onto an island without every fisherman within five miles knowing it is also difficult. Most trap cutting occurs during the day, he says, usually under cover of fog. Officers can go undercover, posing as recreational boaters, but, still, it is difficult to catch them in the act.
The industry pushed for stiffer fines for having short, oversized or V-notch lobsters, so fishermen are not outlaws by nature. The key to breaking the cycle may be to end the belief that fishermen have the right to defend their waters. “It’s so ingrained,” Lieutenant Talbot says, that cutting traps is an appropriate response to a newcomer putting his traps where another man has fished for years.
“It’s not their water,” he says. “It’s not their resource.” If leaders within each management zone step up and educate younger fishermen, the vandalism could end.
“It’s a great way to make a living,” Lieutenant Talbot says of lobstering. “Forget what the other guy is catching, just concentrate on what you’re doing,” he says. That’s good advice.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
The real competition for bringing commuters from outlying communities into Portland is not between buses and trains. It’s between those two modes of transit and the family car, the transportation mode choice that has shaped development patterns and land use for more than half a century.
When you ask how many people would leave their car at home in a subdivision in Yarmouth or Brunswick every morning and hop on a train or a bus into Portland, the answer is: probably not many. A $1 million study paid for by the federal government predicts that a mass transit route between Bath and Portland could expect to start out with less than nine hundred daily commuters.
But history shows that current development patterns would not necessarily continue if people had other transportation options. We may not now have large groups of people who live in one spot and commute to another, but reliable public transportation has been shown to influence private choices about where to live, work, and build.
Later this year, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is scheduled to apply for more federal funds to start building a commuter transit service between Portland and Bath. The options include commuter rail and a tram-style bus service that would run on dedicated lanes on Interstate 295 and the Maine Turnpike.
According to the MDOT, the difference in start-up costs is significant — a projected $100 million to build the train as opposed to as little as $19 million to start a bus line. But other factors should be weighed.
Most importantly, what kind of transportation choice would best spur development and private investment? In addition to businesses that cater to commuters, which choice would encourage the kinds of housing and commercial development decisions that would change development patterns and decrease reliance on cars, foreign oil, and suburban sprawl?
Investments already made in Maine tell us that the train is the better option. A $100 million redevelopment of unused mills at Saco Island was inspired in part by its ready access to a train station for the Amtrak Downeaster. Although Portland-to-Boston bus service is excellent, there is no comparable private investment that was driven by proximity to the bus route.
When making this choice, the MDOT should not be swayed only by the up-front costs of these two modes. It should also consider the long-term benefits that establishing a commuter rail service would provide.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
The Great Divide
Jeers to Representative Henry Joy for putting forth legislation to literally divide Maine in two. Joy, who lives in Crystal — in Aroostook County — is advocating for the people of northern Maine to be able to decide “their own destiny,” according to the House Republican Office. The northern Mainers are tired, he argues, of being used as pawns in the game to establish the much-resisted, ten-million-acre Maine North Woods.
He is worried, and rightfully so, that establishing a federal reserve could push people off their private lands and create a gigantic, tax-exempt, business-absent, human-free swath. It might, and that’s a real problem. But the answer isn’t cutting Maine in two.
If Joy is convinced that the environmental movement to establish the North Woods National Park would be disastrous to the people and economy of northern Maine, he can take that argument — and it’s a good one — to the feds with the same vigor as Keeping Maine’s Forests has shown in making its proposal to establish the park.
Enough evidence that destroying the economy in northern Maine would put a greater burden on southern Maine might actually bring the two Maines together in shared purpose.
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICK
Maine Yankee Redux?
A year ago, President Obama pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada, a massively expensive project on which roughly $14 billion has been spent and billions more were projected as being needed to complete the job.
Essentially, in curtailing funding for the project, the president acknowledged we’re starting from scratch in the search for a proper containment “strategy” that will keep our country’s highly radioactive waste safely stored for ten thousand years or more. Never mind that it’s been a good sixty years that we’ve been searching for that answer — or that the Yucca Mountain project itself had been lurching forward for thirty years, extending through five presidencies, without achieving either scientific or political consensus that it was the right way to go.
So, a year later and counting, we’re still left with the as-yet-unanswered question, “If not Yucca, then where?”
That’s always been the problem with nuclear power: No one wants seventy thousand metric tons or more of waste that will be radioactive for at least ten thousand years in their backyard. That’s a NIMBY issue that deserves an exclamation mark after the acronym. This much we know for certain: It will be an immensely costly problem to solve.An eighty-four-page Government Accountability Office report, “Nuclear Waste Management: Key Attributes, Challenges, and Cost for the Yucca Mountain Repository and Two Potential Alternatives,” released in November 2009, projects hundred-year costs ranging from $13 billion to $34 billion.
Why, then, are we embarking on a nuclear industry renaissance . . . with the Department of Energy proposing $36 billion in new federal loan guarantees on top of $18.5 billion already budgeted?
Let’s be clear: What those federal loan guarantees amount to is a taxpayer-funded revival of an industry that private investors have been unwilling to touch in the United States for thirty years. Absent a waste-storage plan that solves the so-far insurmountable political, scientific, and cost problems, we should not be spending one cent of taxpayers’ money to guarantee construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants.
We’ve been kicking the can of what to do with high-level nuclear waste down the road for sixty years now. More than seventy thousand metric tons are now being stored at eighty sites in thirty-five states — including the site of the dismantled Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset. That’s expected to double by 2055.
Instead of bailing out the nuclear industry with a new round of federally guaranteed loans, we should stop putting good money after bad. After all, we’re still on the hook to clean up the radioactive waste we’ve already made.