The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
JOURNAL TRIBUNE, BIDDEFORD
Putting the Saco to Work
City officials laid out an appealing vision for Biddeford’s future in April, proposing to eventually bring a dynamic but hidden section of the Saco River back into public view.
The river’s rapids and falls can be glimpsed from upper story windows and the back lot of Maine Energy Recovery Co., but the mills that once tapped the power of the Saco River have kept this stretch walled-off for more than 150 years.
Now the plan is to begin to restore it to public view by designing and building a public walkway, a RiverWalk that would enable the public to follow the Saco’s course behind the former Pepperell and North Dam mills. In the future, the hope is to eventually collaborate on a footbridge across the river, linking to Saco’s pathways and the growing Eastern Trail.
For everyone who is exhilarated by rapids, eddies, and falls, this is welcome news. The completion of such a path may still be a long way off, but there was enthusiasm at a May meeting over the prospect of gaining access to this private outlook.
For those with a more practical turn of mind, City Planner Greg Tansley spelled out the potential value to the city. “This will be an element for economic development and put Biddeford on the map,” he said.
He and others pursuing this effort deserve credit for this insight. With river walks in both Biddeford and Saco, the downtown districts will have an attractive drawing card.
Restoring this kind of access to Cataract Falls will not be easy, quick, or inexpensive. As an indication, the city is devoting $110,000 from an initial $500,000 grant toward project design and permits. The plan also calls for a long-overdue reconfiguration of the intersection of Water and Main streets.
We hope potential resistance to paying for parks and amenities is softened by the idea that this is intended as a sound investment. The area needs a focal point, and what better candidate than the Saco River.
One of the benefits of planning is that it encourages private investment to follow the lead of public spending. Successful redevelopment of downtown Biddeford will take substantial public and private investment, based on a sound and ambitious plan.
This RiverWalk concept provides such a plan.
THE ELLSWORTH AMERICAN
This Is “Affordable”?
Over and over in the past decade, we have heard politicians and members of the public talking about the need for affordable housing in Maine. Few doubt it is a major problem.
That is why it is so distressing that the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code Board is considering a proposal to require that all new private residences in the state be built with sprinkler systems.
Officials estimate it would raise the cost of a home by “only” eight thousand dollars, or so. “Only” eight thousand dollars? For many first-time buyers, that’s not merely an additional cost; it’s half their down payment.
The board also fails to recognize that homeowners likely will not have the skills to conduct routine service on the system themselves. The resulting expensive annual maintenance contracts will raise the cost of home ownership even further. And what of homes with wells or water supplies that lack sufficient production capacity for a sprinkler system?
In past years, incredible progress has been made in protecting life and property by requiring smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in all residences. All new homes also must have arc-fault circuit breakers for bedrooms to reduce the likelihood of an electrical fire. Those are relatively inexpensive devices that provide big payoffs.
The added requirement for sprinkler systems will surely benefit contractors and maintenance firms that will have to be hired to install and care for them. It also will create additional government bureaucracy, adding still more cost in fees for the inevitable permits and inspections.
Maine already has a fire death rate well below the national average. Last year there were just fourteen fatalities. Two of those were homicides. By comparison, there were a total of twenty-four murders and 158 traffic deaths.
Nationally, some 40 percent of residential fires, and about 60 percent of fatalities in homes, occur in structures that have no smoke alarms or in which the alarms were inoperative. Why not place increased emphasis on pubic awareness and encourage insurance companies to offer discounts to suitably protected property owners? That would be a carrot instead of a stick.
Some call mandatory sprinklers “the next generation of home safety.” We regard such a requirement as further government intrusion into private life, an unjustifiable expense and a solution in search of a problem.
If overzealous bureaucrats in Augusta and representatives of the construction industry really care about affordable housing in Maine, they will quickly extinguish the mandatory sprinkler idea.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Time To End Offensive Mascot Names
Maine began walking down the path toward ethnic sensitivity by banning the use of the word “squaw” in place names nearly a decade ago. Now the time has come for Maine to continue this trek and nudge schools away from using sports mascots that natives find offensive. Rather than debate whether the Indian names are chosen to honor or denigrate, schools must take Maine tribes at their word when they say the use of words such as Redskins and Braves are inappropriate.
There is good news on this matter. Many schools in Maine already have replaced the names inspired by Native Americans. Nine years ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended that schools eliminate Indian mascots or nicknames (except schools operated by tribes).
“They are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country,” the commission wrote. “The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a racially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students.”
The commission argued that such nicknames “teach all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society. Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.”
And five years ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned from post-season championship competition colleges and universities using Indian mascots. Some schools have been granted waivers because local tribes have given them permission to use such mascots and logos.
Ed Rice, organizer of a May forum on the question, “Respectful or Disgraceful? Examining Maine School Use of Indian Nicknames and Mascots,” notes that some Maine schools have changed the names of their sports teams, including Old Town High School, from Indians to Coyotes; Scarborough High School, from Redskins to Red Tide; and Husson University, from Braves to Eagles. Nationally, institutions such as St. John’s University switched from Redmen to Red Storm; Dartmouth College, from Braves to the Big Green; and Miami University of Ohio, from Redskins to Redhawks.
But nine schools in Maine remain holdouts. Three are elementary schools: Athens Elementary School, Apaches; Strong Elementary School, Indians; and Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School of Perry, an Indian school on the Passamaquoddy Reservation at Sipayik, Indians. Six high schools include: Nokomis Regional High School of Newport, Warriors; Sanford High School, Redskins; Skowhegan High School, Indians; Southern Aroostook High School of Island Falls, Warriors; Wells High School, Warriors; and Wiscasset High School, Redskins.
The time has come for these schools to respond and rename. Contests for choosing the new name, color schemes, and logo designs all could involve students and inject some creativity and fun into the school year. As long as Maine’s tribes are offended, and the remedy is relatively easy, there is no other choice.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Tax Online Retailers
More states have finally taken up a cause we have recommended for years — applying sales tax to online purchases. In preparation for next year’s legislative session, Maine should be laying the groundwork now to join that cause.
Colorado, North Carolina, and other states — all hard-hit by the recession of 2008-09 — have passed laws attempting to collect the online sales tax to which they are legally entitled.
That’s right, legally entitled.
While some shoppers dutifully record, report, and pay sales tax on their online purchases, no one knows how many others either don’t know of the requirement or simply choose not to pay. Other shoppers, meanwhile, may think a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling relieved them of that obligation.
Not so. In fact, the court ruled that states could not force retailers to collect taxes unless those retailers have a physical presence in the state. Residents still owe it, the courts said. States just can’t force retailers to collect it.
“The court’s reasoning was simple,” according to Stateline.org, a Web site devoted to state government. “There are just too many states, counties, and cities using too many different tax rates and rules to expect retailers to keep track of it all.”
That may have presented a challenge in 1992. But, today, when retailers can track and collect the shopping preferences and demographics of millions of Americans, correlating addresses and sales tax rates for customers should be a breeze.
In reality, retailers like Amazon just don’t want to give up the competitive advantage they now enjoy over local retailers. Which makes this an issue of fairness. It is simply wrong to penalize the person who owns and operates a local shop, who hires local workers and pays local taxes, to give a tax break to some warehouse operation in a different state.
So far, the states trying to apply what’s becoming known as the “Amazon tax” have adopted one of several strategies, according to Stateline.org.
The North Carolina revenue department has asked Amazon to turn over the names, addresses, and purchase records of its customers so it can be sure they are paying sales tax. Colorado, meanwhile, passed a law requiring “e-tailers” to notify customers annually of their purchase totals and remind them of their tax obligation. New York, on the other hand, has argued that Amazon has a physical presence in the state because of its “affiliates” program, in which Amazon pays people across the U.S. to sell its goods on their sites.
Stateline.org estimates fifteen other states are weighing laws of their own.
With more retail sales shifting to the Web, this problem is rapidly becoming too big for states — including Maine — to ignore.
And Maine’s budget problems are not going away. The 2011 legislature is very likely to again face a multi-million structural deficit, meaning more cuts for local governments and schools. Before they are forced to make cuts, state officials have a responsibility to seek revenue that is already owed to the state. That means going after online sales-tax revenue now.