The Maine Viewpoint
Sun Journal, Lewiston
The Saudi Arabia of Wind
Former Governor Angus King is not blowing smoke about wind power. His appeal for a "wind ranch" in the Gulf of Maine becomes more and more appealing with every passing day of rising energy costs.
During a recent speech at Bowdoin College, King said the Gulf of Maine could be a "Saudi Arabia of wind" for its potential for power generation. He called for a Manhattan Project effort to develop a fifteen-billion-dollar network of offshore turbines.
Energy demands will require that type of big thinking. Crippling oil prices, driven by speculation and escalating overseas demand, are here to stay. Maine's electricity supply and costs are helpless against the demands of southern grid neighbors.
If Maine were to seize such a massive offshore project and become an emirate of wind power energy, it could become as stable and affluent as other resource-exporting states around the nation, like Wyoming and Alaska. The environmental and economic gains from such a historic project would also be well worth the investment. Especially if Angus King's Stephen King-like projections of Maine possibly becoming an uninhabitable wasteland due to high oil costs comes to pass.
But, as Angus King knows too well, proclaiming Maine's potential for energy production through wind is easy to say and near-impossible to achieve. Unless a project is sited in an out-of-the-way, unvisited, unremarkable corner of the state, potential for wind power has gone unrealized. Environmentalists bitterly disagree on projects, as do neighboring towns.
King's own firm, Independence Wind LLC, only earned a split decision for its turbine projects in Byron and Roxbury. Yet the state has designated Maine's rural towns for expedited reviews of future wind power plans, in the interest of meeting lofty energy benchmarks. These forces are on an inevitable collision course. An offshore project would be a supernova.
Our society's energy challenges are just beginning, however. King is dead right in one important vein: we, as a race and culture, cannot expect this crisis to solve itself. We must act now. This starts by dreaming - and thinking big. In energy, nothing is out of the question.
Bangor Daily News
Governor John Baldacci's veto of Penobscot Nation plans to install slot machines on Indian Island has grabbed headlines, but tribal frustration with state officials goes way beyond gambling. The legislature's failure to make meaningful updates to the tribes' status and a massive cut to the commission that provides the only formal link between the state and the tribes fueled that frustration. But severing tribal ties with the state, as Penobscot leaders have proposed, won't help the situation and will actually move both the state and the tribe in the wrong direction.
In April Governor Baldacci vetoed a bill to allow the Penobscot Nation to install one hundred slot machines. The legislature failed to override the veto. Baldacci vetoed the measure because he believes all slot machine proposals should be voted on by the public. The tribes may dislike his stance, but he has been consistent.
Penobscot Nation Governor Kirk Francis responded by saying his tribe would sever relations with the state and may install the slot machines anyway. Both would be counterproductive. Francis also has positive ideas, such as a legislative committee or cabinet-level position to coordinate tribal issues, that merit further consideration.
After voters in 2003 rejected tribal plans to build a casino in southern Maine, the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe left the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC). It was more than a year before they returned to MITSC, which has since gained strength and had proposed a set of changes to the act that sets the framework for tribal and state interaction.
Those changes were the result of the Tribal-State Work Group, which was made up of lawmakers, representatives of the state's five tribes, gubernatorial representatives, and the chair of MITSC. The group examined the need for changes to the Maine Implementing Act, which resulted from the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act.
Among the recommended changes were requiring state agencies to consult with the tribes before changing state laws, regulations, and policies that affect the tribes; exempting the tribes from the state's freedom of information law; and requiring mediation by MITSC before taking a dispute to court.
The changes were mostly set aside by the legislature, which only enacted a recommendation that largely put the Maliseet Tribe in Aroostook County on the same footing as the state's other tribes. At the same time, lawmakers cut funding for MITSC by more than half. The tribes view the massive budget cut as a unilateral decision that the commission is not valuable, leading the tribes to also withhold funds.
Rebuilding the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission, with both money and good will, is necessary to move both the tribes and the state forward. While the state should not respond to threats from the tribes, $38,000 is a small amount to pay to stop a further deterioration of tribal-state relations.
Improvements in tribal-state relations have been painfully slow and not always straightforward. But what is needed now is not threats and walkouts but a renewed commitment to look for economic development beyond gambling and to reconsider changes in policy that will benefit the tribes and the state.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Tough Taxes to Swallow
This is hard to swallow. If lawmakers had held public hearings about raising taxes on beer, wine, soda, flavored water, and even health-insurance transactions in order to help pay for the Dirigo Health insurance program, they would have gotten a mouthful from Maine consumers tired of being taxed too much.
But they didn't.
Instead, the majority Democrats passed those tax increases late on a Tuesday night, with little to no public input. Governor John Baldacci signed the measure into law on the next afternoon.
Consumers - who will be hit with a fifty-four-cent per gallon tax on beer, sixty-five cents per gallon tax on wine, forty-two cents per gallon tax on soda, and a 1.8 percent tax on all claims paid by health insurance companies - didn't get a chance to make their views known.
The unfortunate vote came on a bill to bail out the financially shaky Dirigo program. That proposal originally relied on an increase in tobacco taxes, which raised the hackles of smokers, but few others. While that original bill, sponsored by Representative Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, would have passed the House, it ran into trouble in the closely divided Senate.
With Dirigo slated to run out of money by next February, supporters of the program were pretty much stuck. So they unearthed an old (and justifiably ignored) proposal to pay for Dirigo with liquor and soda taxes. Under cover of darkness, they passed it.
Along with the dramatically increased taxes on beer, wine, and soda, the legislation also allows the state to use $5 million in tobacco settlement money to prop up Dirigo and to borrow $3.6 million from the General Fund for its support.
Dirigo Health was a noble experiment meant to provide low-cost insurance for Maine's growing population of the uninsured. But the noble experiment has not met its promise: far fewer people than projected have signed up for Dirigo, and it is not, as yet, able to pay for itself.
And as all its problems became apparent, the program became a political football. Democrats defended the program - a signature initiative of Baldacci - and Republicans pounded on it as a failed experiment in socialized medicine.
If the Democrats wanted to hand Republicans a great issue going into the 2008 election, they've just done it. We can hear it now: "Paying more for your beer and wine and soda? Blame the tax-and-spend Democrats and vote for Republicans!"
There may very well have been strong arguments to be made about the need for sin taxes on liquor, flavored water, and soda in order to fund the expansion of low-cost health insurance in Maine. But sadly, those arguments were never made in a public forum. The public couldn't respond to the proposal. And the result was a last-minute tax increase foisted on Maine consumers.
In the old days, that was called "taxation without representation." We're waiting for someone to organize a mass dumping of beer, wine, flavored water, and soda into the Kennebec.
Letting the Sun Shine In
When projects such as the 3,300-acre development in Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro now on the drawing board come to light, developers consistently do everything they can to control when and how much the public should know about the proposals. But it's one thing for private entities to do whatever they can to keep the public at arm's length; it's quite another when public officials, however well-intentioned they may be, become involved in secret meetings.
That has been the case with state Senator Dennis Damon (D-Hancock County) and state Representative Ted Koffman (D-Bar Harbor) as well as other county officials, selectmen, and town managers. All of them have been involved in closed-door sessions with attorney Mike Saxl, who represents property owner Bruno Modena of Milan, Italy, and his Winter Harbor Holding Company.
Saxl has indicated that public meetings on the proposal likely will be held soon. But so far, specific details have been few and far between about the "eco-resort community" that would be located at the doorstep of the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park.
Members of public boards such as selectmen can avoid the open meeting requirements of Maine law by attending meetings such as those held by Saxl individually rather than in numbers large enough to constitute a quorum. But that doesn't mean they should.
Koffman's involvement in Saxl's secret meetings is especially troubling, having been revealed just days after he was honored by the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition for his "dedication to the cause of open government." Koffman and Damon have stated publicly that they are not advocates of the project, and both are honorable men. But whenever public officials meet behind closed doors with private special interests, it is cause for concern.
A 3,300-acre eco-resort community, one-third larger than Acadia National Park's Schoodic footprint, could irrevocably change the character of the Schoodic Peninsula, not necessarily in a positive way. Such an ambitious project has the potential to affect the lives of thousands of people. The sooner its plans are exposed to the sunshine, the better.
Bar Harbor Times
No Room for Hate
Maine, like any other state, has many difficult challenges that need solutions. We have children in our society who suffer from neglect or outright abuse. They live in dysfunctional homes that suffer from substance abuse, mental illness, or a combination of both. Many people in our communities lack health insurance. Many adults do not seek medical care when symptoms arise because they have no money to pay for the services. There are families struggling to pay for the basic necessities of life as fuel and food prices skyrocket.
Faced with all these problems, what priority has been set by the Christian Civic League of Maine, which one might think by its name would be dedicated to helping those in need? The league, as usual, is on one of its hateful tirades where it tries to force its bigoted view of the world upon the rest of us. This time, it wants to repeal civil rights for people based on their sexual orientation. This action is neither Christian-like nor very civic minded.
The civic league's numbers are not large, but they are vocal. When somebody dares to criticize them, a flood of self-righteous e-mails usually follows. Imagine if these citizens would devote their time and energy to our real problems. They could lobby their federal leaders to focus on the real issues rather than trying to spread hate and discontent. And spreading hate and discontent is exactly what will result from the league's announced plan to gather signatures to repeal the state law that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas based on a person's sexual orientation.
A person's sexual orientation is no one's business other than those individuals. Yet, the league wants to persecute a segment of our society simply based on their orientation.
We wish the league would find a better use of its time - one that could do more good for a society that is in need of help in so many other ways. Failing to do that, perhaps the league should change its name. Perhaps something like the House of Hatefulness or the Society of Homophobes. Those monikers certainly would more accurately reflect the type of people who are members of the league.
Biddeford Journal Tribune
Forcing the Issue on Sprawl
Thumbs up to the Conservation Commission in Biddeford for recognizing the issues with sprawl and forcing City Hall to take notice. As the fringes of the city continue to develop despite obvious signs of decline (Chili's closed after just a little more than two years of operation), the amount of undeveloped land will continue to shrink. With the potential for rampant residential growth on the table as well, city services could be stretched beyond their bounds, and the downtown will remain underdeveloped. Perhaps a moratorium is in order to force developers to consider already existing Main Street properties over additional box construction along the borders.