Down East 2013 ©
Journal Tribune, Biddeford
Another president rides into the sunset.
President George W. Bush has again left Maine. In perhaps his last visit as a seated commander in chief to the family compound on Walkers Point, the president enjoyed some quality time with his father, President George H.W. Bush, fishing on the Atlantic, and some quiet time bicycling in West Kennebunk. And, though it is impossible to tell, he perhaps noted the diminished number of protesters clogging Ocean Avenue, not nearly the crowd he is used to from previous events, such as what happened when the famed Vladimir Putin visited last year.
Despite one’s political leanings, having two presidents live or visit one’s area or hometown is something special. For supporters, it is a chance to see one of the most powerful people in the free world up close and personal doing normal stuff, like fishing and eating lobster rolls. For opponents, it is a chance to get in the face of one of the most powerful people in the free world with the hopes that voices raised in opposition might make a difference. In the current president’s case, evidence has been to the contrary.
For those who derive a living from such visits, or those who must assist in controlling the events, having the president not be the president in the future might be a burden, and a blessing.
Dock Square in Kennebunkport was abuzz as thousands of people shopped, ate, and hoped for a sight of Bush, even just for a moment. Numerous businesses had “Welcome back to Kennebunkport” signs on their facades, and the license plates proved that it wasn’t just Mainers stuffing the village.
At the same time, law enforcement officials, such as Kennebunkport Police Chief Joe Bruni, had to be on their toes for days, keeping an eye on any potential threat to Walkers Point, or possible flare-up between Bush’s supporters and opponents. Security was at its height on this visit: A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was anchored off Walkers Point throughout the entire visit, something that normally isn’t as visible.
Having such a burden to deal with is unique to Kennebunkport; nowhere else in the nation do two presidents vacation together as here. Having such a situation is just one more way that locals can have a bit of a swagger about how great it is to live here.
Though, depending on which side one falls politically, it is good that it is coming to an end, and bad, at the same time.
A POWERFUL MISTAKE
We’ll say it one more time. The Maine legislature should get off its collective duff and repeal or revise legislation enacted more than a decade ago that “restructured” the state’s electricity industry. Since March 1, 2000, when the restructuring took effect, the cost of electricity purchased by residents of Down East Maine has more than doubled. Recently, medium- and large-sized businesses in the region learned the so-called standard-offer rates will be increasing by as much as 32 percent.
Higher prices for fuel — especially natural gas, used to generate 45 percent of the electricity in Maine — clearly have played a role in recent electricity rate increases. But it becomes more abundantly clear every day that restructuring has never delivered on the promise of lower electricity rates for Maine consumers. The higher and higher cost of electricity will continue to have a chilling effect on Maine’s business climate, diminishing the state’s ability to attract and retain corporate investment that creates jobs.
As we all know, restructuring proponents claimed that, by requiring Bangor Hydro-Electric Company and Central Maine Power to get out of the electricity generating business and become distributors only, Maine would reap the benefits as a flood of out-of-state generators competed for a share of the Maine market. That never happened. But the Maine utilities were forced to sell their hydroelectric dams and coal-fired generating stations, and the new rules helped force an early shutdown of the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset, which was licensed to operate through 2012.
Those circumstances cannot be reversed. But at the very least, the legislature should rescind or revise the original restructuring legislation and return to the state’s electricity distribution companies the right to purchase or construct, and own, generating facilities, should they opt to do so.
The state has forfeited much of its ability to chart its own future. In the past, Maine utilities demonstrated their ability to search out or create sources for low-cost electricity. The legislature should take the shackles off the current utilities and other potential generators who might want to invest in Maine’s future.
Bangor Daily News
TAX REFORM CHALLENGES
While it is welcome news that Governor John Baldacci wants to lower the state’s income taxes, many more details are needed before this becomes realistic. One of the biggest problems is that with the state already predicted to face a large shortfall in its next budget cycle, revenue reductions will only worsen the budget gap.
In the abstract, tax reductions and tax reform are great ideas. In reality, structuring a plan that eases the burden is difficult because limited state revenues mean that to reduce one tax others must be raised. Opposition to tax increases, even ones that pale in comparison to accompanying tax decreases, has doomed past efforts at reform.
Last year, the Taxation Committee put together a much-needed comprehensive reform of the state’s tax system. The cornerstone of the plan was a 25 percent reduction in the state’s income tax rate. Dropping the income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6 percent was projected to save middle-class filers about two hundred dollars a year. Small businesses would have saved nearly a hundred million dollars a year, improving the state’s chances of attracting new companies.
Because there was little appetite for cutting programs and services to make up for this future loss of revenue, the committee proposed broadening the state’s sales tax as well as increasing the state’s meal-lodging and real estate transfer taxes, while simplifying tax forms. Maine has one of the narrowest sales tax bases, hitting only two dozen of the more than 160 services taxed nationally.
This is where the plan, which was supported 11-3 by the Taxation Committee, fell apart. Each small tax increase had a constituency and together their voices drowned out the call for tax reform.
The governor has suggested that an income tax reduction could be offset by reductions in government spending through consolidation and efficiency. This is hard to believe, especially given the continuing opposition to school administration consolidation and the pared savings expected from streamlining jail and prison operations.
Faced with a budget shortfall expected to range from four hundred million to six hundred million dollars over the coming two years, reductions in programs and services will be required. Further cuts to support a tax cut will be difficult to sell. This leaves the governor in the same position he was in last summer: calling for tax relief without a workable plan to do it.
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
NO SCARBOROUGH SLOTS
It would be hard to name all the qualities that make Scarborough an attractive place for development. A partial list would include lots of open land with easy access to the Maine Turnpike and Route 1. You would also have to mention the town’s proximity to Portland and the Maine Mall area. Then there’s quality housing stock, good schools, and some of the state’s best beaches.
With all that going for a community, you wouldn’t think it would need a gimmick like legalized slot machines to spur commercial investment in a new village center.
And that’s because it doesn’t. The latest attempt to bring slots to the Scarborough Downs harness racing track is cloaked in a promise to build a town center lined with shops, offices, and possibly a community center or public safety building on donated land. The public improvements needed to bring water, sewer, and power lines to the property would be funded through a share of the take from a proposed slot-machine parlor at Scarborough Downs.
That sounds like a sweet deal for the town, but one that it is unlikely to take. Scarborough Downs would have slotmachines today if the people of Scarborough had thought it was a good idea five years ago, after Maine voters approved a law that permitted slot machines at race tracks.
Bangor voters did approve such a measure, and Hollywood Slots is seen by Bangor boosters as a bright spot in the city’s somewhat bleak economic picture. But a study has shown that most of its customers come from nearby, meaning every dollar they spend at Hollywood Slots, including the share that goes to its out-of-state operator, is money that won’t be spent at other local businesses.
Scarborough’s future is not bleak. It remains one of the best areas to build in the state and there would likely be many opportunities to develop the 235 acres of Scarborough Downs land proposed for the village center without introducing slot machines. It probably wouldn’t grow as quickly as a center fueled by gambling income, but all the other attributes that make the town attractive would still be in force.
Scarborough doesn’t need slot machines and all that go with them to develop a village center. The town’s natural attractions combined with good zoning will do it without the slots.