Down East 2013 ©
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
No Easy Tax Fixes
Maine voters rejected two ballot measures that promised the moon.
Even though high taxes and government spending win few popularity contests in Maine, voters have again rejected measures that would place dramatic limits on how money is raised and spent.
A citizen-initiated bill that would have cut the excise tax on new cars and trucks was turned down soundly in November. So was the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR II, which would tie government spending increases to a formula of inflation plus population growth unless overridden by a referendum.
The message taken away should not be that Maine people like to pay taxes and they want to pay more. It’s that they recognize that government services are valuable and need to be preserved. Maine voters are not ready to trade good schools, drivable roads, and care for the low-income elderly for a feel-good gimmick, even during this economic downturn.
This is the second time around for TABOR, and apparently nothing has happened since 2006 to convince voters that its formulaic approach to state finances is better than what we have already. TABOR, which has been the law in Colorado since 1994, assumes that state spending is out of control and that the people need to impose arbitrary limits on it to keep it from increasing.
Both measures ran into well-funded opposition, which appeared to outspend them on television ads. But both also ran into the perception that state and local governments are barely meeting needs for services now and couldn’t stand to see further cuts. This was less an ideological vote than a practical one.
Next year, Maine will elect a new governor and Legislature, which will have to take on the tough issues of the cost of state government, the lack of economic development, and Maine’s dismal thirty-fifth ranking in per capita income. But that is a matter for the next election. This year, voters chose to stay with the current system while riding out this economic storm.
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
After Question 1
November’s repeal of Maine’s gay marriage law shows that lawmakers moved too quickly and too far for the comfort of the majority of voters. In effect, the Legislature and governor chose the direct path to constitutionally mandated equality; voters have opted for the slower, more contentious route.
It is a common route.
Mainers have voted on gay rights four times since 1995, seesawing between extending rights and limiting them. In 1995, voters soundly rejected an attempt to repeal local gay rights initiatives and prohibit the future adoption of others. In 1998 and 2000, voters rejected gay rights initiatives.
Then in 2005, an effort to repeal a Maine law that added sexual orientation to the Maine Human Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in the areas of housing, education and employment was rejected by a 55 percent to 45 percent vote.
In 2008, an initiative campaign to repeal Maine’s civil rights law and put in place roadblocks to gay marriages and adoptions was abandoned because supporters said they had a hard time gathering signatures.
Ninety years earlier, Maine sent mixed messages about extending voting rights to women, before finally doing so. After the Legislature strongly endorsed women’s suffrage in 1917, a people’s veto took back those voting rights. Two years later, however, Maine voters changed course and voted to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended the right to vote to women.
In both instances, the core issue is one of equality, as required and ensured by the state and federal constitutions.
That equality was denied to gay couples in November. It was denied not out of malice but because of strongly held beliefs about the importance of marriage and fears, played up by the Yes on 1 campaign, that gay sex would be taught in schools.
Many who voted to overturn gay marriage also said they thought gays had enough rights already or that they could have everything but marriage. The problem with this thinking is that the constitution says everyone must be treated equally, not nearly equally or that having a lot of rights is sufficient.
The way forward could include legal challenges, which have succeeded in other states, or a compromise like civil unions, which leading opponents of same-sex marriage said they do not object to.
“When history shines a spotlight on you, you have an opportunity to advance the cause or to let the cause slip backwards. I chose to move things forward,” Governor John Baldacci, the first governor to sign a law allowing gay marriage, said before the vote.
Voters have chosen to take a step backward, but as past civil rights debates have shown, that direction is likely to change in the future.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Rail Plan Overlooks Central Maine
If the state was interested in promoting the economy in central Maine, it should direct investments in railroad infrastructure into Auburn, where the inland “port” handles more freight traffic than any of the state’s three seaside shipping locales: Portland, Eastport, and Searsport.
This investment would serve a twofold purpose: strengthening the ability of the busy Port of Auburn, plus laying groundwork for new passenger service from central Maine toward southern New England and beyond, i.e. Boston and New York City.
On the surface, this seems sensible. New transportation plans — of any type — should focus on the regions where current activity demands new investments, and where the population is large enough to make movement of people and products not only practical but likely profitable.
The governor’s rail plan, however, is urging to make tracks elsewhere. Instead of Lewiston-Auburn, the plan advocates for expanding freight and passenger rail service toward Brunswick and Fryeburg, each of which holds lesser potential for activity than the route through Central Maine.
These communities are worthy of investment, but resources for rail are finite and must be spent where they could reap the biggest reward. New passenger service to Brunswick, although it would connect an existing service from Rockland to Portland and beyond, is by no means a safe bet.
Until the future reuse of Brunswick Naval Air Station is decided, the greater Brunswick area could experience future decline in both economic activity and population. Is this the right time, then, for starting passenger service there, especially since it may require a sizable, ongoing subsidy by taxpayers?
The Fryeburg route seems to put economic potential above economic reality. To rehab the Mountain Line for freight and passenger excursions, as the plan states, is shortsighted. Why should the state invest for new tourist trains, when Maine citizens and businesses have real needs?
Central Maine — Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin, and Kennebec counties — has the population and economic activity to demand new investments in passenger and freight rail. If the goal is economic development, the state should target its resources where they can do the most good.
As the busiest hub of freight traffic in Maine and its second-most populous region, Lewiston-Auburn deserves investment in rail infrastructure. Spending the money here should pay the greatest dividend for all taxpayers.
Public Access Needed at Goose Rocks
Residents of the Goose Rocks district of Kennebunkport are apparently preparing to assert their alleged rights to exclusive use of the small beach in that area.
We say “alleged” because this is shaping up as a potential legal battle, and the claims of ownership are hardly self-evident. In fact, the evidence seems to show that the property has been (as a lawyer might say) in “open, notorious, visible, and uninterrupted” use by the public.
The details of this particular case haven’t fully emerged, but the scenario is familiar. At various times, many property owners in coastal York County have asserted their right to block the public from beaches and shorefront walking paths.
It’s not good for community relations to call your neighbors trespassers for using property considered to be public, but that’s often what happens when the stakes get high enough. A court decision extinguishing public rights to Goose Rocks Beach could substantially increase property values.
Let’s acknowledge that property owners may have a legitimate grievance — the public is not always well-behaved. Efforts to privatize a beach or shore walk are often accompanied by reports of bad behavior, and the presence of rude, thoughtless people almost everywhere is a sad fact of life.
The selectmen of Kennebunkport deserve credit for their determination to preserve public access. We hope it doesn’t come to a court case, but if it does, they should seek out witnesses like those from Wells who recalled how, in the carefree days of long ago, families played and picnicked and even drove their cars on Moody Beach. Although the first Moody Beach decision sharply limited public rights in the intertidal zone, the Maine State Supreme Court later gave great weight to evidence of traditional public uses.
The Kennebunkport board should also get a clear understanding of what the property owners are really after. They may have worries about their liability for mishaps, or they may want the beach maintained or improved, or they may want public use closely regulated.
A legal challenge to public shorefront access seems like a risky undertaking for both sides. The public certainly has a lot to lose, but a verdict against the property owners might make the beach a more open and public destination than it is now.
Lawyers dislike ambiguity, but as far as public access to the shore is concerned, a little uncertainty can be a good thing.