The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across Maine.
PORTLAND PRESS HERALD
For some, no trade-off is acceptable.
The unease that has characterized the relationship between the town of Fryeburg and the state's most recognizable bottled-water company speaks to a fundamental challenge facing the entire state in the twenty-first century economy. Poland Spring, a division of the Nestle food conglomerate, has run into a roadblock over plans to build a pumping station off Route 302 in Fryeburg. The company already sends up to ninety trucks per day to haul water from a private well in the town, and it is eyeing Fryeburg as the possible site for a new water source and a bottling plant.
But Poland Spring's efforts to build the pumping station have met with local opposition. Initial approvals for the pumping operation were appealed in court, and when the matter was sent back to the town Planning Board for reconsideration, it voted to deny the project in November.
A group called Western Maine Residents for Rural Living is behind efforts to keep Poland Spring from expanding in Fryeburg. Its members argue, not unreasonably, that the truck traffic and other impacts of any Poland Spring facility would threaten the town's character.
No doubt, this is frustrating to Poland Spring. This is a relatively clean industry employing six hundred Mainers. It's a company that actually manufactures a product here in Maine. While some worry about its impact on the water supply, there's little evidence of Poland Spring mismanaging that resource. But Poland Spring has to move its product to market, and there's going to be an impact associated with that.
What Maine people across the state have to decide is, what exactly are they willing to give up in the name of progress? For some, no trade-off is acceptable. They like the state the way it is.
But Maine is not as it should be for all its citizens, and any progress toward helping them carries a price. Which raises the question, if not this industry in Fryeburg, then which one and where?
BANGOR DAILY NEWS
Defining Free Speech
As America stumbles through the early years of the twenty-first century, it is increasingly difficult to achieve a comfortable balance between asserting the nation's core values and principles while respecting the divergent beliefs of our increasingly pluralistic society. Factor in the slippery concept of free speech, and the balancing act gets harder still.
Just ask Paul Grosswiler, the University of Maine associate professor who each semester challenges students in his History of Communications course to consider burning an American flag or a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Outrageous? Shocking? Irresponsible? Exactly. And it's at that point that Mr. Grosswiler has lured you into his rhetorical snare. Your right to express outrage at flag burning, he is demonstrating, is as important as the right to burn the flag.
A student in Mr. Grosswiler's class was so offended by his offer of extra credit for flag desecration that she dropped the course. Through a chance meeting with a conservative advocacy group, she unwittingly - and somewhat unwillingly - became the poster child for a push for UMaine to adopt a student bill of rights. Such a document would, among other things, ban faculty from indoctrinating students with their personal political ideologies. Though that may be a worthy goal, Mr. Grosswiler appears to be not guilty on that charge. Maybe the professor could be fairly charged with leaning a bit heavily on classroom hyperbole.
It would be easier to embrace the concept of free speech if speech were always pretty. But it's not. It's downright ugly at times. For most of the past 220 years, we Americans have been able to accept the love-hate relationship we have with this basic right; that what seems to be one person's free speech is another's irresponsible blather.
The watershed of the 9-11 attacks added another complication, as the U.S. woke to a new patriotism that makes flag burning, to some, akin to selling enriched uranium to al-Qaeda. But now, more than ever, college students need to understand the true depth of their free speech rights. The best tool for sorting out these issues is - fittingly - talk. These questions ought to be vigorously debated, as only citizens of a mature democracy are capable of doing.
KENNEBEC JOURNAL, AUGUSTA
Grim Budget Decisions
As holiday greetings go, it was pretty grim. There, prominently featured among the headlines about soup kitchens offering Thanksgiving meals to the hungry, was the news that Maine budget forecasters had just announced a $95-million drop in state revenues. "Officials may cut state jobs" was the sub-headline.
The juxtaposition of potential state job cuts and soup kitchens was accidental, but surely unnerving to the thousands of state workers in central Maine. The next few months and their aftermath are going to be painful. That's when Governor John Baldacci must present his plan to bring state spending in line with the reduced revenues, and state lawmakers will have to respond to that plan - and then do something.
Given that legislators have found it incredibly difficult to find $10 million in required spending cuts during the last few months, identifying and making almost ten times that amount in reduced spending should prove an almost Olympian undertaking. You don't get re-elected easily when you've slashed state programs and hurt people in the process. You certainly don't enjoy standing in the grocery checkout line and hearing the opinions of those you've hurt.
And we wish state legislators had seen fit during the last session to make spending cuts in an orderly and thoughtful way. Making them under the gun during a short second session likely will prove especially bloody and unattractive.
On the other hand, now they have the perceived political advantage of being able to say, "Budget analysts told us we had to do this." Hardly a claim to leadership.
Nevertheless, here we are. And in the spirit of helping those who spend our money figure out where to cut it, we draw lawmakers' attention to an area previously protected from the budget-cutting knife: state employee health insurance.
It's not a new idea; cutting that cost was proposed most recently by state Represen-tative Patrick S. Flood, a Republican from Winthrop who's a member of the powerful budget-setting Appropriations Committee. Flood proposed that state workers assume at least a small portion of the cost of their health insurance, but that proposal was ultimately rejected after first being adopted by the committee.
Yet consider this: The 13,000 employees of the state of Maine make out a heck of a lot better than the taxpayers who pay for that health insurance. State workers get 100 percent of their insurance paid for, as well as a significant portion of the cost to insure family members. Surely, when faced with potential job losses, this is an area where state workers might be willing to give a little?
Of course, cutting back state spending on employee health-care premiums will solve only a portion of the current budget shortfall. We hope lawmakers find the wisdom they need to deal with this problem, the empathy to understand the effects of what they must do, and the fortitude to withstand the consequences.
TIMES RECORD, BRUNSWICK
Time for a State Teachers' Contract
If Governor John Baldacci and the legislature are sincere about making school district consolidation a vehicle to achieve system-wide public education efficiencies - rather than as a way of sidestepping voters' 2004 mandate to have the state pay 55 percent of overall K-12 costs - then they should explore creation of a statewide teachers' contract.
Local school boards currently devote significant time and money to labor negotiations. Even contract talks that go relatively well, as was the case with the three-year deal sealed by the Brunswick School Board recently, sap school budgets of legal fees and distract both administrators and educators from classroom priorities. Contentious negotiations, like the unresolved two-year impasse in Wiscasset, spread animosity that undermines school systems' abilities to maintain positive learning environments. The negative effects of such labor disputes linger long after the particulars of any single contract conflict are resolved.
Shifting teacher contract negotiations from more than 250 local arenas to the State House would consolidate sparring over labor issues in one appropriate forum, thereby reducing its potential for seeping into classrooms. If transportation workers, state troopers, and social services case workers can operate under one statewide contract, why not teachers? Teachers already pay into and draw benefits from the state retirement system, and Baldacci inserted state government into teacher negotiations with his 2006 call for a thirty thousand dollar minimum teacher salary.
A framework for negotiating uniform statewide employment arrangements for teachers already exists. The Maine Education Association, the union that represents virtually all public school teachers in Maine, employs advisers who help local union representatives negotiate contracts with school boards. Why not have them bargain on behalf of all Maine teachers directly with state Department of Education officials?
One round of negotiations at the state level rather than dozens annually with local or regional school boards would likely reduce legal fees and other administrative costs for both the public education system and the union. In concert with the institution of a statewide teachers' labor agreement, the Essential Programs and Services model for allocating state aid to local schools could be altered to reflect educators' compensation negotiated at the state level. If state government is expected to pay the majority of public education costs, shouldn't it have more control over the most expensive items in each year's school budgets?
As state government forges ahead with school district consolidation, it could use a statewide teachers contract as way to link a tool for savings - elimination of local labor negotiation costs - to proposed cuts in per-pupil funding for administration. A uniform pact would eliminate the compensation disparities between neighboring school districts that some local officials have identified as impediments to regionalization. It also would reduce the like-lihood that poorer school districts will continue to be used as training grounds by wealthier districts, which lure away skilled teachers after they have honed their skills in less affluent communities.
Best of all, a standard contract that covers all Maine public school teachers, phased in over time to align with existing local deals, would eventually funnel public education dollars away from lawyers to educators and students.
SUN JOURNAL, LEWISTON
Riding the Rejuvenated Railroad
Embracing rail as an option for passenger and freight transport in Maine isn't exactly a "Eureka!" moment for the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT). The success of several state-wide railroad projects over the past several years has more than proven its current worth.
Plus, the historical value of rail transportation to Maine, especially to Lewiston-Auburn, is well documented. The railroad was key to L-A's emergence as an industrial center, and the vehicle that carried thousands of French-Canadian immigrants into the cities, whose arrival now defines our community's identity.
Today, Lewiston's railroad history is, well, history. The Grand Trunk Railroad Depot on Lincoln Street still stands, though its letters are fading, on the doorstep to Railroad Park. Auburn, however, is thriving, as its intermodal facility is the site of current and likely future developments.
In his book, The Growth of a City, local historian and Bates College professor Doug Hodgkin says competition between railroads led to freight rates plummeting on the L-A lines, which benefited the economy.
We hope history repeats itself. Locally, freight is the railroad's major purpose. In Portland and points south, however, the re-establishment of passenger service through Amtrak has been, by all accounts, a rousing success. For day-trippers, college students, and commuters, the Downeaster has become a viable and well-traveled transport option.
Northeast of Portland, from Brunswick to Rockland, Maine Eastern Railroad's passenger service has enjoyed a different success. Its presence has become an amazing novelty for tourists and locals alike, with leaf-peeping and special, holiday-themed trains among the most popular offerings.
There are practical reasons for embracing rail. MDOT says there's a direct correlation between rail utilization and "direct benefit" for the state's highways and bridges.
Rail is valuable to Maine. The railroad arguably built L-A, and its continuing renaissance through passenger ventures like the Downeaster and freight operations such as Auburn's intermodal facility are merely more proof.
We wonder why the state took so long to get aboard.