The Maine Viewpoint
Editorial opinions from across the state.
Sun Journal, Lewiston
A Trend Toward Gambling
This may sound strange, but in defeating Question 2 [to allow a casino in Oxford County], voters signaled support for casino gambling in Maine. Just not this casino.
Olympia Gaming spent vainly to sell this plan in the tightest time frame, but couldn’t overcome its inherent flaw: Enacting legislation with provisions bordering on the surreal. So it was defeated. But not by numbers — or in places — that might have been anticipated.
Cumberland and York counties defeated the casino by tighter margins than expected. Androscoggin, Oxford, and Franklin counties supported it broadly. Kennebec was divided by five points. Somerset was even closer.
Problem areas were far from the casino. Aroostook, Washington, Piscataquis, and Hancock counties were against it. So were coastal Knox, Lincoln, Waldo, and Sagadahoc counties. So was Penobscot, where gaming already exists.
This is an odd coalition: the wealthier, liberal coast with the poorer, more conservative north and Down East. (Washington County is its own enigma, too. Defeat of the casino in Maine’s poorest county can likely be attributed as retribution for a failed tribal racetrack/casino in Calais.)
On the other side were population centers — save Penobscot County, which arguably could have voted against competition from a casino — either giving rousing support or the barest of defeats.
The breakdown looks like this: A casino defeated by sour grapes, competitive pressure, and voters living farthest from any impacts from a casino on Route 26 in Oxford. A stirring rebuke of gaming this isn’t. What this does hint at is a shifting attitude toward gambling in Maine.
Which should inspire lawmakers to — finally! — address this issue, and spare us from another contentious referenda and rehashed CasinosNo! campaign. (Even Dennis Bailey must be sick of it by now.) We’ve urged Olympia Gaming to introduce its own legislation, in lieu of the flawed version it tried to pass. We also urge lawmakers and Governor John Baldacci to draft their own.
Instead of more attempts by outside interests to define the gambling business in Maine, the state should outline the conditions — and remuneration — it would take to have a casino here. Bolstering the regulatory atmosphere around casino gambling should be a parallel effort. Voter numbers support this approach. If well designed and soundly legislated, casino gambling is gaining appeal, if only as an economic injection, not as development policy.
By defeating the Oxford casino — and rightly so — voters gave lawmakers another chance to outline Maine’s gambling future. From our read of the results, the principled opposition to gaming is thinning. So addressing it now through the legislature wouldn’t be a gamble.
In fact, it looks like a pretty safe bet.
Kennebec Journal, Augusta
New Cuts, Old Story
Consider these excerpts from a story in the New York Times:
“ . . . Maine officials face spending cuts. . . . ‘To assume that we can cut this level of dollars without some impact on services, I think, is unrealistic,’ the state finance commissioner . . . said last week. ‘Sooner or later you get into programs.’
“ ‘We’re all scrambling,’ said (the) chancellor of the seven-campus University of Maine system.
“ ‘At this point nothing is sacred,’ said . . . the state commissioner of human services, whose department administers most social service programs. ‘The last thing I want to do is cut essential, existing services.’ ”
The story above appeared in 1989. The governor was John McKernan, the state finance commissioner was Sawin Millett (now a Republican House member), the University of Maine chancellor was Robert Woodbury and the commissioner of human services was H. Rollin Ives. The projected budget cut necessary at the time was approximately $67 million.
You’d think we would have learned by now.
Other than a change of actors and a larger budget shortfall, the story’s the same today. Yet again, the state is faced with a gap between income and outgo in the state budget; this time, it’s almost $500 million. Yet again, the governor has asked state department heads for reductions. This time, Governor John Baldacci has ordered state department heads to come up with plans to reduce their spending by 10 percent. Yet again, department heads are scrambling.
And sadly, yet again those department heads have come up with the typical response that department heads usually give in this biannual exercise. They throw out the frontline workers — a move guaranteed to excite the interest groups that have a lot of sway with the lawmakers who will make the final budget cuts.
So the head of the state’s court system, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, has proposed closing eight to ten courthouses. The attorney general has proposed cutting sixteen state prosecutors. The head of state public safety has proposed axing twenty-four state troopers. Lifeguards will have to go. College faculty positions will be cut. Game wardens will be fired.
But how many administrator positions ever get cut this way? How about we cut some managers, instead? How about we look at the possibility of getting state workers to pay just a little bit more for their health insurance premiums, which would make a substantial dent in state spending? How about we rethink and remake government in Maine, so that we don’t go through a budget crisis almost every year?
Wouldn’t it be better to have a commission do this work? It could be made up of lawmakers, representatives from the governor’s office, some responsible policy wonks with a head for numbers but no agenda or interest group behind them. They could come up with the cuts, which would face an up-or-down vote by the legislature.
Such a process would be a common-sense solution that would transcend the self-interest and loyalties of those who are currently being asked to do the job. It might also propel out us out of a situation where, like poor Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, we keep rerunning the same story, over and over and over again.
MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM, PORTLAND
Common Sense Conservation
Monhegan’s lobstermen and women are known for doing things their own way. They are the only ones who fish a defined season, when the rest of the state’s lobsterboats are free to pull traps year-round. This year, the Monhegan folks have decided to cut the number of traps they set in half. This was not a regulation imposed on them, but a decision they reached on their own as a group.
They reasoned that they will get more lobsters in each trap and can catch just about as many as last year, but spend far less on gas and bait. Their strategy could have other impacts, just as important. With fewer traps, the Monhegan lobstermen will be putting out fewer lines, reducing the chance that an endangered right whale will get snagged.
Conservationists are closely watching the results of this experiment. If it is successful, it may become a model of ways fishermen can reduce the danger to whales without being financially harmed, breaking the mold of the usual argument between conservation and economic activity.
The Monhegan lobster season begins at a time when the global financial crisis is hurting the world market for luxury items. The demand for lobster is down, and so is the price paid at the dock. Lobstermen could slow down, catching enough to pay their bills but not bringing in so many lobsters that the price drops farther.
Unfortunately, unlike a member of the Monhegan group, a lobsterman who ties up waiting for the price to rise has no confidence that there will still be lobsters for him or her. With every boat in competition against all the others, lobstermen are forced to work harder when the price is low, bringing in more than they normally would just to cover their costs. As gas and bait prices climb, they have to catch even more just to break even.
Even if they bring in fewer lobsters than they did last year, the Monhegan fishermen will not be hurt as badly by the low prices because they have dramatically reduced their need for fuel and bait. If other groups of lobstermen were similarly organized, they could cut back on their fishing without worrying that a competitor might take advantage of their decision.
If the strategy works in Monhegan, this could send a powerful message throughout the industry.
Portland Press Herald
A Maine Way of Voting
Voters across much of Maine can only scratch their heads when they read or hear about balloting problems in other parts of the country. The stories from places like Florida — which this year again had to wrestle with voters who were confused over how to cast their ballots properly — have a confounding quality for anyone who uses the kind of ballot common here in southern Maine.
An easy-to-read, easy-to-mark paper ballot that can be optically scanned remains the best means for tabulating votes. If anyone doubted this, they need only have gone to Scarborough on election night.
To be sure, the failure of a vote-counting machine near the end of the tabulation in Scarborough was a significant glitch. It caused the town clerk’s office to restart the vote-counting process. The final tally was delayed several hours as a result.
But while this did not satisfy a desire for instant results, it didn’t lead to a lack of public confidence or a flood of litigation, either. No matter the technical glitches, election officials always had those paper ballots to fall back on. And in most communities using this system, it worked as advertised. The scanners read the ballots relatively quickly and, should anyone doubt those results, there’s hard-copy evidence to back them up.
True, Maine voting precincts are not always as busy as those in larger states, but that just means the system used here might prove a bit more labor intensive than those high-tech voting machines that are a source of worry across the country. This year, the presidential race wasn’t so close as to cause anyone to wonder about the validity of the results. But as we learned in 2000, we don’t always get so lucky. The medium-tech approach to voting common in Maine has a lot going for it. Other states should take notice.
Times Record, Brunswick
A Business Friendly Town?
A familiar question echoes through Brunswick again: is the town anti-business?
Some townspeople and business owners raised the question after the recent 5-4 Town Council vote to reject a “gateway zoning” proposal. That outcome stymied plans to build a Walgreens pharmacy at the corner of Pleasant and Stanwood streets.
Similar questions about townspeople’s willingness to adopt municipal ordinances that accommodate business growth pervaded the lengthy comprehensive plan review that resulted in a divided Town Council vote to nix a growth zone expansion that would have paved the way for a business park in West Brunswick.
Against the backdrop of impending Brunswick Naval Air Station closure, these two recent council actions thrust the issue of Brunswick’s image in the business community to the forefront of municipal government’s priorities. Town government and townspeople must clearly and quickly spell out how Brunswick intends to introduce itself to prospective developers.
Brunswick’s overarching economic development strategy must reflect community values and standards. Precedent indicates that quality of residential life and preservation of open spaces rank high on residents’ lists of what defines the town’s character.
Good businesses have set up shop here because it’s a great place for employers and employees to live. Despite the urgency of installing buffers against the inevitable economic slapdown of base closure, townspeople and those they elect to represent them must continue to balance economic development with community stewardship. A healthy development strategy involves more than assuming a submissive pose every time new commercial development proposals emerge.