Equal Rights at Last
Finally, it is illegal in Maine to discriminate against anyone based on his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation in the matters of employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and education. In late March the Senate agreed to a House amendment that reads, the law "may not be construed to create, add, alter, or abolish any right to marry that may exist under the Constitution of the Unites States, the Constitution of Maine, or the laws of this state."
Thus, the legislature addressed the main objection to the gay rights bill voiced by opponents: that it would lead to legalizing gay marriage. This fear even led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to backpedal from its support of the 2000 civil rights referendum, which lost 49 percent to 51 percent, and to refuse to support LD 1196.
The Christian Civic League will try once again to undo the new law in a statewide November referendum, as it has twice before. But we think the third time's the charm. Let's have another referendum on this issue if that's what it takes to finally put this matter to rest. Better informed and weary of the controversy, this time Mainers will come out to vote in favor of civil rights for all its citizens.
The reality is that hate crimes against gays and lesbians increased 12 percent in Maine in 2003, according to the Attorney General's Office. How many more lost employment, housing, education, or credit opportunity due to discrimination? The stories shared at public hearings tell us it's an all-too-regular occurrence. The victims are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.
This is unacceptable in a state that prides itself on its independence and bears the motto Dirigo, "I lead." Shouldn't it be unacceptable to Christians, too?
-Times Record, Brunswick
Bar Harbor's Shore Path
With its nearly one-mile-long shore path, Bar Harbor is the envy of scores of other communities along New England's coast. During the Victorian era, public walks along the sea, most created through the generosity of private landowners, were all the rage, particularly in the more famous resort areas such as Bar Harbor, Ogunquit, and Newport, Rhode Island.
As real estate prices have skyrocketed, the trend in recent years has been toward greater private ownership of waterfront property, leaving many towns scrambling to provide public access to the shore. According to the state, only about 7 percent of Maine's coastline is open to the public.
As other coastal towns, particularly those with highly developed shorelines, have struggled to convert from fisheries-based economies to tourism, public shore walks often have been viewed as a major drawing card. Rockland, Belfast, and Bucksport come to mind as recent successes. Greenville on Moosehead Lake has a short waterfront walk. Ellsworth, Bangor, and Brewer are eyeing shore paths as part of their efforts to reconnect their communities to the water from whence they literally sprang.
Considering that cultural heritage, it was especially troubling to hear Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff member Tracey Thibault tell Bar Harbor's Planning Board recently that her department would not allow the extension of Bar Harbor's shore path because, in her estimation, "it is not a water-dependent use."
She explained the department was discussing new rules to allow paths near the shore but they would have to be twenty-five feet back, only four feet wide, and could have only occasional connection to the shore. If Bar Harbor persists in extending the shore path along the water's edge, the DEP probably would consult with the attorney general's office, Ms. Thibault said. Several board members interpreted that remark as a veiled threat.
Perhaps DEP staffers didn't have time to do the homework needed to understand how important extending the shore path is to Bar Harbor. When the town drafted its present comprehensive plan (one approved by the state), extending the shore path from the town pier to the Bar Island bar at Bridge Street figured prominently. Three pages of the downtown master plan, approved by the town council, specifically support extending the path, as does the waterfront master plan.
The Bar Harbor Planning Board supports the shore path extension. Its members believe they are correctly interpreting local shoreland zoning rules (rules approved by the state) in determining a shore path to be a water-dependent use.
Last but not least, developer Tom Walsh was specifically asked by town officials to include a shore path extension around his Harborside Hotel and across the Bar Harbor Club Property. He graciously has granted that request and is willing to build the path at considerable expense to himself.
Still, after all that, a paternalistic Department of Environmental Protection is warning that it alone will decide what is best for Bar Harbor.
While DEP shoreland rules may do a good job of preserving the view of the shoreline in undeveloped places, particularly remote lakes in northern Maine, they apparently have no allowance for the cultural traditions along more urbanized coastal shores such as those found in Bar Harbor or other places where most of the water is ringed in granite or concrete seawalls or riprap embankments. Putting a paved path atop a wall poses no real risk to the environment and, in fact, is preferable to the casual trails people tend to create on their own with the attendant erosion and trampling of vegetation.
Were the DEP's proposed new regulations adopted, the allowed miserly path would be too far back, too narrow for two people to walk abreast, and, when coupled with vegetative screening requirements, would create a barrier, rather than a connection, between the people and the sea.
We urge DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher to review her department's ill-conceived position on shore paths. If necessary, Governor John Baldacci should intercede to see that Maine's coastal character is protected from bureaucratic regulators, that home rule is respected, and that common sense prevails.
By extending the Bar Harbor shore path, local officials, a private developer, and indeed an entire community have pledged to work together to increase public access to the shore and to improve and expand a prized local asset. Why can't the DEP appreciate and support that effort?
-Mount Desert Islander, Bar Harbor
"Fixing" the Budget
The process that culminated March 27 with the legislature's adoption of a $5.7 billion, two-year budget was not what we would have expected. The result is hard to accept, too.
Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled legislature split along party lines in approving the biennial spending plan, a reworked version of Democratic Governor John E. Baldacci's proposal. While that might not be unusual, it seems the Republicans should have had a larger role in the budgetary process. Since the legislature convened in January, we have heard plenty about the improved bipartisanship and the greater spirit of collegiality that exist among lawmakers.
Compared to the rancor that polarized the legislature last year, current members of the House and Senate have been getting along and working together famously. Or so we were told.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have talked a lot this year about their common purpose: moving Maine toward less debt, smaller (or no) budget gaps, and lower property taxes. In the end, it seems the GOP was cut out of a process that is clearly large enough to consider both sides' views, ideas, and objections.
The new budget, which the governor signed, closes a projected $733 million deficit in the next two-year cycle, increases state aid to schools by $250 million, and boosts funding for higher education. It also eliminates $80 million in future spending from social-service programs and temporarily increases payments on the state pension system's huge debt.
While it does not increase the sales tax or the income tax (the good news), it calls for the state to borrow about $450 million and relies on fees and targeted tax increases (the bad news). So despite all the talk about controlling borrowing and state spending, we end up with a budget that relies on increased debt to make ends meet.
Some of the $450 million in borrowing is legitimate. It makes sense, for example, that the state would seek to pay down the state retirement system debt. However, it is atrocious financial management - wholly unacceptable - that lawmakers are borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars simply to fund current operations.
Essentially, the Democratic majority in Augusta decided it was easier to borrow a lot of money, which taxpayers will repay over the next fourteen years, rather than make tough decisions about spending cuts. Maine should not be borrowing to balance its budget. Deficit spending is the irresponsible and reckless practice these days in Washington, D.C., but it should not be the way in Augusta.
The result of such imprudent budgeting is to create what is often a long-term drag on a state's economy, sometimes in the form of tax increases or other fee increases needed to cover government debt. Lawmakers and the governor, who are taking the easy way by borrowing to balance the budget, are creating steeper hills for Maine to climb in coming years.
Remember, the state has not yet brought the level of general-purpose aid to education to 55 percent - something the governor has pledged to accomplish within four years. The tax-relief bill that was signed into law in January was a good start, but Maine has a long way to go toward cutting local property taxes, which are among the nation's highest. Skyrocketing health care costs and federal cuts to Medicaid also present possible crises.
The bottom line: Maine might have a revenue problem, but it has an even greater spending problem. It is violating the most fundamental rule of money management: Live within your means. Anyone who understands finance would oppose borrowing large sums to cover daily expenses.
The solution is not to take on greater debt. It is to make difficult - often painful - decisions that reduce costs. The governor and the legislature have dodged that responsibility with their latest budget.
-Kennebec Journal, Augusta
Saving Bath Iron Works
Let someone else point out the irony of two shipyards afraid to fight for a winner-take-all contract from the Department of Defense. The fact that the nation has but two shipyards to build large surface ships is reason enough for Congress to recognize the risk of such a contest and head it off. A Senate resolution recently did that, but now the Navy needs to pay attention.
Earlier this year, the Navy announced it would end a teaming arrangement between Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Bath Iron Works in Maine for the DD(X) destroyer production contracts. At one time, the Navy envisioned as many as thirty of these new destroyers, built under a complex competition between both yards that ensured both survived. Now there may be as few as eight of the DD(X), with one yard offered all the work.
Amid the recent budget debate in the Senate, Mississippi Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran and Maine Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe did what their home-state shipyards do: they teamed up. They passed an amendment called a sense of the Senate that states "it is ill-advised for the Department of Defense to pursue a winner-take-all strategy for the acquisition of destroyers" and that the money in the budget resolution assumes the department will not acquire ships through this strategy.
Neither yard likes the winner-take-all competition for various reasons; for Bath, which now depends entirely on military contracts, specifically destroyers, a loss could close it. And it is telling that while the single-yard idea from the Navy was done to save money, there is no dollar figure that says what those savings would be.
Further, the senators argue it is the competition that saves money while reducing the vulnerability of the nation's shipbuilding in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld supported at least the first point February 17, when he said, "There's no doubt that competition is healthy and creates an environment that produces the best product at the best price and it's a good thing."
The senators and others who have an interest in seeing the competition strategy stamped out could make life uncomfortable for the Navy in Congress, so politics counts every bit as much as security and cost. For Maine, the issue is fairly simple: If BIW does not survive the state suffers a significant blow to its economy. That's incentive enough for the state's congressional delegation.
-Bangor Daily News