Bangor Daily News
At a time when the state is trying to collect unpaid sales tax from Maine residents and businesses and lawmakers spend endless hours fretting about property taxes, it makes no sense to allow an out-of-state business to operate here without collecting the required taxes. If outdoor retailer Cabela's, Inc., wants to open a store in Maine, it should follow Maine law, not ask for special treatment.
Representatives of Cabela's, which is based in Nebraska, have told state officials the company will scuttle plans to build a 130,000 square-foot store in Scarborough if it is required to collect sales tax on catalog and Internet purchases by Maine residents.Cabela's says it receives about 165,000 catalog orders from Maine annually, worth around $10 million. Charging sales tax on those purchases would add $500,000.
The company has a record of targeting small and economically depressed communities willing to offer large incentive packages for a Cabela's store, which daily draw thousands of tourists with their stuffed animal displays and aquariums. Buda, Texas, for example, spent $40 million on infrastructure improvements. A developer donated a forty-acre parcel for a store in Lehi, Utah.
Although the inducement it seeks from Maine is small, the company may be worried about the precedent that would be set if more states start requiring it to collect sales taxes on non-store sales. Cabela's, because it does not have a store here, currently does not charge sales tax on catalog and Internet purchases by Maine residents.Com
panies that have stores in Maine, like L.L. Bean, the Gap, and Pottery Barn, must charge sales tax when Maine residents order items from a catalog or Web site.
Cabela's argues that it should be treated differently because its catalog, Internet, and retail stores are separate corporations. However, items ordered from its catalog or Web site can be returned at a retail store and it collects sales taxes from Nebraska customers who order online or by phone.
Granting Cabela's request would simply allow the company to sell similar merchandise 5 percent cheaper than competitors already located in Maine. More, it could encourage other companies to ask for the same treatment, which would cost the state much more revenue than Cabela's would generate and would shift some of the tax burden to state residents.
If the company were locating in Brewer or Machias, the decision may be more difficult, but southern Maine is already teeming with stores and traffic so the need for another attraction and employer is less acute. If the company wants to locate in Maine, it should collect and pay Maine taxes.Ellsworth AmericanMaine's Medicaid "Big Dig"
Maine's now-infamous computerized Medicaid billing system has been nothing but trouble for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and for hundreds of health-care providers since it went on line in January 2005. It has cost $56 million to date in state and federal funds and still is not working properly.
Over the past twenty months, nursing homes, doctors, pharmacists, and others providing service to the MaineCare program (Maine's version of Medicaid) were forced to wait in vain for payment as their bills became trapped in a dysfunctional system. The state finally opted to send out lump-sum "interim" payments to providers in amounts it now claims were excessive — to the tune of more than $500 million. That's money the state now wants back. So far, some $335 million has been recovered and another $172 million remains outstanding. Never mind that many of those providers were forced to take out loans just to survive in those months of waiting, and now are forced to try and reconcile those interim payments with actual claims that were woefully mishandled by the DHHS.
Meanwhile, Maryland-based CNSI, the vendor that originally bid $15 million to build and install the state's computer system, claims it is not responsible for the huge cost overruns. And so far, Governor John Baldacci's administration, which hired the company despite the fact it had never built a Medicaid billing system, has shown little inclination to aggressively pursue the matter, despite increasing complaints from state legislators and others. CNSI claims it has lost money on the Maine project but nevertheless calls it a "success story" on its company Web site. This is probably because CNSI is successfully selling — under lucrative contracts — its software program in other states. Never mind that Maine has paid all the development costs.
The DHHS and the MaineCare debacle have been a huge source of embarrassment — and an immensely costly one — for the state. The MaineCare experience provides ample evidence that the current administration and state bureaucracy are woefully ill equipped to run our health-care system. Evidence is mounting that DirigoChoice, the state-run health insurance program that has been a centerpiece of the Baldacci administration, is both costly and ineffective. Enrollment has been far below expectations, especially when it comes to Maine's uninsured. Institutional savings that the system was supposed to bring about are speculative at best.
When it comes to the Medicaid debacle, the governor and DHHS should put the brakes on the rapid and unsustainable expansion of the MaineCare program. Further, they should take every possible step — including legal action, if necessary — to force CNSI to pay the cost of making Maine's billing system operational. And when it comes to health insurance, the Baldacci administration ought to finally acknowledge that Maine is ill prepared to address, on its own, a problem that is bedeviling the entire nation. Even at best, DirigoChoice, as presently structured, will never give more than a handful of Maine people affordable health insurance. And even that will come only by increasing the cost to everyone else.
Gordon Smith of the Maine Medical Association recently likened the state's Medicaid woes to the Massachusetts "Big Dig." It is an apt comparison. And if the state continues its ill-fated pursuit of DirigoChoice, the hole will only get deeper.Sun Journal, LewistonA kindred spirit in Pluto
Pity Pluto, so cold, so distant, and unappreciated, and now rudely demoted from full planetary status. Mainers, we think, have a special place in their hearts for the little guy, the rebel, the neglected, even when it comes to planets.
We are, after all, rather in the same position in the planetary system of U.S. states. Most Americans seem to think of Maine as cold and distant, while not as far away as the Kuiper Belt, certainly within the Arctic Circle. The knocks on Pluto were even more cutting — just a dirty little "iceball," they said. Ouch.
Our population is tiny compared to Jupiter-size states like New York, Texas, Florida, and California. But we take some pride in being off the beaten path compared to places like Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and Pluto is, if nothing else, out of the way.
Sadly, while Pluto has been voted out of the community of planets, it will retain its position in the quirky solar system of Aroostook County. "We're not planning on taking down Pluto," Kevin McCartney told the Portland Press Herald for a story. McCartney is the University of Maine-Presque Isle professor who, along with a group of volunteers, has created and maintained the Solar System Model that stretches for forty miles along Route 1, radiating from its sun on the college campus.
Pluto is a lonely half-inch wooden ball located at the extreme edge of the Aroostook display. It's staying, according to McCartney, who is considering adding some of the other more recently discovered "dwarf planets."
At least in Maine, Pluto will remain in the pantheon of planets.