A Wrong Message to Business
Portland Press Herald
Once again, the Portland City Council has taken a sledgehammer approach to concerns over a single proposed business. Once again, the council has put the city's economic vitality at risk.
Recently the City Council voted to bar high-traffic businesses from twenty-four commercial zones bordering residential neighborhoods. The ordinance was in direct response to the concerns of Deering residents who did not like the idea of a Dunkin' Donuts franchise opening in the heart of their neighborhood.
Set aside for a moment the question of whether Deering Center is a good place to put a Dunkin' Donuts, and focus instead on those twenty-three other zones. There will be no Dunkin' Donuts in those locations, of course, but other high-traffic businesses — perhaps a pizza delivery operation or dry cleaner — also won't be able to open in neighborhood commercial districts. Local landlords and local business people will miss out on viable and useful commercial projects — all for the sake of catering to one neighborhood's outrage over a doughnut shop.
Maybe Stevens Avenue is too busy a place for a Dunkin' Donuts. If it is, however, this is no way to deal with it.
This action follows another recent zoning change that limits franchise businesses in the downtown and Old Port. That ordinance was undertaken primarily because people were upset over talk of a Hooters restaurant franchise opening on Congress Street.
The risk of responding to constituent concerns in this manner goes beyond closing off a chance for another L.L. Bean to come to Congress Street or for a doughnut shop to open in a neighborhood. With each such action, the City Council sends a clear message: If any citi-zen objects, then Portland is closed for business.
Mount Desert Islander, Bar Harbor
The Right Bait For Lobstermen
There are several basic tricks of the trade that no self-respecting lobsterman would ever ignore. First, when asked how things are going, the only acceptable response is that the fishing isn't any good, even — and especially — if it is. Another is never reveal the location of areas where the lobstering currently is particularly productive. In fact, some fishermen often attach more than one trap on a line so competitors don't notice a sudden increase in one man's buoys in a particular area, then move their own gear over.
Another basic tenet: lobstermen would not expect to catch much if they made a habit of throwing traps over the side without first baiting them.
Federal fisheries regulators still need to learn those lessons as they consider new regulations that would mandate that 10 percent of Maine lobstermen fill out and submit daily reports detailing where they fish, how many traps they use, and how many lobsters of various sizes they catch. With some 6,800 licensed lobstermen in the state, that means nearly seven hundred fishermen would be compelled to participate at any one time.
That enormous amount of additional paperwork and red tape will add to the toil of fishermen who already work harder than those in most other Maine occupations. The kind of information the government is seeking is akin to trade secrets, often considered classified material in other commerce. It is easy to understand why fishermen would resist any call to reveal information competitors could use to gain an advantage.
Scientists admit it would take years and cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to compile the information by fielding seven hundred researchers and equip them with boats and expensive lobstering gear for a year. The government wants to do a massive research project for free, using its power to regulate and the threat of penalties if those regulations are ignored. While free to the government, individual fishermen would bear the expense in time, fuel, and effort the way the current plan is structured.
And the ultimate irony is that by participating in the proposed surveys, fishermen may be hastening the dawn of a whole new class of rules and regulations, further hamstringing the industry and making their lives more difficult.
If you want to catch lobsters, you've got to fish the right bait. If you want lobster-men to conduct detailed and time-consuming scientific research for the government, especially research that may lead to more government regulations and red tape, you'll also need the right bait. Officials should consider what type of incentive package could be put together to encourage voluntary participation in the survey. To force hundreds of independent lobstermen into government service without fair and just compensation is sailing into rough water.
Maine Sunday Telegram, Portland
A Dramatic Plan To Cut School Costs
Having been in politics most of his adult life, Governor John Baldacci has hoarded political capital — until now. Baldacci's recently released budget proposal, which includes a sweeping plan to eliminate hundreds of local school districts, runs the risk of putting him at odds with powerful constituencies.
No matter how he tries to phrase it, calling for the state's 290 school districts to be reduced to just twenty-six is a declaration that the cherished Maine principle of local control has to be sacrificed to make government more efficient and reduce taxes. Defenders of the status quo like to point to instances where small local government is cheaper. But the reality is that Maine government — particularly its K-12 schools — is thick with administrative costs.
One of the governor's favorite statistics these days is that Maine annually spends two thousand dollars more per student than the national average, but it pays its teachers an average of seven thousand dollars less per year. The gov-ernor claims that his plan will save $250 million over three years without closing any schools.
Not only has Baldacci decided to champion this bold bit of common sense, he has set an ambitious timetable. Baldacci would have school districts roughly mirror the twenty-seven vocational education districts now in place. The proposal would leave no school district untouched and put the job of every Maine superintendent in jeopardy. It would also render many local school boards and committees powerless, and instead invest new elected bodies within each of these super-sized districts with budgeting power.
And Baldacci wants to do it all in less than two years.
Reaction to the plan has been mixed and cautious. Oddly, by seizing on such a controversial idea, Baldacci has put his rivals — both within his party and among Republicans — in a difficult spot.
The need to reduce government spending and lower Maine's unusually high tax burden has a lot of momentum right now. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights proposal on last November's ballot failed but not by a huge margin. There's a growing sense that politicians ignore the issue of high taxes at their peril.
But affection for local control is something that cuts across party lines in Maine. Most legislators will no doubt feel they'll have a lot to explain if they erode it in such dramatic fashion.
Baldacci faces an uphill battle on school district consolidation on this scale. Even if he fails, the very fact that he proposed it may cost him support.
Yet, consolidating Maine's school districts is a good idea, and it's refreshing to see a career politician support something so right yet so controversial.