Thursday, November 02, 2006

The future is suddenly a bit brighter

Political season makes me kinda’ crazy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy debating the issues and that I don’t understand some of the political machinations. More and more, it’s just the lack of rationale discussion and clear-headed give and take that brings me down.

Occasionally, wading through the forest and swamps of talk radio and right-leaning electioneers, a ray of light manages to peak through the fog of fear and ideology. When that glimmer of hope emanates from someone still finding their way in life, setting down their own roots and values, makes it even sweeter.

Back in 2000, two skinny 16-year olds were the final cuts from that spring’s Greely varsity baseball squad. One of them was my son Mark and the other one, Brent Lemieux, became fast friends. I had the privilege of watching their baseball developments, from JV stalwarts, to varsity co-captains their senior year, with both exhibiting traits that would later serve them well in their college baseball careers.

After being teammates for four years at Greely, they went their separate ways during college; Mark at Wheaton and Brent roaming the outfield for USM’s Huskies. Some of my fondest memories were seeing them reunited for three summers, when I coached them in Portland’s Twilight League.

On Wednesday morning, I opened Portland’s Press Herald, Maine’s largest daily newspaper and lo and behold, Brent’s op ed jumped out at me. I shouted out to my wife, “Brent’s op ed is in the newspaper.” Best of all, it addressed articulately, TABOR, the right-wing “slash and burn” attempt to gut social and community services in our state, all in the name of further tax relief for Maine’s wealthy.

As I read the op ed, I was impressed with Brent’s clear and concise approach at presenting his take on TABOR, exhibiting the critical thinking skills that seem to be lacking in so many of my fellow citizens.

Of course, the comments that accompanied it were primarily from right-wing trolls who somehow think that all societal ills will magically disappear if we just eliminate evil government and slash everyone's taxes.

One comment summed up my thoughts, as I angrily scanned some of the vitriol aimed at a fine 22-year-old young man who hasn’t had his own well poisoned by cynicism and political n’er-do-wells.

A commenter named Howard had this to say to much of the drivel that one could politely deem comments.

“After reading comments in these columns for some time I've come to a few conclusions. A great many conservatives memorize two or three pet phrases and use them continuosly in defending their point of view. Usually these are from the Heritage Center handouts or from some television ad. Certainly they don't look into an issue in depth.

Some of the TABOR supporters who can debate the merits of the issue at least have my respect for speaking intelligently.

Some of these other "Adults" merely resort to name calling when they can't win any other way. Did you people have parents? Or were they too busy making money to teach you common sense and values?

You folks are really the right wing equivelant of our now infamous Halloween protestor. Maybe you slept through school but you need to know that name calling proves nothing. The young man who wrote this article made several good points. Don't condemn him because you folks don't have the ability to respond intelligently. I can assure you that I pay my share of taxes to, which isn't easy these days, and I agree with him on some points.

TABOR is not an answer to our problems. The answer in a nutshell is learning to run our governments more efficiently and use good business practices at all levels. TABOR won't do that at all. "

I’m proud of this young man and count myself privileged to have had an opportunity to witness his intellectual growth and maturity, as well as enjoying watching him on the baseball field.

I’m printing his op ed in its entirety, because it is one of best and most well-reasoned pieces I’ve read on TABOR.

I realize that the future of our state and our country is in the hands of these young men and women and maybe we’d do well to step aside and let them lead us, instead of continuously putting our hopes in the bunch of dried up, bitter and twisted old men we’ve hitched our wagons to up until now.

Portland Press Herald, Nov. 1, 2006

TABOR no answer to Maine's problems
by, Brent Lemieux

The Press Herald's recent support for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has me concerned that your editorial recommendation for its passage will affect the outcome of the vote on Election Day.

The paper claimed TABOR is the best next step in the right direction, but it feels more like a blind step in a direction that has yet to be determined.

I have to agree that the timing of the respectable lobbyists of the Maine Educational Association, the Maine Municipal Association and the state Chamber of Commerce in putting forth their alternative proposal is suspect. But I disagree with this sense of urgency that your paper and other supporters of TABOR are pushing to pressure voters to pass it.

TABOR is not the solution, and it's not Maine's best bet, no matter how impatient we become.

All the talk lately has been about Maine's tax burden. There has been relentless rhetoric on the topic of how Maine is the heaviest-taxed state in the country.

Where do these claims come from? Yes, taxes are high in Maine, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau we are the 19th-highest-taxed state in the nation, which is far from the first.

If you have been following TABOR at all, you have also heard about LD 1 and all its poor reviews. But, what we need to keep in mind is that LD 1 is young, being that it was only instituted in January 2005, and that it's going to take time to see significant results.

For those who are impatient, I'll mention that since LD 1, the state's annual growth rate of the local property tax has slowed to 1.6 percent, a far cry from the average annual increase over the past 20 years of 6.6 percent.

The main argument behind TABOR is that it will put more control into the hands of the people. But at what cost, and just how much is "more"?

According to TABOR, Maine citizens will vote on almost all financial issues concerning any level of government that exceed the law's spending cap, but only if the budget that does so is approved by a two-thirds majority from the governing body.

If only a third disagree, then the vote will never see the light of day. TABOR wouldn't be giving power into the hands of the public, it would be doing just the opposite, consolidating the power into a select few.

If TABOR did go into action and we did get to vote on every cap-exceeding financial issue, it would come at a cost. Our election officials estimate that an average voting session would cost a minimum of $25,000. We now have to forfeit 25 grand before anything actually gets done beyond the minimum. That just seems backwards to me.

It would be difficult to cut budgets in our cities and towns without neglecting the people. A decrease in spending for our towns would naturally lead to a decrease in town employment and lower levels of basic maintenance care.

Towns would have trouble scrounging up the money to repair cracked roads and sidewalks, old buildings including our schools and libraries, even community landfills that need maintenance care for sanitary reasons.

Just think, every time our town needed more money than the cap permitted to fund such public services that we now take for granted, it would need to hold a costly vote, forfeiting more time and money.

A spending cap would be more efficient if it was community-based and operated on a town-by-town level. This way each town could determine its own future and choose which projects were worth investing in and which were not.

Colorado, our nation's guinea pig in the TABOR experiment, has put a temporary ban on the bill because it isn't working. It's damaged their school systems and their infrastructure. They realize that adjustments needed to be made in order for it to work more efficiently.

The Press Herald appears to recognize this as well, claiming its flaws are fixable and urging us to support it.

So, are we supposed to vote for TABOR then identify its flaws and then fix them? Or, would a better path be to fix its flaws before putting it into effect?
- Special to the Press Herald
[Brent Lemieux (e-mail: of Portland is a USM media studies student and freelance writer. ]

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