Thursday, January 31, 2008

Weekend Caucuses

The Maine Republican caucuses will be held this weekend, beginning Friday evening and continuing through Sunday. The state’s various towns, cities, counties have a choice of when in the three day span they will hold theirs. They will be spread out somewhat although most will be Saturday so that representatives of the presidential candidates can travel the state and visit them.

From all I’ve read so far, only Ron Paul has visited the state this season, but it was last weekend. The only Republican I’ve seen mentioned to visit this weekend is Tagg Romney representing his father Mitt Romney. Congressional candidates for this year’s primaries later this year will visit as many caucuses as they can fit into a travel schedule.

The Democrats will hold their caucuses on a single Saturday next weekend, after Super Tuesday.

I have tentatively planned to attend my town’s caucus Saturday morning. I haven’t really decided yet. I’ve never attended a caucus for a presidential candidate. I did attend one Town Committee meeting in 2006 when the Republicans had three candidates for governor heading into the primaries. I’d wanted for a long time to see what happened at these events. I had always been proud that my grandfather had been a very long time Portland City Councilor and a Portland mayor. Of course that was back in the ‘30s and very early ‘40s. (He began politicning in Heaven in 1941.) I was just a little tyke then and really didn’t know much about politics. But I knew my granddad was a very honored man in Portland. (I no longer live in Portland.) Getting back to the point, I also wanted to hear what the three had to say.

I don’t know if anyone or who will represent the presidential candidates will be at our town’s Saturday caucus this year. But if I go, and it really looks like I probably will, it will give me a chance to see one of these in action, too. The political process has always fascinated me and I can’t tell you why I’ve never gotten involved. "Chicken" I guess. Many times I’ve wished I had, but the reality of the situation was that I was afraid to get involved because it would have reduced the time I had for other endeavors which were simply more important to me at the time. Now, in my twilight, I’m afraid it’s too late.

Yes, as you’ve correctly deduced from reading this, my tendency is Republican. My granddad and my father were both Republicans so when I first registered way back in the 1950s, it was a natural choice. I’m a lot more Conservative than today’s Republicans, though. Actually, I think I’m more of a conservative and constitutionalist, than Republican. That last sentence is rational, but an explanation of it might let many Mainers know exactly who G.D. is, which might be a future subject. (No, you probably don’t know me.)

Now I’m continuing to receive phone calls about the Presidential candidates. Several from Mitt Romney’s camp and a couple from Ron Paul’s. I think both of them would like to get Maine’s delegates to the National convention. Now that’s a dumb statement, of course they would. So would the others, but they haven’t called me.

Last night, I watched my first political debate. I have avoided debates and most of the political activity because I’m already sick and tired of a presidential season that began three years ago. I much more liked it when we had primaries in the early summer to elect delegates to the conventions and then the “Elect Me!” process began Labor Day for that year. As a result, I have not read about, listened to, or seen much of the political process this year. Last night, I committed to the fray. I was surprised. Listening, I have easily eliminated two of the remaining candidates.

My choices are now (alphabetically) Huckabee and Romney. So, I just might attend the Saturday Town Caucus in my town to go to the corner of one of them.

G.D.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Good time, money woes, stimulus

The last Monday of each month is a particularly fun day for me. I belong to an unofficial group of retired folks who have all retired from the same place. We meet on this last Wednesday of the month for lunch, good conversation, and updates on our lives. Three members of the group weren’t there today as they have chosen to hibernate in Florida for the winter months except one of the three lives there permanently. We hardier souls, though, met and if anyone would listen to us could have resolved the problems of the world.

*****

The state’s budget woes grew just a little today as Federal Medicaid rules changes will cost Maine about $45 million over the next year and a quarter. I forget the exact number right now, but close to a quarter of Mainers receive some sort of aid. If I understand the new rules correctly, the most affected in this change will be health assistance for children. I must admit here I’m not totally sure of exact range of the cuts right now. I’ll probably know more tomorrow or after this evening’s news.

But that’s not all. Those same rules changes will affect the non-state government area as well. Losses to community non-profit agencies, including non-profit health care providers and schools, will be more than $140 million over the same time period.

There’ll be a lot of adjustments that have to be made.

*****

The more I hear about the federal government’s proposed income tax “rebate” package, the more I think it stinks. It sounds good. Individuals will receive a $600 rebate while families will get $1200 and $300 for each child. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it. We all would like a few more bucks to spend for oil, gas, food, and possibly just stuff. But, and here’s the rub, not everyone will get that “rebate.” I put that word in quotation marks because my definition of “rebate” differs from that of Congress. Seems to me one has to spend money to get some of it back. But Congress says that’s not the case. Even the class of citizens who pay no taxes because of the size of their income will get a rebate. They’re getting something returned they never sent in. Amazing! And illegal aliens will also be able to get rebates. More Amazing! What about that upper income class who pay 75% or more of the taxes in the first place so we poor people can get rebates? Probably not even a thank you.

And there’s more to this “stimulus” package. Some members of the Senate, including our two Senators, want to add more, like increase food stamps among other things.

And where are we going to get all this money? Probably borrow it, and probably from the Chinese.

If the government, in fact both the federal and state governments, really wants to stimulate our economy, reduces our taxes. Both the John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan administrations proved dramatically that reduced taxes actually increases governmental revenue as people have more money to spend.

*****

I haven’t said too much about this election season, which started three years ago, but now that primaries are in full swing and both parties are narrowed down to real contenders, I guess I’ll have to begin following it a little more carefully. I’ll share some of my thoughts sometime in the next few days.

G.D.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This and That -- 3

About a year ago, we began the process of changing our living room. We bought a nice sectional sofa and a new rug. Since then nothing has been added as we’ve “made do” with some leftovers from the old room. That’s a little misleading. The only leftovers we utilized were a chair and a table. A month or so ago, we returned a cabinet that holds our music CD turntable and AM/FM receiver. We also put the speakers into the cabinet. But the room remained relatively naked.

Last week we took advantage of a sale at one of the local furniture stores and headed out to buy a coffee table to be placed in front of the sofa. After picking out the one we wanted, we called over a salesman to complete the purchase. To our surprise the coffee table came with two end tables, so that was another void filled. The tables were delivered today and it’s amazing how much they add to our wide open living room. Understand, we only use the room when we have visitors and cold winter days. There’s no TV there, but there is a fireplace which on some of these cold Maine days keeps some warmth in the room. It’s a good place to sit and read. But those tables just make it a lot cozier. I guess we’d better get busy and complete the room.

************

I’ve learned a lesson today. Count those prescription pills when you get them from the pharmacy. We take a plethora of pills and need various refills almost weekly. We get 90 day supplies. I discovered this week that I’m all but out of one of my pills. My doctor had given me new yearly prescriptions earlier this month during my annual visit with him. I called the pharmacy and explained I needed the pills and they had a new prescription on file. The insurance company wouldn’t let the pharmacy fill the pills as I had my current 90 prescription filled in early December. I should have another 30 pills on hand. The only conclusion I can reach is that I only got 60 of my last 90. Of course after all this time, there was no way to convince the pharmacy a mistake had been made. I called my physician and he’s trying to get it straightened out, but henceforth, as much of a hassle it’ll be, I’ll count my pills when I get them.

************

On another happy note for me, I have a new computer coming. My current laptop isn’t very old and it was a super machine when I got it. But something has happened to it. It frequently freezes up or won’t even boot to begin a day until I’ve rebooted a couple of times. MS Outlook doesn’t like to send messages when I write them. I have to close the program and reopen it in order to send. I can’t manage posts at this blogspot but I can post anywhere else. This little inexpensive (therein probably lies part of my problem…asking it to do more than it can) laptop no longer will connect to my home network. There are other problems. I’ve scanned with my virus protection program, my spyware program, and I regularly clean the cache and the registry. Cookies are deleted regularly. I have gotten a message that indicates I have some corrupt memory, and I think those little pieces of information that makes computers run have been trapped and no longer available. It’s all a good excuse to get a powerful, fast new laptop. And one is heading my way right now.

************

I occasionally get critical, both here and with folks I meet, of our Governor John Baldacci. I believe his tenure in office has generally been a disaster for the state of Maine. But yesterday, Governor Baldacci did a really good thing, and I believe he needs the praise for it.

A man convicted for various sexual abuse actions, not the kind that gets one on the sex offender registry list like rape, etc., but nevertheless gets one in prison was facing release yesterday after completing his last sentence as a final result of a plea agreement. He has said recently that he is looking forward to find a woman and raping her and performing unimaginable sexual acts on her. Neighbors where he lives were understandably worried. The television showed pictures of this man during his court appearance yesterday. He was sucking his thumb. His attorney said the guy was crying out for help, but help the courts were unable to provide.

This is where Gov. Baldacci came in. He used his powers to get that help. As a result, the man, who is voluntarily accepting the help, is now in a mental facility being evaluated and the Governor is arranging for funds to place him in an out of state rehabilitation center to help him get over his illness. The people in his neighborhood are resting more easily.

And for this act, at least, I salute Maine Governor John Baldacci.

G.D.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where'd all that snow come from?

We had snow yesterday. Although the local weather forecasters knew of a rather intense offshore winter storm, I don’t think any of them expected the storm that came ashore. And kept coming ashore. There were times when it was snowing rather hard and when it finally stopped, we had received about 3.5 to 4 inches.

Our driveway is nearly 400 feet long and we have a rather larger than most parking area in front of our garage. Thankfully, my neighbor Ed has a plow on his truck and so when he plows his yard, he takes care of mine, too. Especially on days like yesterday when the storm is accompanied by strong winds he is truly appreciated.

I do have a snow thrower on the front of my tractor which I use primarily for the walkway and cleanup near the steps and close to the buildings. But I hate going out in the very windy conditions we had after the storm ended yesterday. No matter in what direction I aim to chute, the wind changes to blow the stuff back in my face. So I decided yesterday to postpone the cleanup until today. Ed had the driveway down to black so it was an easy decision.

This morning, though, the winds were blowing even harder and the loose snow was blowing parallel to the ground. No way was I going out in that. I watched as the blowing snow pile up in front of my garage. The sun soon came out and our temperatures rose into the mid 30s. By about one o’clock the wind died down and the snow and garage drifts began melting. Little streams of water rolled down the driveway hill to a nearby brook and out into wherever that little stream flows.

My wife came home shortly after two and we decided that even though it wasn’t much, we should get it cleared out. So outside we went. The wind was no longer a problem. She moved the snow out a little from around the porch so I could easily move it with the tractor. Well, shucks, all that melting had made the snow very, very wet. The thrower on front wanted nothing to do with it.

There wasn’t much so I simply shut off the thrower and turned the unit into a plow. The area she was moving snow was quickly dispatched and then I “plowed” down the driveway to move the other drifts. Even the little rivulets were happy and flowed even more.

Now, about that thrower. When we first moved here, we had a Toro tractor which served as my lawn mower in the summer, among other things, as as my snow blower in the winter. It was a super machine. It was a single-stage snow remover. And wet snow through the dozen years I owned the machine didn’t faze it one bit. Shucks, it could almost be a puddle and that machine cleared it out. And it cleared it right down to the black tar. My driveway and walkways were beautiful within hours after a storm.

But the year-round use of a basically lawn tractor took its toll. A couple of years ago, the motor said, “No more, big guy.” I bought a new one, a John Deere. The tractor is super. I have one with four wheel steering and it does a great job…in the summer. But the thrower has become a blower…two-stage. It, to use the vernacular of today’s teens, sucks. If the snow has any wetness at all, which of course is a snow characteristic, all it does is clog that darned chute. And, unlike the Toro single-stage, it doesn’t get my driveway all the way to black. I need sun to get me there. I had always wanted a Deere. Now I tell everyone who would listen that it is a terrible winter machine. On more than one winter storm, I’ve wished I had my Toro back.

G.D.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Illegal? Get a Maine Driver's License

This is a hard one to believe. After sitting around all day yesterday trying to think of something to say here, I just filled the spot. Then, after I had published it, news came in of Maine Senator Paula Benoit’s bill to require a valid Social Security number to get a driver’s license in Maine has been rejected by the committee that decides what will and what won’t be discussed in this session.

That’s outrageous! It was learned late last year that Maine is a super haven state for refugees. In Maine, no questions are asked for state benefits, including drivers’ licenses. As a result illegal aliens have flocked to Maine to get a driver’s license. After all, that license opens all sorts of doors for the illegals, including airports, benefits, weapons purchases, and anything else where identification is required.

Basic questions about residency and citizenship aren’t asked. It has been reported that this state has more than 5,000 drivers’ licenses issued with a social security number of 999-99-9999. Just recently a man was arrested for bank robbery in the state. He was an illegal alien from Ireland who had come here legally, but had let his VISA expire. He asked a high level member of the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles to help him get a license. He then used that license to buy a gun which he used in the bank robbery. Before you ask, no disciplinary action has yet been taken against the employee.

Sen. Benoit asked the Legislative Council to allow a bill requiring the Secretary of State and Department of Motor Vehicles to have such proof of citizenship before issuing a license. Along party lines, Democrats opposed, Republicans favoring, the Council has rejected the request to have the Legislature consider the measure. The Secretary of State has told Sen. Benoit that licenses are no longer issued without a valid SS number. But a member of the department says the practice is continuing.

In fact, according to a release from the State Senate Republicans, calls to DMV offices around the state have indicated that licenses have been issued after the applicant showed a letter from the Social Security Administration that a SS number had been denied.

That release also says the SSA said some addresses given were non-existent.

Sen. Benoit says she will reintroduce her bill next session when Legislative Council approval is not needed. Meanwhile, in Maine, the illegal haven, drivers’ licenses continue to be issued with no valid proof identity.

G.D.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I was told I should, so I did!

It’s a Friday and here I sit wondering, as I have all day long, just what will come out of my computer today. I have not come up with an idea. You might wonder, “What’s the worry? Don’t write about anything.” I can’t do that because my inspiration for this place sent me an email that said I should write every day in order to become a good writer. So, on this day when I have no particular topic to discuss, I’m writing.

I think back on the day I’ve had and nothing there inspires me. It’s just been a typical Friday for me. My wife went to her part time job as usual. Fridays is a day I try to do some things around the house to try to make the weekend a little easier for her. So, I did some things around the house. Like laundry. Washing the dishes and unloading the dishwasher. I fixed some food for us to have tonight. I cleaned off the top of my computer table. That’ll probably last another ten minutes or so. I paid some bills.

Now hasn’t that kept your reading? Exciting stuff. Our little Golden Retriever has kept me busy. In. Out. In. Out. In my lap. Out of my lap. Can you imagine just how much fun having a 65 pound dog jumping on and off a lap is? Of course, like all little girls (and older ones, too) she has her “daddy” wrapped around her, hmmmm, are they called toes?

I had mentioned to my wife that I’d like some chip ‘n dip for the Super Bowl. So when she came home this afternoon, she had the stuff I need for my special dip. I thanked her and put everything away. An hour or so later, she said, “Well?” That confused me being a simple old guy. “When are you going to make it?” I told her a week from Sunday. Not good enough. We had some chip ‘n dip this afternoon. I got so wrapped up in it I forgot who won the Super Bowl.

I haven’t forgotten my usual following of the Maine Legislature and our governor. But this was a relatively quiet day. The Legislature did reject a request for a hearing on a new law proposal that would force health centers to tell parents when underage girls asked for birth control medication or devices. The request for the law came from a decision of the Portland School Committee to allow a clinic located in a middle school to give out the materials to girls as young as 11 years old without parental notification. The rejection to consider the law was along party lines…Democrats were against the law and Republicans were for it.

The Legislature will begin hearings next week on Governor Baldacci’s proposed budget cuts to meet a huge income shortfall. Those hearings should give me some topics for next week.

A presidential candidate is visiting Maine this weekend. Republican Ron Paul is scheduled to arrive Sunday and will speak in Portland Monday. Don’t read anything into my mentioning this here as I’m not one of his supporters. But he is a national figure visiting our state. I won’t be going to hear him. The Republican caucuses will be held in Maine next weekend.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks. I hope I’ve at least accomplished the task my inspirational blogger said I should complete. And, by the way, if you'd like to sample some real good writing and especially if you have a love of knitting, visit my inspirator.

G.D.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Maine money spent in New Hampshire

I’ve mentioned on several occasions that Maine is one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Our neighbor, New Hampshire, doesn’t have some of the major taxes that are hurting many Mainers. Income tax and sales tax are two of them. Maine has a 5% sales tax on most items, New Hampshire has none. Maine puts the tax at 7% for lodgers and folk who go to restaurants.

There is a general belief by Mainers at least, even though state officials dispute it, that a good number of Southern Mainers regularly cross the border to do their shopping. The closer to the border a resident lives, the more likely that the trip will be made.

This year, sales tax revenue is down in Maine contributing to a big state budget shortfall. The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organization based in Portland, Maine, is studying how much tax revenue Maine loses to New Hampshire.

In its first of what it says will be an on-going study report issued today in a Maine Issue Brief 1, MHPC cited U.S. Census statistics that said in the year 2005, Maine’s tax burden—tax collections as a percent of personal income—was 45 percent higher than New Hampshire’s. The Maine Issue Brief pointed out that difference could be a big incentive for Mainers to shop in the Granite State.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center conducted this study on Dec. 1, 2007, at seven border stores in New Hampshire, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and a liquor store. It counted license plates. Thirty to forty percent of all cars stopping at the liquor store in Portsmouth had Maine license plates. A Wal-Mart in Somersworth had the most Maine plates during a study period.

The report is broken down into several categories of amounts spent, number of cars, turnover rates, and other pieces of useful information. (The complete report can be found here.) Using a combination of statistical estimates, the MHPC suggests that Mainers save more than 36 million dollars a year in taxes by shopping in New Hampshire. That’s a lot of money and money that most of which doesn’t benefit our state.

The report does point out that avoiding Maine tax by shopping out of state is illegal. Maine law requires such buyers to file as part of their income tax each year the payment of a 5% “use” tax on those purchases. However, the report says, the low level of state income from that tax indicates most Mainers do not pay it. It also says, “This study does not condone illegal tax avoidance; however, fully understanding the causes and consequences of cross-border shopping can lead to better tax policy.”

1 Maine Issue Brief is a publication of The Maine Heritage Policy Center that provides research and commentary on current public policy issues. All information is from sources considered reliable, but may be subject to inaccuracies, omissions, and modifications. The Maine Heritage Policy Center is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational organization based in Portland, Maine. The Center formulates and promotes free market, conservative public policies in the areas of economic growth, fiscal matters, health care, and education – providing solutions that will benefit all the people of Maine.
Contributions to MHPC are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.
© 2007 The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Material from this document may be copied and distributed with proper citation.

The entire report is fascinating reading and good food for thought. It includes a statement that the report should not promote increased or heavy monitoring of sales by Maine revenue agents but rather should give the Legislature some food for thought for Maine tax reform.

G.D.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

This and That -- Two

Here’s another day of some random thoughts on the news and other events.

*****

In the news, Governor Baldacci is backing a proposed law to ban smoking in cars with children statewide. This doesn’t affect me in any way as I don’t smoke and I don’t have any children young enough to be affected. The proposal is based on a current ban in the city of Bangor. Maine would not be the first state to do enact such a ban as several others already ban smoking in cars carrying children. Maine already very heavily taxes smoking products and is possibly the best state to utilize its portion of the national smoking settlement by promoting quitting. I guess I sometimes wonder why, if smoking is so bad, it isn’t just banned altogether.

*****

We have cooked stuff in a slow cooker for quite a while now, but it was all simple, traditional food, like a roast or chicken and foods like that. Yes, she did put in vegetables to give the meal some enhancement, but shucks, to be honest, the meals were really our normal dishes just cooked slowly. We eat these simple meals because one of us, and it isn’t she, likes simplicity of food. I guess you might say that person is a somewhat picky eater. She decided recently to try some creativity in the slow cooker and using ingredients I wouldn’t normally use. Well, gee willikers. The stuff has been great. Not being a cook, I can’t give you the recipes she’s discovered, but I’m loving every bite. Too bad I waited so long (almost a half a century) to encourage her creativity.

*****

Another criticism of our Legislature: For some reason it refuses to put any teeth into punishment for child abusers. At least two outrageous cases recently emphasize the need for adults who take sexual advantage of children to receive much longer prison sentences. In the most recent case, a man took advantage of a young boy. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but all but a few months were suspended. He’ll be back on the streets soon. The other involves a woman who took advantage of a young boy a couple years ago. She also received a five year sentence but all but nine months were suspended. She’s back on the streets now, and she’s been arrested again for abusing the same boy since her release. And a former school administrator was sentenced to 364 days in prison today for sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy. An attempt was made in the last session to pass a Jessica’s Law, similar to one in Florida. But the Legislature resisted calls for mandatory sentences hoping judges would use careful discretion. Nine months in prison doesn’t seem to indicate that discretionary sentencing is working very well.

*****

Yesterday, temperatures in our section of Maine reached the mid-30s. It was a beautiful day, almost warm and pleasant. There was very little wind. Today, temperatures here again reached the mid-30s. But today was very cold and almost raw. The sun was shining just as brightly, but there certainly was a difference. I got the explanation on the news tonight as our local weatherman explained the difference. It seems that our humidity was about a low as it gets around here and just a few degrees higher than that in the Sahara Desert. It was that low humidity that caused the more uncomfortable feel of the weather. Colder air is heading here for tomorrow and there even could be enough moisture in the air for us to have a few snow showers. Temperatures and our reaction to them intrigue me sometimes. Yesterday and today were 35ish and we thought that even though it felt colder today, it was nice. Yet just a few months from now, May perhaps, that 35 will feel like it’s freezing.

G.D.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Losing Interest Already

I won’t make any friends with this one, but I simply hate long, unnecessarily drawn out hypes. The 2008 Super Bowl will be discussed, analyzed, promoted and second guessed for 12 more days. And on that Sunday, the TV will begin its coverage at dawn for a night game. I honestly do not get any enjoyment out of all this pre-game activity which is absolutely totally irrelevant.

I was raised here in Maine and in my childhood nearly all New Englanders rooted for the New York Giants. Of course back then you could count the number of professional football teams on your fingers. Most of us could give you all the latest stats of Giants players.

I for one didn’t get too excited when the American Football League came along. Boston did have a team in it, but it wasn’t the New York Giants, a National Football Team. Eventually the AFL sort of forced a merger and the two conferences, AFC and NFC, continued the name of the National Football League.

For a while many of us Giants fans remained loyal. In fact, there still are many loyal Giants fans in New England. I probably am more of a Patriots fan these days than Giants; but I must admit on Sunday afternoons if both are playing at the same time, I just might be watching the Giants.

New England and New York aren’t natural rivalries as the play in different conferences and it takes a Super Bowl to get them together. I am looking forward to the game simply because for me it represents the better of two worlds: Growing up and growing away.

But the hype we’ll be living through for the next 12 days for me adds absolutely nothing. Most of the analyst’s prognostications will be wrong; they usually are. We’ll have daily blasts of injuries (Did you see the picture of Brady in his walking cast?), distractions (Why has Randy Moss all but disappeared?), and how many successful road victories the Giants have racked up and the Patriots home game wins. New England will be the Super Bowl home team.

Even this morning on the early morning news, the Super Bowl was mentioned virtually between every news story, before every weathercast, opening each segment, closing each segment.

I’m already tired of the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, I’ll be watching the game at game time, but very, very little of the rest.

I should mention that the Super Bowl isn’t the only drawn out event I’m disgusted with. Even worse is the presidential procedure. The Democrats have been running against President Bush for three years. And the President isn’t even a candidate. The caucuses and primaries for nominating candidates began before the New Year. Campaigning began way back last summer and before. And in some of the caucuses and primaries already held, anyone could vote for a candidate in either party. Perhaps both.

Some of us remember when the nominations were held in the summer before the November elections but the actual “season” didn’t begin until Labor Day. Sometimes I really think the “good old days” were better.

But like I’ll watch the Super Bowl, my string of voting in every election since I turned 21 (that was the voting age then) will continue. But I’m already tired of the whole thing.

G.D.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mandated Consolidation and the Kids

Saturday I wrote about what I consider to be a total mess and something that probably should be abandoned at least until an honest plan can be worked out. It was about the school consolidation law that Maine has on the books and which consolidates a whole lot of local school districts and already unified administrative districts into 80 consolidated districts.

You can read about just a small amount of the mass confusion in the piece below. I had planned to let it ride right there until more confusion had been discussed by the Legislature. But, if you read the comment at the end, the commenter asked a really good question. What about the kids?

What a great question that is. There has been precious little written about the effect on kids. The mandated consolidation is about saving money. Of course no one can explain who will benefit from that savings, either. Except there’s a real good chance the state will be able to use the consolidation as a reason not to fund local education at levels voters approved in referendum a couple of years ago. The Legislature took it upon itself then to decimate the referendum and still has not met its goals in spite of the voters’ wishes.

Now I suspect it’s looking for a legal way to cut that funding dramatically. After all, we’re facing an official $93 million budget shortfall and many people from all sides of the issue say that’s a very conservative estimate. Before the biennial fiscal budget is over, and we’re less than half way now, the shortfall could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe the state is hoping this ill-conceived consolidation plan will take care of a goodly portion of it.

The local property tax payer just could be hit very hard with the consolidation. Part of that goes right to the heart of my commenter’s question. What about the kids? They will end up suffering. Many regions of Maine are extremely rural. We have few what you might call urban areas. Greater Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, and Bangor come to mind as possibly the only real ones. Most of the population over the rest of the state is spread out very thinly.

Our governor, John Baldacci, assures us that schools won’t be closed. He says school buildings could serve as service centers for the population. If a building is to have that designation, it would have to close as a school. So, if this comes to pass, students who attended classes in many schools will have to be bussed much longer distances. I’ve read in some places that those commutes for the kids could be anywhere from a half hour to two hours each way each day. The supporters of the governor will say this is absolute nonsense, but all one really has to read are the governor’s own words.

The ending of buildings as schools probably won’t happen in the first year or two; but once the consolidated district committees have budget problems, they’ll look to closing buildings. I suspect parents will rapidly become unhappy when their children have to be at bus stops at five or six o’clock in the morning when in Maine during the school year it’s very dark.
Extra-curricular activities, which I personally believe are an extremely important part of a youngster’s education program, could also take a hit. Can you imagine having to travel an hour or two after school to play a game and then travel back? As a parent, I might have to think twice about my child’s participation, even though the lessons learned in such activities prepare youth for life.

These are just a couple of ways that kids potentially can be affected by this terrible law. I haven’t read too much about what will happen in classrooms, but my imagination says the potential for a lot of not nice things happening are there. I don’t think the governor or Department of Education really gives a whistle about “the kids.” They just want to save tax dollars for them to spend as they wish. Unfortunately, for us property owners, the potential tax increases will continue our fall into worsening financial conditions.

I’d be very surprised if my “What about the kids?” commenter doesn’t give me some direction here so stay tuned.

G.D.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Confusing Mess

Maine’s school consolidation law is becoming rather obscure, confusing, and messy. Our governor Baldacci and the state’s Department of Education want to consolidate nearly 275 individual school systems into just 80. Actually, the governor wanted fewer but the Legislature made it 80 when it hastily passed the law last June. I say “hastily” because it was a last minute law passed with little or no public input nor input from the affected existing systems.

It’s becoming apparent, at least to me, that the law must temporarily at the very least be put on hold. The rules are already being considered for change, and none of the consolidation has yet taken place.

By the December deadline, all but one, I think it was one but have forgotten which that one was, new group had submitted their consolidation plans. One legislator in a recent hearing said the groups only tentatively joined because they were under the gun. There will be a financial penalty for districts which do not consolidate.

One of the rules is now being seriously considered for a change. A provision of the law was that each new district put its budget out for a public vote. I should point out that some of the state’s current SAD’s (School Administrative Districts) already have the public vote, but those SAD’s don’t necessarily constitute the new consolidated districts. But now, because of immense pressure from current districts and because of many inequities among the suggested consolidators, the Legislature is considering giving the new consolidated districts the option of putting off that vote until next year.

Several newly formed districts have also cancelled their plans to continue, at least until all the rules have been considered. There have been two or three that have flatly ended their efforts entirely to consolidate. Many are saying it is becoming very apparent that this consolidation effort will not only not bring any tax relief, a goal in the beginning, but also will bring great tax increases to many current districts.

As I read through this, my first thoughts are I’ve written one of the most confusing pieces I’ve written here since I started. I would defend that observation, however, with what I believe was a poorly written confusing consolidation law in the first place. These problems are only the beginning. The law should be put on hold, if not repealed entirely, until reasonable people can sit down and reasonably plan a consolidation plan that will indeed bring tax relief without damaging education in Maine. With many changes, that would be a goal that might be reached.

G.D.

Note: Tomorrow is Sunday and I plan to take Sundays off.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Lost Puppy

I was a lost puppy, a very old lost puppy, today. I know not why, but I lost everything that could entertain me this day, except, of course, housework. My wife has chosen to work a parttime job to keep her busy. I reject the idea that she might just be trying to get away from me. We are both retired, except only I practice retirement full time.

We have a television set that is about 15 years old. It is neither digital nor high definition (HD) and doesn’t have the capability of either. We do have cable television so we aren’t being forced to buy a new TV when the analog system in use today ends next year. But I have a friend who has been telling me about his HDTV for quite a while now and has me longing for one. The problem is I’m rather stingy and can’t find a reason to buy a new one.

A couple of days ago MGD told me she was hearing a funny noise from the TV and it has been that way for about a week. I wear two hearing aids so that gives you a hint of my ability to hear. I didn’t hear any noises from the TV. This morning, shortly after my wife headed out, I was watching the TV when it suddenly went “Pfffft” and the screen went black. I hate to admit that my first reaction was, “Oh, great. Here comes my new HDTV.”

I immediately grabbed my laptop to send an e-mail to my friend that I’d be getting a new TV soon and to ask for suggestions. Shucks! I had no internet connection. You see, I have a “package” from my cable provider. TV, Internet, telephone. Now, no TV, no internet. I think a tear was forming in my eye as I picked up the phone to test it. No dial tone. Whatever had happened, and even now I know not what happened, I had lost all my communications. Well, not quite all. I still had my cell phone in case of an emergency.

But with those other three methods of communication out, I had nothing to do. Sure I could have listened to the radio or my old fashioned stereo unit. I could have read. I could have gone for a walk since our rain ended about noontime. I could have done some housework to make life easier for my bride of 46+ years as I occasionally do so she doesn’t have to. There are many things I could have done. But, I had no communications. All I could really do was stew over that.

I can easily live with no TV. There’s really precious little being offered that “requires” watching. During a weekday daytime, there’s not much sports on. Sports is my main TV fare when MGD isn’t also watching. I think I’ve seen every episode of Walker and Law and Order a gazillion times. So the loss of TV wasn’t a big deal.

But the loss of the internet and e-mail was disastrous. My life wouldn’t change if I couldn’t read my local political forum a hundred times a day. Or ESPN. Or even my daily round of newspapers on line. But when one can’t connect, he just absolutely knows he’s missing something. I missed nothing today. I did miss my daily plethora of emails telling me how much cheaper prescriptions are in Canada, how I can expand my manly elements, how I can qualify for loans regardless of my credit, and all those other offers that pour in daily. Thankfully, I have a wonderful program on my computers that screen these first so I’m not usually bothered.

I did miss the occasional communications with my friends in Florida.

Whatever happened to my connection got company corrected during the day. I’m obviously back on line and the TV is blazing away with the news. And I did complete the laundry for MGD, but other than that, it’s been a frustrating day. But this very lost puppy isn’t lost anymore.

*******************

I apparently have some problems with my Blogspot and readers haven’t been able to post. I apologize for any problems and will work on correcting the situation tomorrow.

G.D.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Changing Education

A glimpse of the changing education was presented on the NBC Nightly News last night. There was a story about outsourcing tasks. Although the article was about how people have begun to outsource the way they live (I didn’t get too much nor did I understand this part), it spends a few moments showing how families and some schools are outsourcing the help children get in education.

Youngsters getting aid were using their computers on line with a help source in India for explanations they apparently weren’t getting from their teachers. Or from their parents. One youngster was getting help with algebra equations while another was getting some grammar assistance. It showed one classroom where students were on line getting help with the day’s assignments.

This is a far cry from the way I was taught so many years ago, and yes, before computers. I can remember working on similar algebra equations with teachers who not only understood them themselves but had both the training and the ability to teach me how to do them. There were no easy shortcuts but when we finished, most of us had how to solve the problems. There were a lot of my fellow students who didn’t like doing them, but certainly gave the tasks their best efforts.

I haven’t studied how to do mathematics since the 1950s. But because of the expectation of learning all through my schooling, I still find myself creating formulae to help me solve situations in which I find myself. We were not allowed to use aids such as calculators (I did learn how to use a slide rule while in high school.) until we could demonstrate the knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and how to apply the principles to the math situations we faced.

I heard the argument that we now have these wonderful devices to help us; why not use them? We should and I do. I hate, however, to find myself in a position where a device either was not available or had broken down when I needed to solve a problem. It reminds me of an event I witnessed a few years ago at one of the local stores. I was in a checkout lane when a person in the next lane asked how much something was and then gave the young clerk a bill large enough to cover it. The clerk entered the size of the bill into her cash register when the customer said to wait a moment as she had the correct change portion of the price. The clerk actually broke out crying because she didn’t know how to handle the procedural situation. She had to call a manager for assistance. The clerk knew how to push the buttons on the register, read the total, and then subtract the total to the amount tendered. She had a device. When she had to make an adjustment without the device, she was at a loss. I felt sorry for her.

I’ve spend much time here on mathematics because that was the highlight of the news story I saw last night. But math certainly isn’t the only place education has changed. We also had to learn the rules of English and writing. I know where there are sentences, or fragments, here that have the rules errors in them in this blog. For example, there is one in the second paragraph. And in this paragraph there’s one sentence beginning with “but” and another with “and.” We learned in school so many years ago that’s a no-no. But we also learned that once we learned the rules, they could be “broken” if we knew what we were doing and why we were doing it. I recall a major paper I turned in to a college professor once that had some of these adjustments. I got the paper back, told to rewrite it, and footnote the errors and why they were used. That was done in the days long before word processors where I could have simply brought up the paper and made the changes. I had to retype the whole darn thing.

How important was learning the rules of English grammar and writing? We had this little test in our junior year in high school called “minimum essentials.” No matter what our grades were, we could not graduate from high school until that test was passed. Perhaps it was just we couldn’t move on to our senior year without passing it; but if that were the rule, the non-graduation part would be accurate as it took that senior year to get out.

In English we read the so-called classics of literature, literature that had remained throughout the ages because it generally taught a truth or a moral value. Is there a difference? Today, I understand, some classics are taught, but mostly students are reading literature that meets the needs of the teacher. For the most part, it is literature that will be long forgotten in the very near future.

Perhaps one of the most important classes I ever took, actually two years, was Latin. Is it still taught today? I hated every minute of those classes and the homework that went with them. In hindsight, though, I have a far greater insight into our language. And in those few times I run into a word I’m not familiar with (Oh, yes…of which I’m not familiar), I usually don’t have to turn to a dictionary because of my Latin.

We read the Constitution and by the time we left high school had in inkling of what it meant and why it was so important to our country. I suspect the Constitution isn’t even mentioned in today’s schools. We learned history through the documents of history, not through the revisionist documents of today. I not only could easily point out every state in the United States but also could point out virtually every nation in the world. I still can come very close to the world nations. The states have never left me, along with their capitols. I still can tell you many of the causes of our Civil War and most others, as well.

Oh, gosh, could I go on! Perhaps one day I’ll again break out into nostalgia in education. I’d love to have teachers and schools today once again hold their students responsible for learning. Oh! I’m off. I suspect there’s a good chance that one time in the future I’ll visit this again.

G.D.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Little More on "Average"

Yesterday I gave some thought on the need to cut the state’s budget. I said then that the new buzz word in Augusta is “average.” According to a couple of newspapers I read yesterday and today, the Morning Sentinel and the Times-Record, one speaker said the only way the state could become average was to cut its among the highest in the nation per capita spending. He cited our position as the second highest ranked state and local taxed state in the nation.

On TV last night, a legislator said that her legislative committee had no choice but to look at budget cutting to bring Maine more into line with national averages. Then this morning, in a TV news clip Governor Baldacci used the word average as what the goal for spending should be.

Reporting for the Times Record on Monday’s Maine Center for Economic Policy summit on government spending, Victoria Wallack outlined some of the places that Maine spending is above average. She pointed out that Richard Silkman, the vice president of a think tank called Maine Public Spending Research Group and a speaker at the meeting, said that to become average, Maine must begin spending at the national level.

The most spending in the state’s budget is in education and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Calling it simple arithmetic Silkman’s figures, for example, showed that 180 million dollars could be saved by a slight increase in student-ratio of fewer than 3 students and reducing students identified as having special needs by about 4%.

Maine spends almost twice as much per person on MaineCare, Maine’s version of Medicaid, than the national average. Cutting that to the average could save about $300 million in state spending and cutting the number of recipients by about 4% to the national level could save another $167 million.

These are just a few of the ways the state could cut its spending and thus lower the tax burden on its citizens. I would suspect that much more savings could be found in many other state departments. The suggestions at the summit have drawn tepid reactions at best, although as I mentioned earlier, there is some recognition at the legislative level and in the governor’s office of the need to move toward average.

It would be a very safe bet that the state’s educators and clients of DHHS will fight any changes. Those affected by any potential cuts in other budgets probably would put up equally vigorous opposition.

The Maine Legislature is faced with a huge revenue shortfall for its current biennial budget and, without some serious changes, probably will face even more shortfalls down the road. It will take some difficult decisions to institute change, and with the governor’s vow to veto any tax or fee increases designed to raise more money to cover the deficit it will be a difficult session for the Maine Legislature.

G.D.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Spending Cuts Can Make Us "Average"

“Average” has become the new buzz word in our state capitol, Augusta. I’ve mentioned several times here that we are the highest or second highest tax state in the nation. Today I found out that the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan educational group, says we are the second highest state and local tax state.

The Waterville Morning Sentinel newspaper reported this morning that in a conference in Augusta yesterday, a speaker said Maine must move closer to the “average” in its spending if it wants to give us some relief to all those taxes. Richard Silkman, a former state planning director and now vice president of Maine Public Spending Research Group, a non-profit, non-partisan group that analyses tax and spending data, specifically pointed out that three areas, special education, teachers’ pay, and Medicaid, which together comprise the largest budget expenditures, have to get closer to “average.”

That, of course, means some very tough decisions are facing our lawmakers as spending cuts may be the only way out. Silkman said that the only way to become “average” is to spend at national averages.

Maine, he said, has a high student-teacher ratio and puts more than 18% of its students into special education classes. The national average, he said, is less that 14%.

On the Medicaid side he told the audience that this state has a very generous benefit package. Medicaid is partially funded by the federal government, but about one quarter of all Maine residents are enrolled. The benefits exceed those of federal limits.

At least one Republican legislator told the group that if reducing the deficit is honestly a priority, then serious cuts in the budget must be made. And today, another legislator, a Democrat, agreed and told a local TV station (WCSH-TV) the Legislature must make those tough decisions so that the state can become "average" in its spending.

Naturally, people who receive all the freebies from Maine government will oppose any attempt to cut funding. But making cuts will be necessary if spending is to become “average” as has become the newest buzz word.

I also believe we must stop the funding of generational welfare recipients. Maine has become a state that welcomes just about anyone who needs such help, whether from our state or from “away.” I’m among many Mainers who want to help those in immediate need, but have a hard time with families that get into welfare and don’t want to get out (usually, I understand, because the welfare bennies are better than working wages). But jobs are out there and most unemployed people could help themselves. I’m not the hard-nosed person this sounds like. I have worked up to three jobs at the same time in the past while my wife has worked while we raised two children to make ends meet.

I applaud efforts to cut spending in Maine. It’s a position our Legislature has put us in, and it’s now evident it’s a position it must free us from.

G.D.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A little snow couldn't stop me!

Snow is falling on much of Maine today. It’s one of those snowstorms that caused school and some business cancellations. The storm was not unexpected as local weather forecasters began preparing us last week. Forecasters around here, though, have a way of warning us of storms that end up with only an inch or two of snow or pass us by altogether. Today as I jot this down, my little town has received more than 10 inches so far, and it’s still snowing very hard. The storm should be out of the southern part of the state by early evening.

I have some mobility and balance problems so it’s been quite a while, actually probably several years, since I’ve ventured out alone in a storm like this. But at 8 AM it wasn’t too bad, perhaps a quarter inch on the ground so I decided to keep my scheduled doctor’s appointment. I thought those weather folk had fooled us again, but conditions are now showing us this time they had it right. During the past years, either my wife or a good friend would drive me to necessary places. That way I didn’t have to negotiate snowy and icy parking lots on foot. A fall could be disastrous for me. I hadn’t made any arrangements for today so off I went alone.

It wasn’t a mistake, but it was an adventure. I arrived at the doctor’s office a little early and a cancellation allowed me to get to see him early. A little over an hour later, I left. There were two inches of new snow on the car. Once in my younger days when I knew I was invincible, I hadn’t cleaned the windows. I never saw the tree. So, today I brushed the whole car, including the windows, off and headed home, a drive through three towns.

I’d forgotten how stupid people, especially people with all- or four-wheel drive vehicles, are. Crazies were driving in this stuff 30-40 mph. Several cars roared past me. I drove about 20. I’d guess I was like the ones I used to silently swear at 40 years ago when I was being held up by some old geezer driving 20 mph in a storm. Today, I was wearing a cap, but didn’t have a cigar.

I’d forgotten about spinning wheels and little hills. I’d forgotten about stopping on a hill for a red light and then starting up again. I’d forgotten about how cars like to slide sideways turning a corner. I’d forgotten watching a stopped car ahead of me get closer and closer when I pressed the brakes. It didn’t take long for it all to come back. Fortunately, my decision to drive very slowly paid off.

I got home safely and have decided that it might be another several years before I venture out in this stuff again.

Now there’s another huge storm possibly to arrive here Friday. I wonder if my friend in Florida would like to come home early just in case I need a lift somewhere.

G.D.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Day Off

I can't tell you why because I have no specific or real reason. But I simply am taking Sundays, at least this one off. I guess I'm resting up for the forecast 8 to 12 inches of snow expected here tomorrow.

G.D.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Lazy Day in Maine

This is kind of a lazy day around here. The sun is shining and the temperatures have reached into the upper 40s around this part of Southern Maine. From what we hear on the TV, it would appear we’re going to have another half decent day tomorrow and then Monday some snow might hit the area.

It’s been a while now since we’ve had snow. Our last storm was a week and a half ago after what seemed like one every other day in December. Snow, of course, is not unusual in Maine, but after several days with temperatures in the 50s and one record setting day over 60, a storm Monday could be unpleasant.

I like days like today. Our daughter brought her dog over to play with ours. The dogs are sisters, but I suspect they have no clue about that. They sure do love to play together, though, and they can amuse all of us for quite a time. We have a fairly decent sized yard which is bounded by an Invisible Fence and both dogs have been trained to respect the boundaries so they have good running and romping room.

If you’re not familiar with an Invisible Fence (capitalized here because it’s also the name of the company that installs them), it is a wire which is embedded in the ground and emits a radio signal which a collar on the dog can receive if the dog is within 3 feet. It beeps for three seconds giving the dog time to back out of the zone. If she doesn’t, well it gets a shocking surprise. We have our entire yard wired with separate wires around several gardens, flower and veggie, we have. The company representatives came here several times when it was first installed teaching my wife and me how to train the dogs. After each session we spent time with the animals performing the new tasks. About three weeks after it all started, all training materials had been removed and the dogs were on their own. Both dogs have great respect for the fence and neither has left our yard while the collar was on.

It is rather entertaining to watch our Golden chase a squirrel. She’ll run full speed the length of the yard only to screech to a halt 4 feet from the wire. Last summer there was a bird that learned the boundary and would fly from one side of the yard to the other and then land just on the other side of the wire. Of course the dog would race after the bird but never cross the line. There’s a neighborhood cat that knows the dogs boundary, too, and will saunter past the house just on the other side. There are times that our little Golden is truly tormented.

The daughter and her dog have left for home and here it is mid afternoon. Our retriever is sound asleep.

And now I’m waiting patiently for the afternoon to pass. The Patriots are on the tube tonight.

G.D.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Fun Begins!

We Mainers are in for a real wild ride over the next several weeks. The battle will be waged in Augusta as the state Legislature attempts to resolve the state’s budget shortfall by making some cuts, performing some consolidations, and not making any tax increases.

Those taxes are in just about everyone’s mind. After all, as I’ve said here before, we live in the highest taxed state in the country. Residents are telling our lawmakers that we cannot stand any more taxation. There are some Democrats, however, that feel the best way to solve the crisis is through taxation. The Bangor Daily News reported this morning that the idea of increasing taxes is probably dead because the governor has said he will veto any tax increase. Republicans, who have said they will not support increases, along with many Democrats who also say they are against more taxes, would sustain any veto.

Social issues seem to face the majority of cuts. The governor has told us that the cuts will not affect those among us who are the most vulnerable. He does say, however, the many people who are even a little above the minimum wage will be vulnerable. These include people whose income is above that which generally the cutoff for Medicaid benefits.’

People are allowed, if they register, to respond or comment on news articles in the paper. At least one said he felt that anyone who is a lifelong welfare recipient should be affected. He said he was tired and couldn’t afford to support those who have accepted welfare as a way of life.

I’d bet most of us have been behind someone in a supermarket checkout line who pays with a welfare card for very expensive cuts of meat or lobster many of us can’t afford, then pull out a wad of cash to pay for cigarettes, etc.

Most of us would willingly help someone out of a “spot” but, including me, do not find supporting second/third generation recipients who just won’t get a job for themselves.

During his State of the State speech Wednesday night, the State House was surrounded by welfare recipients who wanted no change. No matter that most of Mainers simply can no longer afford to pay the tax bill, there is and will continue to be much pressure on the Legislature not to make any cuts in welfare benefits.

Another area the governor wants to consolidate is the jail administration. That, too, will face stiff opposition. The story will continue.

G.D.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wow! The Problem for Maine is Beginning!

Our governor came out with his plan to save the budget today. It’s probably best that I don’t express my exact opinion. But basically, it was the same old, same old.

He did follow through with some cuts in welfare, but he said he wanted to be sure that those among us who were the most vulnerable won’t be touched.

He did say that our MaineCare (nationally part of the Medicaid program) might go through some adjustment, like making sure that income became part of the eligibility requirements.

He also said that that Maine state jobs have been cut severely when a quick check of the government website shows that several hundred new jobs have been created.

He said he wants to find increased funding to make the state’s Dirigo Insurance Program work. That is a program which wants to bring to Maine universal insurance that has failed everywhere in the world it’s been tried. It's also been a failure in Maine. He wants to force the members of the Maine State Retirement System, state workers, and other state employees become members. My suspicion is simple: State legislators, now part of a “Cadillac” program from Anthem, will want nothing to do with it. I think I’m beginning to think I need to express my self on the universal insurance plan.

He is also more vigorously calling for the consolidation of the state’s school systems, the various (counties’) jail programs, and some departments. These, along with his proposed cuts in welfare programs, will cause absolute chaos in Maine.

But, for me, it’s a big Thank you, Governor. I’ve got some topics for the next several days. Most of us in this state can’t afford anything he’s proposed.

G.D.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Just Stuff!

January 9th, and once again the temperature in our part of Maine rose above 50 degrees, and that was after a record setting 62 yesterday. We call in the January Thaw and it usually lasts a couple of days. But it was so nice following a December of icy cold and snow. Lots of snow. It has been melting this week and feet high drifts and plow piles have dropped.

My pup isn’t happy with the melt. She loves to sit atop the piles where she has a much better view of her world. We have an Invisible Fence around our whole large yard so the pup has a wide range of choices for her view. The other day my wife and I were doing some work in our living room. We looked outside once and there was the pup laying high atop a plow pile watching our every move.

The wind occasionally let us knows winter was still around. Sure, we get wind year round, but this time of year it mixes with the temperature to add some discomfort. The weather guys and gals say it could blow fairly strongly this evening just ahead of a cold front which is expected to bring an hour or so of heavy rain. I guess that’ll signal the beginning of the end of the super stretch.

Our governor will deliver his State of the State speech to the Legislature tonight. As I’ve mentioned before, Maine is facing a huge revenue deficit and the Governor is expected to tell us how we should correct the problem.

The other day I lamented on unenrolled voters voting in party primaries. From reports I heard today, it’s a worse situation that I imagined. If the reports were correct, anyone could have gone to a polling place, simply told the clerk a name with no proof necessary, not even proof of residency, and voted. That leads me to wonder how many times one person could vote. Hmmmm.

G.D.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Oh, Happy Day!

This was a day Momma G.D. and I have been waiting for nearly 15 years. We got word from our son that he and his family will be visiting us in March.

The boy left Maine to go out West to marry a girl he met on the Internet. She actually came here for a few days to travel west with him. It also gave his mother, our daughter, and me a chance to meet her. It was a sad day for us when he drove out of this place he had called home all his life. He had a college degree in education so at least we had confidence he would find work. I should add he went back to University out there and earned his Masters and at least has been working on his doctorate.

M.G.D. and I flew out to his new home to attend the wedding. We got to spend a couple of days with the lad and his bride-to-be and her family, participate in the ceremony and then flew home.

Three times M.D.G. and I went west on vacations. Due to circumstances we only got to spend a day or two with our son and his wife. The second visit gave us a chance to meet our granddaughter, and that was a wonderful couple of days. D-I-L did all she could to make our visit a meaningful one. But I sensed tensions on both families.

We had our last trip west three years ago but couldn’t get to their home. We offered to pay all their expenses to come to us and arranged a couple of extra days on our vacation to Alaska hoping we could get together. It was not to be.

Yes. You can believe there’s a lot more to this story, but sometimes it’s best just to return to happier moments.

Those moments began for us New Year’s Eve when we got a call from the lad asking if we would be available if he and his wife and daughter came to Maine for a short visit. We wanted to do pirouettes, shout from the mountain tops, leap for joy. But we could only interpret the call as exploratory, so generally maintained our silence. Only one other human being was given the information. We’ve kept our silence, even from our daughter.

Today, an email arrived telling us that the tickets were in hand, the reservation for a rental car was in hand, and they’d arrive in March. Now the joy has taken over. We are looking forward to a wonderful, happy, and, yes, I’ll call it a reunion, with our son and his family. M.G.D. has already written down the days she’ll need off from her part-time “Just gotta have something to do” job.

We’ll give the information to our daughter a little later tonight.

Meanwhile, the sun is shining in Southern Maine, and it’s shining directly on us.

G.D.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Flawed Primary

Does this make any sense?

The New Hampshire presidential primaries are scheduled for tomorrow. I’ve previously stated that I’m already sick and tired of this election season and honestly haven’t followed it too closely. But I just heard a news clip that said polls show Barack Obama and John McCain have huge leads in their respective parties going into tomorrow’s primaries. I guess that part is OK, but other reports I’ve heard today raise some suspicion that the results won’t truly reflect how participants in the two parties really feel.

You see, according to various reports, anyone can vote in either party’s elections tomorrow. I guess I’m na├»ve to think that Republicans should determine who will represent them in the national elections and Democrats should make the same determination for their party. But that’s not the case in NH. So-called Independents, or unenrolled citizens, can pick a party and vote tomorrow. It appears that NH is not unique as Maine, and in some other states, Independents can do the same thing.

We have caucuses rather than primary balloting, as did Iowa last week, but people not enrolled in a party can still participate in those caucuses. In some states, at least, and I believe Maine is among them, the Independents must declare for a party the day of the caucus, but can return to their Independent status 3 months later.

According to the news reports, it will be those unenrolled voters who will determine the Democrat Obama and Republican McCain victories in NH tomorrow. Several candidates in both parties will effectively be eliminated from the races tomorrow as the news media will declare the also-rans out thus drying up the funds for those campaigns.

How many NH winners have gone on to their party’s eventual nomination? Bill Clinton didn’t win in NH. George Bush didn’t, either. They, however, were in the financial condition that allowed them to continue and go on to be President of the United States. And John McCain, if my memory serves me, was a NH winner.

Now please don’t misconstrue my feelings here. I’m not saying that Obama and McCain should not be the eventual nominee. I’m just saying that I think the process is flawed. It seems to me that if Barack Obama is going to be the nominee, you know, the one listed on the November ballot with a D after his name, and if John McCain is going to be nominee with the R after his name, then their nominations should be from Democrats and Republicans and not from so-called Independents who will claim to be D’s or R’s for the hour.

Of course, if New Hampshire is the bellwether state it claims to be, as a result of past elections there is a good possibility that neither Obama nor McCain will be around this summer.

It all makes no sense to me. Perhaps I should have been following this incredibly long election process just a little closer.

G.D.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A very little this; A very little that!

*My bride of nearly a half century woke up during the night needing a drink of water. After her drink she stopped by the bedroom window to look outside. She was surprised to see right below the window two deer, probably, she thinks, a momma and babe. Quite a sight. Although a neighbor had said she had seen a deer or two in past years, this was the first sighting from our house. We do not live in the country. The presence of the two animals didn’t bother our Retriever who, according to my wife, slept through the whole event. Sort of gives one a great sense of security, doesn’t it?

*What a great day to get rid of some ice? We had a few places on a walkway and driveway that had built up from the last storm. But with thawing today, most of it could be chipped away and once again we have a black driveway. The thaw did my snow thrower some good, too, as a bunch of snow and ice I didn’t get cleaned off Monday melted off.

*Elections are still 11 months away. I don’t recall a 3-year election season ever before. I am so sick and tired of all the rhetoric being spewed. The Democrats haven’t yet learned that President Bush isn’t running again and think they have to beat him. The Republicans look to see which state border they’re crossing and speak accordingly. I don’t think any of them have a real, honest plan to protect America or make the lives of Americans any better.

*I went into a store the other day and bought several items that came to $16.63 w/tax. Then the teenage clerk did something I hadn’t seen done by a young person in years. She handed me my change from a $20 bill what I call correctly, the old fashioned way. Starting at the cost, she counted out the change up to the $20 as she handed it to me. None of that looking at the cash register to see how much to give me and then handed it to me saying, “3.37, your change.” I asked her where she attended school. Cape Elizabeth High School is doing something right.

*Have you noticed how many gas pumps now have yellow stickers on them proclaiming a 10% ethanol mixture? Have you noticed how much your gas mileage has dropped? With the cost of gas these days, I don’t have to be forced to buy more.

I think I'll just do some more of these simple ones down the road.

G.D.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I can't afford these "savings"

The Maine State Government, specifically our Governor John Baldacci and the Department of Education carrying out his mandate, has ordered the 290 school districts to consolidate into 80. Actually, the governor wanted a much smaller number, the Legislature settled on 80. The DOE says the project will save money. It also will virtually eliminate local control of schools and put that control into a new district wide school committee. It also turns present control over city/town/current administrative district schools to the new entity. But unless I’ve missed something along the way, just how those savings will be attained hasn’t been explained. The state Legislature last June passed a law supporting the mandates.

One area the DOE says can save money is by eliminating some administration costs, such as by having a single superintendent of schools serving an entire district. One minor problem with that savings is it won’t be evident for at least three years as most school supers in Maine have three year contracts. Since the new consolidated districts haven’t taken effect yet, there are current school districts extending the contracts of their supers.

Teacher contracts will be altered to give all teachers in a consolidated district the same salary/benefits, generally those of the highest pay in a current local district. All communities in a new consolidated district will also have to share the costs. This is a problem for some current systems that have worked for years to keep their costs low and now are faced with property tax increases.

These are just a few of the problems arising from this ill-conceived, poorly planned consolidation effort. The mandate was presented to the Legislature in the closing days of the last session and rushed through. There was little or no public discussion and little or no input by the local communities involved. Even the Legislature spent minimal time on the law.

The results were predictable. Even though all but perhaps one local is conforming to the mandates with little or no direction or help from the DOE are moving as best they can forward toward consolidation, the complaints have been many and loud. Several legislators have heard the complaints and at least 20 bills have been introduced in the legislative session that began Jan. 2nd to make changes. Some of those include delaying the implementation to give communities time to better negotiate with neighbors with consolidation and monetary details. There have been calls for delay to give school districts more planning time and there have been calls to cancel the whole thing.

Various news organizations report that at a legislative education committee meeting yesterday, one legislator told the gathering that some districts were faced with huge, unworkable geographical areas. Others, he said, were complying only because there was a proverbial gun to their heads. Other suggestions included allowing administrative consolidation as opposed to merging whole school districts.

Members of the committee, however, have listened to the problems coolly and say they hope there are no major changes in the mandate and will resist most of the calls for change before the full Legislature.

Meanwhile, there is a group gathering signatures seeking to have the voters in Maine overturn the law. They have until the end of the month to gather 56 thousand signatures and so far are about 15 thousand shy.

Other than the “millions of dollars” in savings proclaimed by the governor, until we learn where they are coming from, I have a strong feeling this plan is going to cost Maine’s already overtaxed residents a lot more in educational costs than we are now paying. The governor led the establishment of insurance “reform” a couple of years ago pledging that it would lower the cost of insurance. All that boondoggle succeeded in accomplishing was putting Maine into the unenviable position of being among the highest insurance rate payers in the nation.

I’d be very surprised if this school consolidation business didn’t drain our personal finances even more. We are already faced with rising food, gas, heating oil, insurance and other prices and we have a Legislature that has never seen a tax proposal it didn’t love so I really have little hope for school consolidation savings.

The governor also has proposed county jail consolidation to save us more "millions of dollars," but that’s another story.

I’m retired, and my pocketbook simply can’t stand any more “millions of dollar” savings.

G.D.

Friday, January 4, 2008

It's simple: We need real cuts!

The Maine Legislature is continuing its debate on where to find at least 95 million dollars in revenue shortfall to balance the state’s budget. I say “at least” simply because many folk in the know hint the deficit could be significantly higher before the fiscal year is over.

Our governor has said publicly there will be no increase in taxes or fees. He has proposed cuts mainly in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Education (DOE). He emphasized that the most needy among us will not have to suffer.

But Maine Senate President Beth Edmonds told the convening senators yesterday that the cuts would hurt the elderly, the infirm, those with mental disabilities, and other highly visible needy the most. She said that cannot happen and wants tax increases kept on the table.

Over the years, legislators, school personnel, and just about all other state and local governmental departments have always picked the most visible to claim cuts will hurt when in most cases I believe reductions could be made in many ways that would not hurt the most visible among us. When anyone makes such a general statement as I just did, those fighting the cuts retort with, “OK. Show us where cuts can be made.” I can’t make specific suggestions here, but that really isn’t my job. We elect what should be responsible people to study the issues and make the necessary decisions, not to just see how much can be spent. That said, one place that I believe could be cut is the size of our 180 member legislature by perhaps at least a half. I wonder how many millions that could cut into the budget.

Have you ever noticed how a proposed reduction in a budget increase is called a “cut” by the spend crowd? Here’s a hypothetical situation: A department has a budget this year of, say, $1M and proposes a new budget of $1.10M. It might be suggested that the request be reduced by $.05M. That would be decried as a budget cut. I’ve never understood how reasonable people can fall for that one. It is only a reduction in the requested increase. If a proposed budget is just one penny more than the current budget, there is no cut. Before you get excited, I acknowledge my example does not include a cost of inflation increase.

Our legislature faces extremely difficult decisions this year, but it must consider that it is the people of Maine who are paying the bills. And we are simply running out of personal money, not only because of the increases in the cost of living but also because our legislators are taxing us into near bankruptcy.

You’ll probably get somewhat bored with my ranting and raving on this topic, but it is one of the most important facing all Mainers right now.

To be continued. (But I might have a few thoughts on Maine school consolidation tomorrow)

G.D.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's a good idea, but can it work?

I’m not sure where I stand on this one. On the one side of me, it’s a great idea. The other side says it ain’t gonna fly.

A legislative committee in Maine today unanimously passed a proposal by a Republican legislative person to cut 75 million dollars from our budget. (Read below in last night's offering of the budget woes of the sate ofr Maine.) The proposal, apparently, is in line with a Democrat controlled legislative hiring of an outside agency to study the economic woes on state government: (All quotes here are from a Republican press release)

Late last night the Prosperity Committee unanimously approved Senator Jon Courtney’s (R-York) proposal to cut $75 million from the state budget. Senator Courtney’s plan meets the goals put forth in the Brookings Report which called for an independent commission to find savings. The plan also offers tax relief by investing the budget savings in the Maine Tax Relief Fund.” Senate Republican press release.

The release goes on to say, “The plan will form a commission made up of 9 members. Four will be chosen by Democrat Leadership in the House and Senate and four will be chosen by Republican Leadership in the House and Senate. The final member will be picked by the eight appointees and will assume the chairmanship of the commission. This commission will cut $75 million from the budget; their cuts will then come to an up or down vote in each chamber.

Once the savings are enacted the surplus revenue that is brought in will be placed in the Maine Tax Relief fund. This fund will then be used to lower the state income tax. Rather then using the savings on new spending the savings will go to offering real tax relief to the people of Maine. Additional revenues above the LD 1 cap will continue to be placed in the Maine Tax Relief Fund until the income tax has been cut to 4.5%. Once the income tax has been reduced to that rate, surplus money will be released from the fund and budgeted for general purposes. Investment in the Maine Tax Relief Fund will force the state government to go on a diet keep the budget balanced and provide real tax relief for Mainers.

This sounds very good for Maine and its taxpayers. As I’ve said previously in other posts, we’re either the highest or second highest taxed state in the United States.

But the proposal doesn’t stop there. It goes on to discuss Maine’s second highest in the nation insurance costs. “In addition to the formation of this Budget Cutting Commission and tax relief plan, the prosperity committee report makes several recommendations to reduce government costs. Among these recommendations is a review of the guaranteed issue of insurance law and the creation of a high risk insurance pool. It calls for an examination of insurance co-pays for Maine Care recipients as well as looking at ways to increase competition within the insurance industry here in Maine. Each of these areas offer ways to reduce health care costs for individuals as wells as the state. ”Senator Courtney said, ‘This is a victory for the people of Maine. Getting a unanimous report was hard work and with the help of my fellow Republicans we were able to hold the line and get a report that will force the state government to be more efficient. This unanimous bipartisan report is a step in the right direction and as we begin the new session of the legislature I hope it is a sign of other reforms to come.’”Whether or not ii it is a victory for the state of Maine will be up to the Maine Legislature. The report than was passed was a committee report. Even though it passed unanimously in a so-called bi-partisan committee, it doesn’t mean it will be passed by the full legislative body. If both the Maine House and the Maine Senate don’t pass it, it will be a wasted great effort.’’

I believe it’s a great idea. I seriously doubt that the Democratically controlled houses will adopt its provisions.

(All quotes here, in italic type, were taken from the Republican press release and published on a Maine polical form, "As Maine Goes," Scott Fish, Owner and publisher.)

G. D.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's time to cut the state budget

The Maine legislature returned to Augusta, our state capitol, today. This is second session of the current legislature . It is designed to correct problems that have arisen from the first session last January through June and to take care of “emergencies” that have arisen since it adjourned.

Emergencies have arisen. Among them a 95-million dollar revenue shortfall in the state budget. There also have been voices crying “foul” over governor mandated consolidations in the schools and jails. I'll have some personal thoughts on these in the upcoming days.

The governor had said on local radio last week and today in Augusta that he would not accept any increases in taxes or fees to pay for the shortfall. The governor is calling for cuts in several departmental budgets and recently issued an executive order curtailing spending in those departments. He wants the curtailing to become official cuts.

We live in the heaviest taxed state in the union, except, perhaps and I haven’t check recently if it’s still true, one other state. I say it’s darn well about time our government cut that state budget. If I run into a deficit, as I have as most of us have, I have to cut my spending. The state simply raises taxes. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply raise our income if we needed more money. You and I must prioritize our needs and wants with income in times of economic difficulties. It’s about time the legislature did the same. Except the legislature will miss that very important word, “prioritize.”

But, the president of the Senate said today that the state has already cut all the fat out of the budget it can and she said taxes will be “on the table.” The leader in the House said he was willing to listen to the cuts, but he wouldn’t rule out tax increases. This could be a major clash between a governor who has said one thing and a Legislature which might have a different opinion.

Many people in Maine, including me, feel that one way to save millions of dollars would be to cancel the governor’s proclamation which effectively makes us a sanctuary state, the nation's only one. Anyone can come to Maine and start collecting welfare, medical services, a driver’s license, and many other services without even being a resident. Our department of human services says that doesn’t happen, yet somewhere in the vicinity of over 5000 drivers’ licenses have been issued with the social security number of 999-99-9999. That same department has “lost” more than 8 million dollars and no one has been held accountable.

The governor has called for the privatization of the DHHS computer system, DHHS is the department mentioned above, which has cost the state more than 50 million dollars in attempts to make the current one work.

Many people are asking where our money has gone. We get no answers. I’m not an economist so I don’t have the definitive answers. Like most Mainers, I simply know that it shouldn’t cost more per person in a state with only about 1.3 million people than in any other state in the Union. This will make an interesting legislative session. And I’ll be back with more as it progresses.

G.D.