Like many of us, Governor Paul LePage is frustrated by welfare abuse, but one of his most recent proposals to reform an undeniably flawed system is misguided and completely misses the mark of an otherwise noble goal.
Among his many other initiatives to rein in government spending and reform Maine’s welfare system, LePage sponsored LD 1411, a bill that would prevent people who qualify for the federal food stamp program from buying soda and so-called “snack foods.”
Sounds good, right? Not exactly.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as SNAP, is a federal program, administered by the US Department of Agriculture.
LD 1411 has garnered bipartisan support. One of the bill’s co-sponsors in State Sen. David Dutremble, a Biddeford Democrat. Others on the left share the governor’s concerns about nutrition and abuse of taxpayer funds.
The bill also seems to have overwhelming public support. A recent online poll in the Portland Press Herald showed that more than 80 percent of participants support the governor’s bill.
But despite the bill’s bi-partisan origins and its broad public support, we all ought to take a closer look at the proposal because it will actually do far more harm than good.
1.) The bill will not save a dime of taxpayer money. Instead, it will likely increase bureaucratic costs. Remember, the bill would not reduce benefits, it simply would exert more government control of an individual’s choice of foods.
2.) Because SNAP is a federal program, the state of Maine will need to get a waiver from the federal government. Considering the fed’s reactions to other waiver requests that were proposed by the LePage Administration, this hurdle seems unrealistic. Given the number of bills that the Legislature has undertaken, we should not be wasting time or state resources on a proposal that has zero chance of becoming reality.
3.) It’s not business friendly. In the unlikely event that LD 1411 finds its way into state law, it would add another layer of government regulations and complexity for merchants, including small and mid-sized grocers who accept federal food stamps.
4.) The bill is targeted as a punitive swipe at those who use food stamps. Yes, many people abuse the food stamp program, but many more truly need and deserve the benefit in order to avoid hunger. We ought to be more focused on investigating and prosecuting welfare abuse than penalizing everyone who is in an unfortunate circumstance.
5.) LD 1411 misdirects our outrage. As we debate LD 1411, we should also remember that food stamps cannot be used to buy alcohol, lottery tickets or tobacco products. Some Maine families receive a monthly cash benefit known as TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families). Unfortunately, that program has too many loopholes and is more commonly abused than food stamps.
6.) Nutrition? While some Democrats and Republicans like the idea of encouraging better nutrition, this bill will do little to reinforce healthy choices. It would not address many other products, such as sugar, corn syrup, powdered drink mix, cookie dough and ice cream. Our emphasis ought to focus on nutritional education.
7.) LD 1411 would prohibit the purchase of some healthy choices, including: bottled juice products and bottled water.
I applaud Governor LePage for his desire to control government spending. He is a fair-minded individual who two years ago set his critics aback, when he denounced a so-called video sting operation of two DHHS offices by right-wing activists. The media didn’t give him much credit, but it shows that LePage is far more human and fair-minded than the gross caricature his opponents have painted.
LePage knows a thing or two about being poor in Maine. He is a self-made man who grew up in an abusive home and found himself alone on the city streets of Lewiston when he was just 11 years old. His story and ultimate success is inspirational.
Our governor is the proverbial poster child for the “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd, and he wants to see other people succeed the same way he did. Hard work, determination and dedication to improving one’s odds for success.
Considering his background and his staunch fiscally conservative beliefs, LePage understands better than most folks that every dollar of welfare funds wasted represents one less dollar for programs, which are absolutely necessary and vital for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens.
I am a little bit like Governor LePage. I am a Republican who grew up in a mill town. But I also received food stamps at one very low point in my life. I doubt that I could have survived what the governor survived as a child, but I do know that a little bit of help and support from Maine’s taxpayers turned out to be a wise investment.
Here’s a post-2012 Election tip for my friends in Biddeford:
Don’t bet against Mayor Alan Casavant.
Sure, I know…Casavant narrowly lost his bid for a fourth and final term in the Maine House of Representatives for the District 137 seat on Tuesday night.
While Republican Bill Guay certainly deserves a lot of credit for his win, it’s far too early for Casavant’s detractors to begin celebrating and waiting for his eventual ouster from the mayor’s office next year.
Because Casavant’s numbers actually showed improvement.
First, let’s remember that Casavant won his first bid for the mayor’s office in a landslide last year, capturing more than 62 percent of the vote against a well-known incumbent.
Let’s also remember that Casavant was the anti-casino candidate in a city that overwhelmingly wanted a casino, which was being championed by Casavant’s opponent.
Let’s also not forget that Casavant won three consecutive terms to the Maine House., nor forget that he trounced his House seat challenger in the June 12 Democratic Primary.
Before we get to the numbers here, it should also be noted that the city’s voters overwhelmingly rejected three proposed municipal bond projects and that the city’s taxpayers just got hit a few months ago with a heavy tax increase.
Logic would suggest that Casavant should be political toast. Under his watch, Biddeford taxpayers took a big hit.
Furthermore, House District 137 is actually composed of Biddeford’s coastal neighborhoods and the town of Kennebunkport, a Republican community if there ever was one.
Last year, when he made his first run for mayor, Casavant decimated his opponent in Ward One by earning 727 votes.
One year later, in his next bid for office, Casavant received 871 votes in Ward One, a better than 20% improvement.
In fact, when just considering the city of Biddeford, Casavant beat his opponent, 1667-1,030….nothing to sneeze at, folks.
Casavant’s detractors were overjoyed when they learned of his narrow defeat on Tuesday night. City Councilor Melissa Bednarowski clapped her hands like a little girl who just got a pony for Christmas, and fellow Democrat State Senator Nancy Sullivan — who is soon to be termed out of office and was defeated by Casavant in the June 2012 Democratic primary – chortled at her table in the Wonderbar restaurant on Election night.
Is Casavant’s loss to Bill Guay on Tuesday a sign of things to come? I asked Sullivan. “I think so,” she replied.
“Would you run against him as mayor next year?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Sullivan replied, leaning forward from her table. “As they say, I don’t have any plans, but I’m not ruling anything out.”
It should be noted that Sullivan is certainly not happy with me, especially since I called her out earlier this year for a rather nasty attack ad she ran against Casavant during the primary.
“I remember,” she told me, her eyes narrowing on my jugular…”and I will get even.”
Wow, I thought. Here’s a woman I once described as petty and vindictive, saying she will “get even” with someone who had the temerity to criticize her.
People before politics? Hardly. Personalities above all else? You betcha.
Sullivan, a lifelong Democrat, would rather see a Republican win than a fellow Democrat who beat her in the primary. understandable, I suppose…sort of like former Mayor Joanne Twomey, another vindictive and particularly nasty politician from Biddeford.
In February, just months after being humiliated by Casavant in her bid for a third mayoral term, Twomey was at the city’s Democratic Caucus meeting, telling members of her party how she was the real Democrat. And here I thought she was just trying to make a political comeback by challenging fellow Democrat Paulette Beaudoin for the District 135 House seat. Democrats ultimately stuck with Beaudoin.
And Twomey? She put up a lawn sign for Beaudoin’s Republican opponent. Hmmm…real Democrats vote for Republicans. I get it.
I wish Mr. Guay the best of luck. By all accounts, he is a decent, well-respected, hard-working man. He seems like a natural fit for a citizen Legislature.
My only advice for Mr. Guay? Watch out for some of those Biddeford Democrats! They can be vicious.
Then again, they may be some of your strongest allies.
Just when you thought political banter has hit a new low, along come examples of real leadership and class that prove we can find ways to work together and keep our dignity in tact and still agree to disagree.
First, it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a hardline Republican, who ignored pre-election partisan hype by commenting on President Obama’s leadership during Hurricane Sandy.
And now we have a more localized version of the same political classiness. My friend Mark Robinson posted this video on his blog and it’s worth watching.
It’s a short video clip featuring Saco Mayor Mark Johnston,a lifelong Republican, explain why he’s supporting Barry Hobbins, a lifelong Democrat, for the Maine House of Representatives.
As I wrote earlier this month in a letter to the editor, experience matters.
Experience matters, and voters in Saco’s District 133 have a clear choice in November. I only wish that I could also cast a ballot in support of Barry Hobbins’ bid for the Maine House of Representatives.
The state of Maine is at a turning point, and we need strong, experienced and capable representatives who can hit the ground running to make sure that common sense and fairness will prevail in Augusta.
Barry’s career has been impressive, and he has consistently worked to improve the lives of all Maine residents. He knows how to get things done, and he can be as tough as nails when fighting for the interests of Saco residents.
As the minority leader of the Maine Senate during the past two years, Hobbins has proven over and over again that experience matters.
He knows how to work cooperatively across the political aisle without compromising the values and principles that are so important for all Maine people. He knows how to get people to the table and how to hammer out agreements that are fair, practical and beneficial for the people he serves.
Because of Maine’s term limit laws, a lot of the legislators we send to Augusta in January will be brand new and inexperienced. Although I support many of those fresh faces, I think we all know that the stakes are high and that we need seasoned professionals who will not be caught off guard.
These are challenging times for many of our friends and neighbors and co-workers, and that’s why it’s more important now than ever before to elect people with a proven track record.
Barry Hobbins is one of those people. He has the skills, the compassion, intellect and commitment required to be a responsible advocate of the people. Maine cannot afford to lose proven leaders like Barry Hobbins, and I hope he will earn your readers’ support in November.
Below is a copy of my comments regarding the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s review of a license amendment that will facilitate the closure of the Maine Energy Recovery Company in Biddeford.
The deadline for public comment is Tuesday, October 23. Make your own comments by sending an e-mail to: email@example.com
Mr. Michael Parker
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
State House Station 17, Augusta, Maine 04333-0017
Please accept this letter into the public record regarding the above referenced matter as support for the license amendment requested by the Maine Bureau of General Services and Casella Waste Systems to allow disposal of municipal solid waste at the Juniper Ridge Landfill.
Before I proceed any further, in the interest of full disclosure, please be advised that I am a professional consultant retained by Casella for this matter.
Normally, I would not inject my own voice into a matter regarding a client’s interest, but I am making an exception in this case for the following reasons:
1.) I am aware that some other Casella employees (currently employed at the Maine Energy Recovery Company in Biddeford) have submitted commentary with a sharply different perspective on this issue, and have thus opened the door for additional subjective input.
2.) More importantly, and of significant relevance, I offer a unique perspective on this issue. Between 1998 and 2006, I served as the editor of the Biddeford-Saco Courier and wrote extensively about the Maine Energy facility, including a 19-part series that examined Maine’s solid waste landscape, including the state’s purchase of the Juniper Ridge Landfill, the historical record regarding Maine Energy’s siting and operations; and the overall implications of Maine’s solid waste policy.
I grew up in the Biddeford-Saco area, graduating from Thornton Academy in 1982 and today own property in Biddeford, where I live with my wife as we raise our two children here. I have been closely following issues associated with MERC for the better part of the last two decades, and I completely support this application without hesitation.
There are several reasons why I am enthusiastically supporting this proposal:
As a matter of state policy, Maine’s preferred solid waste hierarchy is spelled out as Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Incinerate-Landfill. This proposal REDUCES volume at the Juniper Ridge Landfill by eliminating 170,000 tons of out-of-state waste that is today processed at MERC. Thus, this proposal accomplishes the first tier of the hierarchy.
The agreement reached between Biddeford and Casella to close MERC also triggers an agreement to begin a zero-sort, curbside RECYCLING program in Biddeford. Thus, we will see a significant INCREASE in RECYCLING rates, another top level of Maine’s solid waste hierarchy.
State policy should never be developed as part of a popularity contest. Juniper Ridge should be treated no different than any of Maine’s other landfills that today can accept MSW.
Furthermore, unlike any of Maine’s other solid waste incinerators in Orrington, Auburn or Portland, the MERC facility poses a significant stumbling block to its host community of Biddeford and our neighbors in the city of Saco. MERC has an unmistakable presence in the center of our downtown that has harmed our city’s reputation and stymied economic redevelopment efforts.
Imagine the consequences of locating Portland’s ecoMaine facility in Monument Square. No one could conceive of such a situation. After nearly 30 years, now is not the time to point fingers or assign blame for a poor location choice. But it is time to allow municipal leaders in these communities the opportunity to correct a terrible mistake.
It is also important to note that waste products (including incinerator ash and FEPR) from MERC are today disposed of the Juniper Ridge Landfill. Thus, our community will be doing its part to have a lower impact on Juniper Ridge and its host community, as a result of this proposal.
In fact, while Biddeford revenues will immediately decrease, municipal revenues in Old Town will immediately increase as a result of this proposal.
As a taxpayer in Biddeford, this proposal will increase my property taxes, but I view this as a worthwhile investment that will yield tremendous benefits, especially when this eight-acre, riverfront site is redeveloped to its full potential.
Biddeford residents and other citizens all over Maine were willing to make a significant investment when the state decided to purchase the West Old Town Landfill as an attempt to save jobs and economic opportunities in Old Town. Biddeford and the other communities impacted by MERC deserve nothing less than the same consideration and the opportunity to revitalize our regional economy.
Both Casella and the city of Biddeford have demonstrated good-faith efforts and significant commitment to cooperative process that will yield significant public, economic and environmental benefits.
We have an opportunity to correct a mistake, achieve broad-scale environmental goals and promote the public’s greater interest by approving this proposal. I will respectfully request that we do not allow this opportunity to be lost.
Anyone with a pulse and an IQ exceeding room temperature can likely agree that our nation’s health care system is seriously flawed.
But that’s generally where the agreement stops.
That’s why I was impressed when Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant posed a series of observations about Maine’s own raging health care debate on his Facebook page.
Casavant is also a member of the Maine House of Representatives, and his comments were based on his observations during a legislative hearing about how best to address rising health care costs.
“Clearly, resentment [of] the Obama plan drives a lot of these bills,” Casavant noted, referring to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009.
“For some, the costs of treatment and medicine exceed their ability to pay,” he said. “So the moral question is: What should a society do in such situations? What should government do? Do we act, or do we allow the laws of Darwin to supersede our compassion, integrity and our humanity? The system is broken. . .”
I applaud Casavant for raising the topic, but submit that our health care system is NOT broken, it is fixed . . . meaning it is rigged.
Our current system is either outdated and ineffective, at best ; or it is favorably geared toward an ever shrinking pool of those who can afford to keep up with skyrocketing costs.
Are you with me, so far? Good; because this is where the debate gets tricky.
Before we proceed any further, we must agree to at least one basic fact, regardless of our individual political/cultural/socio-economic viewpoints.
Health “care” and health “insurance” are completely different topics that are too often linked at the hip.
Let’s start with health insurance.
If you drive a vehicle in Maine, you are required by law to have a minimum-liability insurance policy. This law exists to protect drivers who are harmed by another driver’s neglect or carelessness.
Driving, as the state of Maine tells all new drivers, is a privilege, not a right.
I will take that a step further and say that health “insurance” is also not a right.
The argument about whether health care is a right remains a bit more ambiguous, but let’s remember we’re now discussing health “insurance,” not health “care.”
The discussion about rights and expectations have only been muddied by the nation’s new health care law, which mandates individuals to purchase health insurance in the private marketplace.
The so-called “individual mandate” is one of the more controversial aspects of the health care reform law signed by President Obama. That issue is scheduled to be deliberated by the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
Interestingly, critics of the individual mandate can be found from both the left and right side of the political spectrum.
Conservatives argue that the individual mandate further erodes personal liberty and crosses the sacrosanct line between personal choice and government mandates.
On the other hand, more progressive Democrats — especially those who pined for a public option or a single-payer system of healthcare reform — describe the individual mandate as nothing more than a very big gift for evil insurance companies that stand to gain millions of new customers.
But all that debate and Constitutional introspection pales in comparison to the more fiery rhetoric associated with the subject of health insurance profits.
Left-leaning groups, such as ACORN and HCAN (Health Care for America Now) say that corporate, for-profit health insurance profits are skyrocketing and have quadrupled over the past few years.
It’s a favorite talking point of progressive Democrats and very handy when whipping up grassroots mobilization to support the president, but it’s not entirely accurate — although rated as “mostly true” by PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize-winning organization established by the Tampa Bay Times to fact check political rhetoric.
Meanwhile, the health insurance industry is crying poverty, saying their profit margins are among the lowest of any industry in the United States — ranging between two and four percent.
So, which one is right?
Unfortunately, the inconvenient truth is that both groups are a little bit right, and a lot wrong.
And that is bad news for those of us trying to navigate the turbulent waters of this complex debate.
But simply blaming “greedy” insurance companies conveniently ignores too many other factors that drive health care costs. Moreover, such rhetoric is debatable, at best; and intentionally misleading at worst,
Rick Newman, chief business correspondent for US News & World Report, makes a compelling case about why health insurance companies make lousy villains, pointing out that profits are hardly the root of a much larger and complex problem.
“Overall, the profit margin for health insurance companies was a modest 3.4 percent over the past year, according to data provided by Morningstar. That ranks 87th out of 215 industries and slightly above the median of 2.2 percent,” Newman reports.
Despite my right-leaning, free-market beliefs, I admit to being somewhat conflicted on this issue, and that’s probably because my household is knee-deep in our own health-insurance nightmare.
My wife, Laura, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just three days after Christmas in 2008. Her disease is never going to go away. It is never going into remission. It takes a little piece of her each day, even when we don’t notice it.
I also have a chronic disease, one that gets a lot less sympathy than MS, cancer, epilepsy or diabetes. For more than 25 years, I bounced in and out of psychiatric hospitals all across the country, ringing up thousands of dollars in debt because I had no health insurance.
Neither of us asked for our respective illness. We both work full-time. We pay our taxes, but we are also a health insurance company’s worst nightmare…we take out a lot more than we put in to the system.
If you’re a conservative, Tea-Party Republican, you are advised now to reach for the duct tape because otherwise your head may explode when I offer up this next tidbit:
You are paying a portion of our health insurance.
Laura is a state employee and thus, we are more than lucky to have an outstanding health insurance plan that is offered to all state employees and their immediate family members.
But even if Laura lost her job, and we relied upon a more traditional (and much more expensive) private health insurance plan, you would still be paying for our health insurance.
Why? Because in our current system, healthy Americans subsidize the costs of treatment for the ill. That is the fundamental core of the individual mandate: we need more young, healthy people in the system to offset the cost of treating older and sicker Americans.
I am not a big fan of the individual mandate – beyond the Constitutional arguments, I think the system unfairly penalizes healthy people and will do little to drive down the costs of health care.
There is a lot more to cover, but I will end this installment here and borrow Casavant’s closing observation from his Facebook post: Stalemate [on this issue] is unacceptable.
Next installment: Health Care: Is it a right?