AUGUSTA, Maine - Gov. John Baldacci drew attention to a “dangerous” winter ahead in his weekly radio address, while Republicans looked only as far into the future as Election Day.
In his prepared text, the Democratic governor said that with the price of heating oil already above $4.60 a gallon, “many families will face a tough winter season, filled with difficult choices.”
“Maine faces a dangerous winter,” he said.
Baldacci said recommendations presented to him by his Pre-Emergency Energy Task Force, such as more home weatherization, centralized energy services, more energy audits and more transportation options, will help.
The one-stop-shopping approach to energy assistance that’ s included in the recommendations calls for a tracking system that will make sure people get answers quickly, he said. Once implemented, people who apply for an energy efficiency loan or fuel assistance will have their application processed within 30 days, the governor said.
“But there is only so much government can do. There’ s no magic pile of money we can tap to pay everyone’ s oil bill, and we can’ t force prices to drop,” Baldacci said.
“But what we can do is to offer a helping hand to the poorest amongst us, empowering people to improve their own situations, and to make sure the programs we have are used effectively and efficiently, and prepare in case there’ s a real emergency,” he said.
Over the long-term, Maine must reduce its consumption of oil and develop alternative energy resources, said Baldacci.
“We have survived energy crunches in the past, and we will survive this one,” he said.
In the Republican response, House Minority Leader Josh Tardy said Mainers can expect a lively run-up to November’ s elections, when they will make choices for president, U.S. Congress and the Maine Legislature.
But Tardy drew special attention to a likely people’ s veto referendum that seeks to repeal newly enacted taxes on soft drinks, wine, beer and health insurance claims to help pay for Maine’ s Dirigo Health program. He accused the Democrats of ramming the taxes through in the closing hours of the legislative session.
Tardy, of Newport, said it’ s “astonishing that the Democrats would even consider raising taxes at a time when thousands of Maine residents are in financial trouble. Our tax burden is already horrendous. And as if high prices for gas and groceries are not bad enough, the cost of heating oil next winter will push countless Mainers to the breaking point.”
Tardy said voters should not believe arguments that repeal of the tax increases would be a deathblow to Dirigo. He said the health insurance program has another funding mechanism, known as savings offset payments.