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Saturday, September 21, 2013: Education, taxes and Syria

System broken

After attending a recent RSU 20 budget meeting in Belfast, my thoughts centered on what a struggle it has been to develop a budget for this school union that not only provides a good education for our students but takes into consideration the property taxpayers. I’ve repeatedly expressed my interest in promoting our city by attending and participating in events that take place here. What could be more important at this time than the school budget, as it affects us all?

At the meeting I was able to speak with two of our city councilors. Maybe there were more, but it was most apparent our mayor was missing. Whether one goes to City Hall daily or knows the first names of most city employees seems pointless when compared to the well being of our students as well as our Belfast property taxpayers, especially the low- and fixed-income residents. I will put my energy into helping find solutions for this issue and many others that often face our little city.

It is not just what is happening here, it’s in Augusta and Washington. So let them know what you think. These unfunded mandates repeatedly forced upon our school systems and municipalities with promises of reimbursements that never materialized have contributed in a major way to breaking the system.

Jim O’Connor


Mainely taxes

Maine’s use tax is amongst the lowest in the country, but its overall tax burden is close to the highest. The recently exacted increase in our sales tax to 5.5 percent for general goods and 8 percent for meals, lodging and alcohol is only temporary — or so we are told. But then the general sales tax enacted many years back was only to be temporary tax.

So why should we feel comfortable that come mid-2015 this increase will just fade into the woodwork? My bet is it will follow the same path as the 5 percent sale tax and become a permanent tax on Mainers.

Richard Barclay


Future of USM physics

Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences. It represents the quest to understand the deepest attainable truths about reality and life. Further, physics is a foundational science which supports other departments such as engineering, chemistry, even biology. A university which removes its physics department is crippling its STEM fields in the same way removing the English department would cripple the humanities.

The thing that makes a university different from a trade school is that it fosters departments that engage in the study and creation of big ideas. These are the departments of philosophy, mathematics, the humanities and physics. All of western civilization owes its existence to these areas of study. They are humanity’s most important project. What else is a university for if not to facilitate these most lofty of human endeavors?

For those hard-nosed types who think education should be viewed as strictly a fiscal investment and are skeptical of all my starry-eyed “oohs” and “ahs,” here’s something else to consider: Physics students become veritable powerhouses of mathematical problem solving. They learn to program at a high level and understand advanced technology. They can analyze and manipulate large data sets. Physics graduates can break down just about any problem into small quantifiable components.

In Maine, and across the nation, we need more people with these skills, not fewer. I deeply hope this university’s administration will reconsider the path it appears to be undertaking.

Derick Arel


Obama, Putin and Assad

Before everyone bows down at the feet of Russian President Vladimir Putin and sees him as the great one, let me remind you, profoundly, that none of his proposals on solving the problems in Syria would have occurred if President Barack Obama hadn’t been holding his finger on the trigger in Washington.

Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad both knew that this president meant business and that very serious damage was going to be inflicted in Syria for what had happened there.

Kudos to Obama for having a backbone, while the rest of the world took the easy way out and ran off and hid. Also, great letter to the editor, written by Cheryl Neale of Veazie. I agree with her comments totally and admire her for speaking up. We need more people like her.

Doug Pooler


Two million strong

I would like to take the BDN to task for its poor covering of the bikers in the Washington, D.C., ride on the anniversary of 9/11. The BDN made it sound like a couple of bikers took a joy ride past the Capitol for fun to counter the Million Muslim March when in fact the number was more like 1.2 million, and that number is from what the D.C. police estimate. There was a 55-mile long parade of bikes on a four-lane highway.

The purpose, to quote them: “To remember those who were killed on 9/11 and honor our armed forces who fought those who precipitated this attack.” How could the BDN put all that in a 2.5- by 3.75-inch picture with just three bikes? Better to not report at all than to publish a report by omission. Shame on the BDN.

Diane Foster


Blind dogma

The governor declines Medicaid expansion because increasing access to eligibility would lead to a sharp increase in the number of smokers and heavy drinkers on the program. Low-income smokers and heavy drinkers are not spontaneously going to move to Connecticut if denied MaineCare coverage. They are here. They are going to get sick, and they are going to receive medical care, most likely in jails and in hospital emergency rooms.

The business decision before the governor is how most effectively to pay for their medical care. One choice is to continue shifting the cost to those who already have medical insurance.

Another option is to shift the cost to county jail and municipal budgets so that property taxpayers foot the bill. Setting “blind dogma” aside, the most sensible choice is to accept Medicaid expansion and thereby share the cost equitably among all who pay federal income taxes.

Paul Smith


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