It’s a question that comes up periodically, especially in the gloomy dark of Maine winter. Should Maine join the Atlantic time zone, made up of its Canadian maritime neighbors and Puerto Rico?
Several lawmakers again are advocating for this change, which would require a positive vote on a statewide referendum and the approval of Congress or the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Proponents argue it will banish the winter gloom because the sun will set later, which will also make commuting safer and save energy. Of course, the amount of daylight will remain the same — about 9½ hours on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere — but adjusting the clock will mean a later sunrise and sunset. People who want more light in the evening will rejoice. Those who have to get kids ready for school in the dark won’t.
The biggest downside would be to further isolate Maine from the rest of America. This is no small matter. Being an hour separated from the country’s financial and population centers would not be to Maine’s benefit.
Maine has spent decades building better connections to other states — and the rest of the world — through improvements to roads, railroads, airports and ports, as well as internet and telephone systems.
Nory Jones, a professor of management information at the University of Maine, said businesses could easily adjust to a move to the Atlantic time zone. With so much business being conducted electronically, she said, any needed scheduling changes could be made automatically.
“As the business climate becomes more advanced, time zones matter less and less,” she said.
Maine should continue to strengthen its ties with Atlantic Canada and other countries, but the major markets for Maine goods that aren’t consumed within state lines remain in the United States.
Tucked away in the northeast corner of the U.S., Maine already struggles economically. It has been rated by Forbes as the second worst state for business for several years, after four years of being ranked dead last. Further isolating Maine from its primary markets makes little sense.
“I would be very concerned about separating ourselves from the rest of the country,” Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said. “It would be a real challenge if our product, in terms of time, were different from the rest of the eastern seaboard and the rest of the country.”
“It does disconnect us,” he said of Maine being the only U.S. state in the Atlantic time zone.
To that end, a county in Kentucky moved from the central time zone to the eastern time zone in 2000 so it could be better connected to larger cities in that time zone. It hoped the change would increase commerce. Another Kentucky county is contemplating a similar change.
Some hope all of New England will adopt Atlantic time. A legislative committee in Massachusetts is studying a proposal to do just that. Other states don’t appear eager to join the effort.
Maine lawmakers considered a move to the Atlantic time zone in 2005 for many of the same reasons cited now. It failed to gain enough votes.
Of course, it would be nice to have the sun set later in the day during the long Maine winter. But tinkering with the clock won’t solve this problem. Essentially taking the sunlight from the morning and moving it later in the day — How long before people would start complaining about how dark it is in the morning if Maine did make the proposed time zone switch? — isn’t worth the negative consequences.