Questions That Need Sensible Answers
By A. David Trahan
The following piece was published in the Bangor Daily News on March 23, 2000.
Gov. Angus King has unleashed all the weapons in his arsenal to arm-twist legislators into supporting his $50 million "Lunchbox to Laptops" Program. He is calling in everyone he has influence with to lobby legislators, and he is personally inviting representatives to his office for one-on-one meetings. Newspapers and others are depicting his idea as forward thinking which is paramount to King's legacy.
What a sad day when government officials put personal legacy before the critical needs of the people they represent. I cannot imagine an elected official sleeping at night if he or she supported such a lavish proposal knowing of the vital health and safety issues facing our youth. There are questions that need answers first before we should proceed any further with this overwhelming technology initiative.
A recent conversation with Mike Kucsma of the Department of Education revealed more than $80 million in high-priority school construction needs. Repairs including leaking roofs, outdated heating systems, poor air quality, outdated science labs, structural weaknesses and overcrowding.
The list of priority schools totaled 70 and of those only 22 will be funded. Whose child or spouse will be the unlucky one who will continue to breathe unhealthy air or face unsafe conditions at school?
During research into the proposed law to conduct background checks and do fingerprinting on all school personnel, I discovered that in 1997 (the most recent years records are available), approximately 3,000 cases of possible child abuse warranting examining were not investigated. Their claim was due to lack of funding. That amount of children would fill Miller School, the largest elementary school in my district, six times. Whose children are continuing to endure abuse at this very moment because the state of Maine cannot find funding for investigations?
Seniors, dependent on prescription drugs for their health and well-being, are paying in some cases four or five times more than the cost of the same drugs in Canada and there is little hope in sight. Many people who have had the misfortune of being injured or becoming sick without insurance could end up losing everything they have worked hard for, falling into financial disaster. Whose grandparent will have to choose between their next meal and paying for medications they need to stay healthy?
Another concern is the transportation fund that is carrying a 14 percent debt load and a structural gap for the next biennium. We have already been told by Commissioner John Melrose of the Department of Transportation that there will have to be another gas tax increase to cover these shortfalls. With the present prices of fuel oil and gasoline and projected increases of up to $2 a gallon, how stable is our economy? Who is going to make up the shortfalls in school, municipal and state department budgets next year for the unexpected overruns?
It should be obvious now that as a state, we could not possibly consider such a lavish proposal, whether it has merit or not. There are too many critical issues affecting too many people crying out for help. The only usefu1 purpose this has served is to show how out of touch with the common citizen some people in government have become.
Personally, I will sleep peacefully knowing I have put the needs of the many Mainers who feel this program is unjustified first.State Rep. A. David Trahan is a Republican from Waldoboro (District 59).