When ‘close by’ is close enough



Lewiston – the way life should be – if you’re old. That city just made it into the top 25 on “Forbes” magazine’s list of places to retire in the U.S. Before we pack up and move south, it must be noted that this might be a case of damning with faint praise.

Sure, Lewiston has its assets, such as “good air quality” and a “very low serious crime rate,” according to “Forbes.” On the other hand, it was cited for a “poor state tax climate for retirees” and a “low ranking on the … list of the best cities for successful aging.” Never mind. Among its virtues, Lewiston was found to be “somewhat walkable” and to have a “so-so economy.”

There is a T-shirt in this, no? “Retire to Lewiston, a somewhat walkable community with a so-so economy.”

In what universe can you lure retirees to a city with a low ranking for successful aging? It has to make you wonder where would be a bad place to retire.

City Administrator Ed Barrett, once upon a time the city manager in Ellsworth, makes the best of it, saying, “One of the things I really liked about their rating was the emphasis on how safe the community is.” Yep, they said that. He goes on to praise Lewiston for “interesting history … a beautiful setting, close to the mountains, close to the ocean and a great river runs through it.” Now we’re getting somewhere. “Lewiston – close to good stuff.”

On the other hand, Gov. Paul LePage has spoken of the “overwhelming” number of professionals leaving the state because of the new 3 percent surcharge on income over $200,000. A news article attempting to document this mass migration found just a few instances.

One was a dermatologist who would head for the hills of New Hampshire “if I was not tied down in Maine with a wife and 3 children.” How romantic! One can imagine that it was a frosty night around the dinner table with the aforementioned wife and the tied-down dermatologist.

As for that surcharge, it seems that the governor’s determination to undo the work of the voters in last fall’s referendum election may have been based on a misunderstanding. The surcharge applies only to income above $200,000; if you make $210,000 the surcharge applies to just $10,000. The other $200,000 is taxed at the current rate.

An attendee at the governor’s Fort Kent town hall meeting went a few rounds with the governor over the matter, trying to set the record straight. But the governor continued to insist that the surcharge covered the whole income. His staff said that of course he understands it, but it didn’t sound that way.

Legislative Republicans put on a rare show of unity, warning one and all that they would not acquiesce to any budget that includes the surcharge. It’s a bit weird to vow not to support a budget that implements the will of the people, but there it is.

With state elections looming in 2018, Democrats are undertaking an initiative called “Lead Local.” The aim is to “give local Democratic leaders the training, education and network they need to be successful in 2017 and beyond.” One track offered at a June conference is meant to develop leadership for county and municipal Democratic committees. Fair enough. But two other tracks intend to promote and train candidates for local school boards and municipal offices.

Wait a minute. Municipal offices in Maine are, for the most part, nonpartisan. Do we want to see the kind of rancorous campaigns in our towns that we see in legislative or congressional races? No, and no. Our town councils and boards of selectmen are blessedly free of political party wrangling and positioning, of ideological warfare and votes divided along party lines. How about we keep it that way?

As candidates begin lining up for the 2018 elections, members of the LePage administration are thinking about their futures, too. His commissioner of labor, Jeanne Paquette, has taken a job with the University of Southern Maine. The governor praised her five years of service.

Mid-way through his second and final term, his labor commissioner is only the first of the governor’s cabinet members who will depart for follow-on career opportunities. It is a common phenomenon but presents a challenge in that it is difficult to find a replacement commissioner when it is little more than a one-year position. Deputy commissioners may be asked to step up.

Despite the increasing amount of attention being paid to the far-off election, it is crunch time in Augusta. We are about at the six-week mark to adjournment, and there are buckets of bills left, not to mention the budget. Sessions will be held most days of the week, sometimes twice a day, and committee meetings will get longer and longer.

With an extraordinary degree of dysfunction at the federal level, we can take heart in the fact that though it is not always smooth sailing in Augusta, we do have a process with bipartisan buy-in and an ability to move some major legislation. That’s the way life should be.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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