Uncertain future



Although only the earliest outlines of President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget have been released so far, one thing is evident. Should all the proposed cuts in nondefense programs and agencies become law, life as we know it in Down East Maine will be very different.

Though some believe that residents of the far eastern fringes of the country live independent of Washington, D.C., the reality is just the opposite, especially on Mount Desert Island. Federal spending, federal policies and federal oversight are tightly interwoven with our lives.

While tourism is a major factor in our economy here on MDI, a more reliable flow of economic vitality stems from construction projects, direct grants to researchers and for operations at The Jackson Laboratory and the MDI Biological Laboratory via the National Institute of Health (NIH). NIH grants also fund scientific research around the country, research that depends on mice produced and sold by The Jackson Lab. Fewer mouse sales equal less lab revenue.

Also targeted is the essential air services program that subsidizes regional air carriers such as Cape Air to provide year-round service to smaller airports in Maine, like the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton. While vacationers are able to come to and go from other airports, the value of that convenient connection to Boston for business travelers, and people traveling to and from the research labs, should not be underestimated.

A proposed $1.2 billion reduction in funding also is proposed for the U.S. Coast Guard. It is still too early to tell what that might mean for the search-and-rescue services and aids to navigation on which area lobstermen and recreational boaters depend.

Budget reductions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could affect the accuracy of weather forecasts.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service and Acadia National Park, already is subject to a hiring freeze. Budget cuts are proposed there, including a reduction of payments in lieu of taxes to towns containing vast tracts of NPS land. With less money from the park, local towns would have to cover any such shortfalls by cutting back on local spending or raising property taxes on residents and businesses.

For those of lesser means, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which last year provided $40 million to needy Mainers for heating oil and electricity, also is facing the chopping block. Local organizations already participating in that effort lack the resources to fund the entirety. While local residents might help make up the shortfall, that kind of money cannot be raised just through bake sales.

The current swirl of debate in Washington, D.C., over health care reform doesn’t concern just the individual cost for health insurance. It also holds the keys to whether or not the Mount Desert Island Hospital will be able to continue the same level of services in its present form.

Federal subsidies for school lunch or breakfast programs for students leaving home hungry will hit those least able to make up the difference. Area food pantries and hunger programs, already struggling to keep up with the need, will be pressed even harder.

Though the projected cut for the Meals on Wheels programs for senior citizens and shut-ins might not catastrophic, supporters worry they could lead eventually to the disintegration of that valuable service.

Proposed reductions in work study funds will make it even more difficult for middle-class kids to attend Husson, the University of Maine, College of the Atlantic, or Bates, Bowdoin and Colby. The proposed elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts and funding for Public Broadcasting and similar programs will have deep impacts on area libraries and on the availability of noncommercial television and radio programming.

After all this, if you think tourism is safe, think again. Potential changes in immigration policy hold great risk for the continued operation of the H2B Visa programs that so many local hotels, inns and restaurants need to ensure enough workers to meet the demands of that growing industry.

While short on details, this original budget proposal suggests a major departure from currently funded programs. Nothing will be done, of course, without congressional approval. These early proposals become bargaining chips, to be modified substantially before final votes are taken.

Maine’s congressional delegation will be seriously challenged in the months ahead, joining their peers in deciding how best to invest the country’s resources wisely and fairly, while protecting our people and our way of life.

Sen. Susan Collins (R)

172 Russell Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20510

202-224-2523

www.collins.senate.gov

(Send email through website)

Bangor office:

202 Harlow St., Room 204

Bangor, ME 04402

945-0417

 

Sen. Angus King

188 Russell Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20510

(202) 224-5344

www.king.senate.gov

(Send email through website)

Bangor office:

202 Harlow St., Suite 214

Bangor, ME 04401

945-0432

 

Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R)

U.S. House of Representatives

426 Cannon House Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20515

(202) 225-6306

poliquin.house.gov

(Send email through website)

Bangor office:

6 State St., Suite 101

Bangor, ME 04401

942-0583

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