The road goes on forever

It’s tempting to blame everything wrong with state government on stupidity. But according to scientists, I’m probably making up, only 42.5 percent of governmental screw-ups are caused by dopiness. The rest is due to something more complex.

Namely, complexity.

It turns out that a lot of what appears to be simple about running Maine’s bureaucracy isn’t. That’s a lesson Republican Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t seem capable of learning, mostly because LePage is a major contributor to that 42.5 percent mentioned above. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he continues to pursue unworkable solutions to complicated problems.

To solve the drug crisis, LePage advocates increased law enforcement, along with a healthy dose of racial profiling, even though arresting addicts doesn’t cure them, and most dope dealers are white.

To reduce energy prices, the governor wants to import Canadian hydropower, which would cost about the same as what we’re paying now – if there was any way to get it here without spending millions on new transmission lines.

To cut welfare, he favors throwing people off programs like food stamps, claiming that will force them to get jobs – even though he’s so far failed to produce any statistics indicating his approach does anything except make them hungrier.

Healthcare? LePage was against the Obamacare repeal. Then he was for it. Now he’s calling for a state-run insurance program, which he used to be against.

Education? If the state would just eliminate a bunch of school superintendents, students could learn a whole lot more.

Taxes? With all he won’t be spending on welfare, health care, schools and solving problems, Maine can get along fine without an income tax.

Given LePage’s impressive record of ignoring reality, it comes as no surprise that the governor recently announced his plan to deal with the state’s decaying transportation infrastructure:

Flying cars.

Also, those jet-pack thingies.

I may have made that up. Unfortunately, my fantasies make more sense than LePage’s real idea:

Get rid of the Maine Turnpike Authority and most of its tolls.

The governor wants to merge the MTA with the state Department of Transportation (motto: Unable To Get Out Of Our Own Way) and eliminate all toll plazas with the exception of the one in Kittery.

Except there isn’t one in Kittery. The pike’s southernmost tolling station is in York. But why quibble about that minor geographic disparity.

“The only toll we should have is for the visitors coming in and out of the state in the summer months,” he told a town-hall meeting in Gorham last month.

In 2016, the York tollbooth collected $57 million from those entering and leaving Maine. The rest of the pike brought in $77 million, which means that single southern barrier was responsible for 42.5 percent of all revenue.

Now, where have we heard that number before?

Oh yeah, it’s the percentage of state problems caused by stupidity. What a remarkable coincidence.

Under LePage’s carefully thought-out plan, Maine’s road system would sacrifice $77 million in revenue, while assuming responsibility for $385 million in bonds the turnpike authority has issued. The DOT budget, already as much as $80 million short of what’s needed to maintain the rest of the state’s highways, would suddenly be on the hook for the $43 million a year the pike spends just keeping itself in usable shape, as well as over $18 million annually in bond payments. That means the $57 million in tolls would fall about $4 million short of covering the added cost, even before the tax credits LePage is promising for commuters who have to pay tolls to reach their jobs in New Hampshire.

The problems with this idea aren’t entirely financial. There’s also the fact that the MTA is one of Maine’s best run public agencies because it concentrates on its core mission – operating a single highway of a little over 100 miles – and mostly steers clear of political entanglements.

On the other side of the car, DOT is a morass of conflicting agendas driven by ideology, geography, and idiocy (42.5 percent). It would be hard pressed to operate a technologically complex toll highway that’s vital to the state’s economy.

LePage’s ill-considered idea should take the next exit to Stupidville.

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Last modified onMonday, 03 April 2017 11:37
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