The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, April 19, 11:08 p.m.

Augusta needs to be removed as middleman

There are a lot of great examples of bureaucratic nonsense in the world.

It was just announced this week that private donors will have backstage passes to the biggest party of the next four years: President Obama’s inauguration. Come on, Barack! Start off your re-election right, with a big party without jerks from big businesses to rain on the parade. For us 20-somethings who need jobs, I hope the president’s second term is one of integrity and transparency.

I guess I should be thankful that it’s not Mittens’ inauguration: He would have built corporate jet owners their own executive water park. But Washington antics are silly to talk about. You want to know some real bureaucratic nonsense? You need look no farther than our fair capital of Augusta.

Why am I hating on Augusta? Because our state legislature is comprised largely of Northern invalids, who think long-johns are dressy-casual. I met a man running for the state house in the sauna. He was detailing a dreadful experience he had with the police over a shotgun — which he owned illegally. The police found the shotgun because his ex-wife had telephoned them about it. I don’t think he won — but I digress: I shouldn’t need to make fun of Northerners, their shotguns or their funny teeth to articulate my frustration with Augusta.

Here’s the real truth: They don’t do anything. I imagine this is in part because most of the state’s legislature is paid very poorly. A state representative is paid around $13,000 a year. As they say where I come from, that don’t pay the bills, son.

I say Augusta doesn’t do anything, because it really doesn’t. It handles taxpayer dollars, and appropriates them as best as it can; but tax dollars don’t account for much. The other thing it does is appropriate federal funding, grants and so on. It also imposes guidelines on our work environments and education. I don’t understand why municipalities — which I’ve spent a fair amount of time around — can’t take care of themselves, because they do a much better job than Augusta.

Another productivity issue is size. There are 186 seats in the state legislature, and the odds that they’ll agree on something — with or without a party majority — are slim to none. Large government used to be considered a good thing, because high numbers implied high diversity and individuality. The party system has reduced real people, with real solutions to real problems, to a color-coded head nod. These people ARE diverse, and ARE individuals, but are stripped of that blessing at the ballot box. Our choices are red and blue, and a well-educated high school student could tell you the red or blue solution to most problems.

As a layman — if I may be so bold as to consider myself a layman — I have a much greater voice in my municipality, which usually has under 10 seats. I’ve seen individuals rally a change in their town. I’ve never seen the party-war that exists in Augusta and Washington on the city councils of Bangor, Old Town or Orono, because these people are actual people; they aren’t just dopey elephants or pissed off donkeys.

I think it’d be incredible if we could get rid of Augusta as the middleman and just let municipalities take care of themselves — their own work forces, their own education and so on. If municipal government had more authority to govern itself, it could get a lot more done and really discover some excellent solutions, which could model the change we need elsewhere.