The last week was a busy one here at the University of Maine, with students in POS 362-Maine Government hard at work setting up their blogs and doing the research to write their first posts. In addition, we were joined by former Maine State Attorney General (and UMaine Political Science Department Alumnus) James Tierney. In speaking to the students about contemporary Maine politics, the very first words out of his mouth were “We’re in trouble.” Tierney went on to describe the ways in which we face a variety of policy challenges in the state and will need creative and adaptive solutions to adequately deal with them. That theme, challenges, is reflected in many of the students’ posts for this week.
Many of the students chose to write about environmental challenges. Ben Algeo contributes a great analysis of a bill currently before the Maine State Legislature to support PV (photovoltaic) solar energy, an alternative energy source where Maine is lagging behind the region in production. Uriah Hallett shares his concerns about potential changes to metallic mining regulations in the state. Julia Chapin writes about the capacity of offshore wind to make Maine a leader in sustainable energy and to create a new niche industry in which our state would already have a leg up.
The challenge of poverty within the state of Maine also informed other students’ posts. Jaymi Thibault wrote about a counter-intuitive study on poverty and education that emerged from the University of Southern Maine. The study shows that poverty affects quality of education, but not in the way that we typically think. Per-pupil spending seems to have no impact on educational outcomes and even students who are wealthy will perform more poorly within an impoverished school district. She writes, “the study seems to imply that the root of the problem is not necessarily financial. Perhaps it has more to do with the students’ learning environments and communities.” Evan Smith takes up a related issue in his analysis of the potential benefits to be gained from expanding early education.
Many have chosen to write on the challenge of demographics offering an array of different solutions. Spencer Warmuth suggests encouraging immigration. Dean Soltys considers the plausibility of siting a legal marijuana growing operation in an economically depressed area such as Lincoln. Liam Nee talks about a project he is engaged in through his Communication & Journalism class called “Bangor 2020.” Students, Liam included, are working with the Bangor Daily News to think and write about the challenges facing Bangor in retaining its younger populations.
In a perpetually cash-strapped state such as Maine (and one with a troubling demographic profile), many challenges emerge in relation to government spending. Some students chose to take up this issue in their weekly blogs. Jake Posik writes about the long-term dangers he sees in expanding Mainecare, the state’s health care program for low-income families and individuals. He argues that the expansion would leave Maine less well off as rates of federal support begin to draw down over the life of the expansion. John Chase considers economically depressed areas such as Washington County, where large proportions of individuals rely upon various forms of state assistance. He considers whether a market-driven solution of selective tax relief might be the answer.
These are but a sampling of the students’ contributions for this week. Head over to blogroll to see more of the students’ hard work. All of these are significant policy challenges that will drive Maine’s political present, as well as its future. However, though these constitute challenges, the students posts suggest that they are not intractable or insurmountable. Stay tuned for further thoughtful suggestions of ways that we might confront such policy challenges in the weeks to come.