Problem with acting too fast at the Legislature

 By Senator Bill Diamond

The old expression “act in haste, repent at leisure” is certainly true in the legislature. It is important to be careful and thoughtful about what we do there, as our actions can impact thousands of people. There will always be, unfortunately, unforeseen results from our actions, but if we take our time and work in a thoughtful, deliberative way we can keep these to a minimum.

With that in mind, I notice that the East-West Highway is back in the news again. This spring, the legislature passed a bill, LD 1671, “Resolve, To Require the Department of Transportation To Facilitate and Oversee a Study of the Feasibility of an East-west Highway.” The bill calls for a state-funded feasibility study to determine whether it would be practical to construct a private-funded highway across Maine.

When I first heard this bill as a member of the Transportation Committee, I had an open mind. After all, East-West transit across Maine is a perennial issue, and the state certainly isn’t going to have the money for such an undertaking for the foreseeable future. Rather than take the time to work through the many questions associated with this issue, a majority of the committee felt it was important to rush this bill through, passing it out of committee in two days, leaving important questions unanswered. As a result I voted against the bill in committee and when it came before the full senate, and even spoke against the bill on the floor of the senate.

Because of the unnecessary rush to push this bill through, due deliberation was left out of the process and now some of the bill’s biggest supporters, including its sponsor, are questioning its wisdom, and have publicly called for the study to halt or at least be put on a much slower pace. The immediate concern is that the people in the area where the road would be built are afraid of having their land, needed for the highway, taken away through imminent domain. Local political pressure was predictable had anyone taken the time to ask the local citizens their opinions.

This is just one of the questions that could perhaps have been answered if we had taken more time to study the bill in the first place. My biggest concern about this bill was, and still is, “Where was the money going to come from to pay for the study?” We were told that the Department of Transportation (DOT) had an “extra” $300,000 they could use to pay for it. I questioned at the time how DOT could just find hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that wasn’t part of the budget. If they had that kind of extra money, we all could have suggested some potholes that needed to be fixed.

On a related matter, the other committee I serve on, the Government Oversight Committee, has been asked to look into the accounting of the Go Maine commuter program, that is operated by the DOT. The DOT says it can’t afford to keep this program operating, even though Go Maine proponents claim that it should be running in the black with a $233,000 surplus. The Government Oversight Committee has asked DOT for an accounting of the Go Maine expenditures. I, for one, am curious as to why DOT can’t afford to keep a popular, and proven, commuter vanpool going, which saves fuel and reduces the vehicles on the roads, because they say it’s unaffordable, yet at the same time they can find hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a study that lacked even a minimal level of justification.

This brings me back to my original thought, we need to be careful and deliberate in our actions at the legislature.  Rushing laws through for political reasons and then doing an about face asking for the law to be put on hold because it was poorly thought out makes the process look disingenuous — which is exactly what it was in this case.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this, please feel free to call my office at 287-1515 or send me an e-mail at my website, www.mainesenate.org/diamond

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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