Monday, November 23, 2009

ConnectME

In 2005 Gov. Baldacci promised to provide broadband to 90% of Maine households by 2010. The ConnectME Authority (still the state's smallest department) was established to distribute grant money (from taxes on retail communications) to local ISPs for this purpose. The number of households needing such services was estimated to be 40,000. Three rounds of grants have been made, totalling about $3 million. Last month, the state applied for $43 million in federal stimulus money.

Meanwhile, the state's health is deteriorating. Health care expenses, and health insurance premiums, are among the highest in the country. Maine has the oldest population in the country, and is among the poorest. Many people do without insurance, doctor visits, and medication. They wait for Medicare.

The Times has all the grisly details. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/health/policy/11maine.html?_r=2&hp

I'm sure it's not fair to pick on one government program during what the Governor is calling "our Depression." But Maine seems committed to the sexy stuff - all the alternative energy projects, for example, and remember the laptop program for middle school students? It's expanding to the high schools - at the expense of the basics. And where are all the recent budget cuts hitting hardest? Health and human services.

It's wonderful that the state is trying to think creatively about the future. But the present is pretty damn important also. Think of all the energy being poured into grant applications for stimulus money (my favorite project still is the $9 million walkway connecting two parking lots near Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA, owned by the billionaire Krafts) - why can't the country unite for health care?

Speaking of the present, Maine senators Snowe and Collins hewed their party line in voting against allowing health care legislation to come to the floor for debate. They say they're against the public option; I suspect immense political pressure from Republicans. There will be many more opportunities to vote, I know, but please Senators, do the right thing when the time comes.

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