A weekly roundup of issues making news this week in central Maine …
BUDGET CUTS announced Tuesday by officials at the University of Maine at Augusta call for the elimination of 24 jobs, two associate degree programs and two soccer teams, among other items. In all, the $36 million spending plan includes $2.7 million in cuts.
It is part of an effort by the University of Maine System to close a $36 million budget gap. Last week, the president of University of Southern Maine said that school may eliminate four majors and lay off 50 people in order to make up for $7 million of the system’s deficit, with the goal of eventually cutting $14 million. The Orono campus is looking to cut $12 million.
The budget gap, attributed to declining enrollment amid flat state funding and a 3-year-old tuition freeze, put the UMaine System in a tough position.
It cannot continue to cut programs and positions and expect to grow and maintain top-flight state universities.
On the other hand, increasing costs would be detrimental to students and taxpayers.
That effort needs to continue. At the same time, the system needs to find ways to reduce costs and improve services by coordinating between campuses and with the state’s community colleges.
Each university in the system should continue to develop its own specific identity — in the way UMaine-Farmington has — and duplications between universities and colleges in the same region should be avoided.
Kennebec Valley Community College announced this week that the school is facing budget troubles, as well. If that is any indication, Maine’s community colleges may soon be dealing with some of the same issues as its universities, all the more reason to search for efficiencies.
NO ONE DESERVES what happened to Mike Lyons. Six years ago, Lyons, of Vassalboro, was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident on Route 201 in Winslow, an accident that was the fault of an uninsured driver. The accident shattered his body and upended his life, and he and his wife still struggle with the aftereffects.
Lyons’ story made an impact on Gov. Paul LePage, who submitted a bill that would increase the penalties for driving without insurance.
However, the bill, which was killed this week by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, would not have helped the next person unfortunate enough to suffer the same circumstances as Lyons.
Current Maine law is working. The state has one of the lowest rates of uninsured drivers in the country.
In addition, the law covering uninsured drivers is rarely, if ever, prosecuted to its full extent now. It makes little sense to increase the penalties if there is still room within current law to be used by prosecutors.
If there is a problem, it is with an insurance system that doesn’t fully make someone in a situation like Lyons something close to whole again. If lawmakers want to address this issue, they should start there.
THE OPPORTUNITY to preserve 164 acres of undeveloped land near the State House in Augusta is good news for the city, and for the state.
It’s fortunate that a parcel that large and suitable for light recreation remains in the center of the city. The question will be what to do with it once it is purchased by the Kennebec Land Trust and turned over to the city, a process that is likely to take two years, according to the land trust.
The land already includes a loose system of trails featuring good views in all directions. City Manager William Bridgeo said the City Council will likely debate what kind of facilities, if any, the city should develop on the site.
There will be more to say about this in the coming months. But the city should first consider how best to publicize what the land has to offer, so that residents and visitors to the State House area know it is available for use.