THUMBS UP to changes in the Maine Turnpike’s toll structure that have Maine residents picking up less of the tab for traveling on the 109-mile highway that stretches from Kittery to Augusta.

In 2012, in-state drivers accounted for 46 percent of the $104.5 million in total revenue generated through the tolls. When all is said and done in 2014, officials project the revenue will rise, to about $125 million, but the share paid by Maine residents will drop, all the way to 34 percent.

That’s because toll increases approved two years ago, among other factors, have more Mainers opting to use E-ZPass transponders, allowing the Maine Turnpike Authority to target savings and rebates directly to in-state drivers. The transponders also allow the state to charge users on a per-mile basis, making what is in effect a usage fee align more closely with a driver’s actual use of the turnpike.

The uptick in E-ZPass usage also has another advantage. According to turnpike officials, the percentage of revenue spent on toll collection and administration was cut in half in the last decade, as fewer cash lanes are needed to collect tolls.

THUMBS DOWN to a report showing that the IRS paid billions in dollars in child tax credits in 2013 to people who were not eligible.

The report, conducted by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, estimated that taxpayers erroneously claimed between $5.9 billion and $7.1 billion through the child tax credit last year. The report did not say how much of that total was attributable to fraud, and how much was the result of honest human error. In total, more than 36 million families claimed the credit, for a total of about $57 billion.

That’s not the only place the U.S. is losing out on tax revenue. One analysis has the IRS undercollecting taxes on business income by $122 billion in 2006, as part of a $450 billion gap.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. As the number of tax returns has increased, the IRS budget, and its capacity to root out fraud and filing mistakes, has decreased. The spending plan passed by Congress last week includes another cut, meaning IRS enforcement funding has been diminished by $1.2 billion, or nearly 20 percent, since 2010.

Mechanisms such as the child tax credit are important ways to help low-income families. Unfortunately, failure to provide adequate oversight erodes support for these worthwhile programs.

THUMBS UP to the 13 Maine school districts, including six in central Maine, that will use awards from a federal grant to establish or expand pre-kindergarten programs.

The 13 districts, which will split $14.8 million over a four-year period, qualified for the grant money because more than 50 percent of students in each district receive free or reduced-price lunch.

Pre-K programs are expanding in Maine and across the country, and with good reason. Too many kids, particularly those from low-income families, come to the first day of kindergarten already behind their peers, a deficit that stays with those students throughout school. Pre-K helps get those kids up to speed, paying for itself in the long term as students need less intervention from more costly programs later in their education.

About 60 percent of students attend pre-K in Maine, where public preschool programs are voluntary. A bill passed last year, without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage, provides startup funding for schools that do not have pre-K programs. It is good to see school districts already moving in the right direction by seeking out federal funding with the help of the state education department.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.