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LETTER: Red Tape Audit reveals burdensome regulations on businesses

To the Editor:

Last month a newly naturalized American of Austrian origins told me an interesting story about an uncle who dug a hole. This hole was meant for an outhouse to accommodate the needs of customers at his uncle’s modest ski resort.

This excavation, like most holes in the ground, offered little of inherent interest. What made the story interesting is that it required inspection by six separate and distinct Austrian officials, two of them with chauffeurs.

Maine has not yet reached this level of regulation, but judging from the Red Tape Audit or Inventory I attended in Farmington on December 14, Augusta has ambitions along those lines.

The businessmen and women who gathered at the Granary last Tuesday provided two hours of personal testimony that helps explain why Maine ranks dead last in Forbes’ magazines ranking of business-friendly states.

The businessmen and women described officials ignorant of their own agencies rules and regulations. Not only is the left hand unaware of what the right hand is doing, there is reason to believe that in some cases the left hand doesn’t even know that the right hand exists, or vice-versa. The resulting duplications and contradictions simply add unnecessary expense to businesses without any benefit to the public.

There were several variants of the complaint of being “treated like criminals” by arrogant and authoritarian inspectors and regulators. Some of these officials feel free to “act as Judge, Jury and Executioner.”

Multiple permits are required from multiple agencies for the same project. The rules and regulations are continually being changed so that buildings approved by the fire marshal one year are found to be in violation a few years later—sometime entailing expenses that the owner cannot cover.

A man whose business is preparing developments for approval produced a stack of paper work for a 1988 project involving 44 housing units, then a stack about eight inches higher and two pounds heavier for a 27-unit project in 2009. He suggested an inspection of the 1988 project would not show any defects averted by the 2009 rules and regulations.

The man from Poland Springs explained that his company had two projects similar to the one in Kingfield in other states. The Kingfield project cost $2 million more and took one year longer. The company would not have bothered except for the “magic” of the brand name.

Constant delays from the DEP was a frequent subject of complaint. The fact that the DEP head has vowed to work with Goverenor-elect LePage to reduce decision-making from six months to three reinforces this criticism. One attendant wondered why this was not possible before Paul LePage was elected.

Nobody argued for wholesale deregulation. All argued for simplification, consistency, predictability, clarity, understandable rules and one-stop processes for establishing or expanding their businesses. They want a government that is at least as welcoming to business as it is to welfare applicants. They want to be treated as assets to the community, not as suspects.

It’s only fair to mention that Gov. John Baldacci sees these objections as a side issue. According to a story in the Morning Sentinel, he regards cold weather—not red tape and taxes—as the source of Maine’s business problems. Pray for warmer weather or pray for a more efficient government.

John Frary

Farmington

Professor John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former candidate for U.S. Congress and a retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia. He can be reached at: jfrary8070@aol.com.

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