Some weeks, it is hard to find a topic to cover. Others, it is hard to limit myself to just one.
For several months now, I’ve intended to write about the ongoing challenges we face with men in the workforce. We see headlines decrying the “gender pay gap,” claiming women earn 80 percent of what men earn; the reality is not nearly so dire and much more complicated. We hear much less about the modern “gender education gap,” with women attaining college degrees 20 percent more often than men. There are attendant repercussions for Maine’s workforce, with some men retreating from the labor pool.
To quote Joe Biden, this is a big…deal. Fortunately, the Bangor Daily News has begun to explore this dichotomy in Maine. So maybe that column is best saved for another day.
I also considered writing about a long-simmering debate ready to again boil over: the proposed merger of Lewiston and Auburn. With a ballot question in November, voters in those cities will get a chance to weigh in. However, whether it succeeds or fails, we should give consideration to the idea of working smarter, pooling resources to decrease our costs and leverage our scale.
Gov. LePage and his administration have offered some innovative programs in the education arena, with school systems agreeing to cooperate and find savings in exchange for targeted support. Maybe we should look to our 16 county governments to undertake similar initiatives in other areas of government service. The cities of the Androscoggin might be better off becoming cities of Androscoggin, regardless of any merger.
Or, with Tax Day on our doorstep, I could have hewn to my well-worn standby: tax policy. In order to support the so-called “surcharge” which eked out a win on the ballot in November, we’ve seen commentary praising the halcyon days in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when federal tax rates approached 70, 80, or 90 percent.
Of course, when it comes to taxes, marginal rates are, well, marginal. The real question is your effective tax rate, or what percentage of your income you pay to the government. So in 1980, the last year of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the top 1 percent of income earners paid just over 33 percent of their income to Washington, despite a 70 percent nominal top rate. Meanwhile, in 2013 — the start of Barack Obama’s second term — the top 1 percent paid 34 percent of their income to the federal government. And halfway between the two, in 1996, they sent 35 percent off to the IRS. So the difference in all those years? Marginal.
Each of these three subjects is worthy of exploration. They all inform the answer to the biggest question facing our state: how do we ensure Maine is a state in which people can afford to live and prosper?
But there are questions much larger facing us today.
Syria remains in the throes of civil war, with chemical weapons employed against civilians. North Korea fires missiles and threatens violence against anyone from which it perceives a threat. And Christians in Egypt are being attacked for practicing their faith.
Those are just some of the big problems in the world today, bigger than those we routinely face in Maine. In Greek mythology, those ills — and others — can be attributed to Pandora. She unleashed them by opening her legendary “box,” ending the earthly paradise. But she sealed one gift, preventing its escape. The only thing left in Pandora’s box? Hope.
With all the challenges we face, be they large or small, that story is especially appropriate. And so is the story of Easter, one we remember this Sunday for those who belong to a Christian denomination. Appropriately, 2017 is one of those years where the calendars of the Eastern and Western church fall into sync.
The story is simple, yet known throughout the world. A perfectly righteous man — or, for those of faith, the Word made flesh — was condemned by those he sought to help, betrayed by those closest to him, and ultimately killed by an empire in a manner meant to degrade and discredit.
But, for those of faith, it didn’t end there.
So Happy Easter. It is a good time to take count of our blessings, and, with the promise of hope, we can continue with a renewed vigor to make our state, our nation, and our world a better place. That’s a topic worth covering any week.