It’s said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. But vigilance is impossible unless people make an honest effort to stay informed.
We were prepared to deliver a stern rebuke to the uninformed and apathetic this morning, but that would be pointless.
That you are reading a newspaper likely shows you are an informed, engaged citizen in this democracy.
We are, however, occasionally surprised when an issue has been thoroughly covered by this newspaper, and other mediums, and people say they had no idea something was about to happen.
People are beginning to express surprise this week that they have become ineligible for a tax break they have received for many years.
Some are shocked to find that programs aimed at low- and middle-income people were greatly reduced or eliminated by the governor and the Legislature in its recently ended session.
About 75,000 Maine households will no longer be eligible for rebates under the familiar circuit-breaker tax program.
One taxpayer told us the program had been “gutted.”
Indeed, it has. The Legislature and governor did it to close a large gap in the state budget.
But, anyone paying attention should have seen this coming as early as January when Gov. Paul LePage first proposed it.
At least 15 stories, letters to the editor, columns and editorials about the cuts appeared in this newspaper between the governor making the suggestion and signing it into law.
We criticized the governor’s decision on Jan. 27, calling reductions in the programs an obvious tax increase from a governor who claims to oppose all tax increases.
“Property owners, renters stand to lose from proposal,” said a headline in February.
Still, some were completely surprised when the new rules took effect.
Several angry Auburn voters complained at a School Committee meeting last month that they couldn’t find information on the district’s school budget before voting on whether to approve it.
Over the months leading up to the vote, we carried at least 22 stories on the 2013-14 school budget plus an editorial explaining why we thought the increase was justified.
We even devoted a Sunday cover story to the subject with numerous charts and a long story showing how the city of Auburn and its schools compare to similar cities.
Some of the stories were about upcoming budget hearings, some were accounts of meetings, others described exactly what was in the budget and how the School Committee justified the increase.
If some people couldn’t find information, they just weren’t looking.
Last year, the Maine Turnpike announced a large rate increase.
We announced that, announced the dates for hearings, covered those hearings and the Turnpike Authority meetings.
We wrote three editorials against the rate increases, and we ran letters to the editor and columns opposing the new rates.
We wrote stories about how drivers getting a special commuter rate would be especially hard-hit when the new rates took effect.
We ran a front-page graphic showing exactly how riders traveling various distances would be affected by the new commuter rates.
Months later, when the new rates went into effect, there were howls of protest from some commuters caught off guard by the increases.
How could people have missed this?
It’s not just that people are not making the effort to become informed, but they are missing the opportunity to influence the decisions and events that affect their lives.
We have seen this time and again over the years, that government often responds when people express themselves.
Like when gun owners show up en masse in Augusta to push laws they like or oppose ones they do not.
We wonder how many citizens called their state reps and senators about losing their property-tax discount.
How many dashed off a note to an elected leader protesting the move?
How many buttonholed Gov. Paul LePage when he visited their town and offered to take questions?
How many attended a legislative hearing to show their opposition, or offered to testify against what amounts to a property-tax increase?
Thomas Jefferson often argued that the public — a well-informed public — is the ultimate repository of power in a democracy.
The next time you hear someone claim they don’t know what’s going on in their community or state, suggest they buy a newspaper.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.