Cost for Congress confounding

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: With the public’s low esteem of Congress, a lot of us would be interested to know what it costs to support it, including salaries for both congress and staffers, office rental, travel, medical, etc., for all its employees. — No Name, Auburn

ANSWER: This number is really tough to ascertain. According to a July 2012 podcast on marketplace.org, none of the watchdog groups that track such things have undertaken the task. Of course Congress is not really motivated to publicize those numbers.

Salaries are easy to add up, but all the extras are a little trickier. For example, do you include the Congressional Budget Office in the tally?

Here are some of the numbers Sun Spots found:

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CNN’s Money said the cost for Congress was $2.8 billion in 1992.

washminster.blogspot.com said it was $4.33 billion in 2008.

Examiner.com said it was $4.66 billion in 2010.

Another blog said it was $4.8 billion in 2012, but it was very partisan and may be unreliable.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Please, how can I contact Sen. Angus King? Thank you for being my go-to gal when I don’t know where else to go. — Marilyn via email

ANSWER: You can write to King at 188 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-1903, 202-224-5344, fax 202-228-0824, www.king.senate.gov (there is a link there to email him).

His local office is at 2 Great Falls Plaza, Auburn, ME 04210, 207-786-2451.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: I have looked to your column many times in the past and am looking to you again for an answer. You do a great community service.

I live in a city that is really not very handicapped accessible in several areas. In a lot of areas, there aren’t sidewalks for anyone to access as well.

Can the Americans with Disabilities Act be used to get after the city or state to fix these areas, and make them put sidewalks in, and help the cities pay for them? Thank you. — No Name via email

ANSWER: In order to pass the ADA, certain exemptions were made and some institutions were grandfathered (for example, a historic building not being required to add an elevator). New buildings, of course, have to meet all the requirements.

The ADA cannot force cities or states to do more than the law already calls for, and modifications to it seem unlikely.

There was a federal program that built some sidewalks to make it safer for children to walk to school, but it was limited to a few locations. Unfortunately, in this day of shrinking revenues and escalating needs, Sun Spots does not think it likely that taxpayers would be willing to pay for such improvements.

The only solution she can think of is moving into a downtown where such services are already in place. Not terribly convenient for you, but perhaps easier in the long run?

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Where does all the money that Maine earns from all the lotteries go? Does any of it go to the Education Department? I thought at the time the lottery was permitted that some of the funds were to go to the Education Department. Is there a website where this information can be found and printed? Thank you for all you do. — No Name via email

ANSWER: Details on where the money goes can be found at www.mainelottery.com/about/where_money_goes.html. Here are some of the numbers from that page:

The Maine State Lottery has paid more than $2.2 billion in prizes to winners.

Last year (they don’t specify which “last year”), the Maine State Lottery paid $14 million in commissions and bonuses to approximately 1,300 lottery retail agents; that is an average $10,854 per agent and a total of $268 million in 36 years.

The average annual transfer to the General Fund since 2005 has been $50 million. General Fund contributions from the lottery are redistributed by the Legislature and the governor to more than 250 various state programs and services (some of that money could go to education, but it’s not specified).

Between 1974 and the second quarter of fiscal year 2011, the lottery transferred more than $1 billion to Maine’s General Fund.

Since 1996, the lottery has transferred $15.8 million to the Outdoor Heritage Fund from the sale of certain $1 instant tickets.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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