It would be fair to say that a committee that cannot choose a chairman, establish a budget or decide how to defend itself in the face of a lawsuit is failing.

The Workers’ Compensation Board is such a committee.

Twice in the past two years the board has been sued because it failed to make a decision on whether to extend benefits to injured workers. A third suit is likely.

If this were a private group, it would be a curiousity, but nothing taxpayers would particularly care about. But it isn’t.

The 8-member independent board is accountable to the Maine Legislature, which makes it accountable to citizens.

The makeup of the board is precisely equal, with four representatives handpicked by management and four picked by labor. While it’s good to be fair, this equality creates an impasse in deciding whether to extend benefit periods and other important issues.

As you might expect, management and labor disagree. When the disagreement is split down the middle, decisions are tied up.

The split board, which couldn’t even agree on its most recent budget for legislative approval, is holding up thousands of dollars in benefit extensions for hundreds of Maine workers.

“Really, the last two or three years, the situation has progressively declined to the extent that there’s very little if any attempt at finding compromise,” according to Peter Gore, senior government analyst for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

That’s shameful.

The Maine Workers’ Compensation Board needs restructuring, and soon. Various models have been proposed and should be explored. But some system that provides a tie-breaker is obviously essential.

Something must change. Preserving the status quo is cruel to injured workers and, if the board must continue to defend itself in court, costly.

That’s bad for labor and equally bad for business.

Hills are alive
The Oxford Hills region — Paris, Norway, Oxford, Harrison, Waterford, Hebron, Otisfield and surrounding towns — works well together. So well that Brett Doney, executive director of the Growth Council of Oxford Hills, has suggested residents might want to consider bumper stickers boasting of their successes, the most recent of which is a half-million grant from FAME’s Regional Economic Development Relending Program to provide start-up business loans.

This region is fertile ground for entrepreneurial growth. In the past year, despite a gloomy economy and sinking consumer confidence, 120 volunteers worked on local economic projects and 32 new businesses were launched. That growth indicates a shared faith among business owners and customers.

There is a glimmer of similar energy in Lewiston and Auburn and growing momentum in the River Valley.

Maine is said to be well positioned for an economic rebound because we never really bounced back from the fall in the early 1990s. But, as is clear in Oxford Hills, there are people in Maine who aren’t working merely to prevent further fall, but are succeeding in climbing ahead.

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