Bob Stone

It seems that the higher Americans rise on the political ladder, the less they display a very valuable attribute, that being “common sense.”

The intersection of two prominent news topics, namely “raising the federal debt limit” and “returning passenger rail service to Lewiston,” illustrate the how sadly lacking both Washington, D.C., and local officials are when it comes to “common sense.”

As I write this column, the estimated federal debt load is just over $248,000 per taxpayer. This wasn’t just the Democrats who ran up the tab on each taxpayer in the U.S.A.  Republicans and independents have all participated, over decades, in spending with reckless abandon.

Do the taxpayers understand that they owe, with interest, the equivalent of a major home mortgage backed by their personal assets, better known as the “full faith and credit of the United States?”

Where is the outrage?

And this past week, Congress just voted to keep running the tab up.

And, passenger rail service is rearing its expensive and terribly outmoded head again as a transportation option between Portland and Lewiston.

Construction estimates have the cost of upgrading the rails, bridges, signaling, safety systems and one-time purchase of equipment at well over $250 million, and that estimate was built on pre-COVID dollars. It’s likely $300 million now and climbing, as federal spending will continue to push inflation to whatever levels.

“Well, it’s mostly federal money anyway,” one might hear the passenger rail fans proclaim. Just where does this “federal money” come from? If your answer is “the taxpayers who already owe $248,000 on their debt tab,” you would be correct.

Estimates as to how many people would ride a train that would get very few of them to their ultimate destinations are pathetically low. Annual operations and maintenance costs have been projected in the $15 to $20 million (pre-COVID dollars) range.

Who knows how much the taxpayers of Maine and cities of Lewiston and Auburn will have to chip in.

Common sense says “kill this idea” now, once and for all. We are tapped out at all levels of government. If you want to know how your $248,000 loan balance was created, following nonsense like passenger rail down the rabbit hole is a good place to start looking.

Bob Stone of Auburn is a former Auburn city councilor, former vice chair of the Maine Turnpike Authority and chair of its finance committee, former chair of the Lewiston Finance Committee, and former Auburn representative to the L-A Passenger Rail Study Committee.

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