I think that I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Indeed, unless the billboards fall

I’ll never see a tree at all.

– Ogden Nash

 

Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem, “Trees,” found an ironic twist in the mind of novelty versifier Ogden Nash, famous for his ability to form amusing rhymes out of creatively misspelling words – as in another well-known quip, “If called by a panther, don’t anther.”

Irony wears a bit thin, however, when one of the most popular and well-regarded state laws on the books is being contemplated for significant modification by legislators in Augusta.

Those with long memories may recall 1984 as the year the last billboard on a Maine highway came down, after the state banned off-premise commercial signage in 1978. Some 8,500 signs were removed as a result of that law, which is similar to statutes passed in Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont – states that also have good reason to protect their iconic scenic vistas.

An effort in 2003 to change the law failed, and so should the measures recently submitted in Augusta to change the billboard ban.

One, L.D. 1405, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, would let business owners increase the size of on-premises signage so that the notices could be seen from major highways.

The other, L.D. 1367, backed by Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, would permit off-premises billboards and charge their owners fees that would be allocated to highway maintenance.

Both aren’t just bad ideas, they fall under the heading of really bad ideas. The Brookings Institution’s report citing the value of Maine’s “unique quality of place” would have to be shredded if these schemes were to become law.

No better testimony to that effect has been offered than the words uttered this week by Dana Connors, who was Maine’s transportation secretary when the law passed and is now head of the Maine Chamber of Commerce:

“I think time has rendered that to be a very good decision, a right decision, that has fit very well with how we see ourselves and how other people see us in terms of the importance of the environment to our state and how it fits into the business agenda.”

When the head of the state chamber says a law would be bad for business, business people should listen.

Maine’s billboard ban isn’t broken. Don’t “fix” it.