Liquor may be quicker, but candy is still dandy. At least here in Maine. What Mainiac does not fondly remember Needhams or salt water taffy?

That being the case, we should realize that we have to pay extra for that pleasure. While most lawmakers in Washington don’t receive the benefits of a Maine winter, they still should be embarrassed because we who travel the Pine Tree State in our pickups (while munching on divinity fudge) have to kick in a few bucks to buy Tequila for mega-millionaire Florida sugar barons.

Along with Exxon profits, bridges to nowhere and Iraq, we can credit Washington for the cost of sugar as another “benefit,” i.e., something we would prefer to do without. In this case, the sad news is a price of sugar that “passeth all understanding.” Sugar costs twice as much in the U.S. as anywhere else in the world.

Not only does it tax the housewife but, because candy makers in other countries can buy their basic product half as cheap as Len Libby, Haven’s, and their brother creators of bonbons, but also there are fewer jobs and fewer taxes contributed to municipal coffers here in Dirigo-Land. Sob! Growl! Snarl!

God forbid that our trusted representatives on the Potomac have heeded the siren call of sugar lobbyists, but who else could screw things up that badly?

Sugar is a curious case in the annals of political favoritism. A mix of lobbyists and malleable politicians has hidden this charade well below the radar of us common folk. It is not a subsidy. A subsidy appears in budget documents where it can be seen. But this saccharine creature that hampers our sweet tooth can not withstand the light of day. The price of sugar is shackled by a Byzantine procedure which, if not actually hidden, is so obscure as to require a candy-loving Sherlock Holmes to find the evildoers.

First, the price is established by law. Shades of World War II. Even Reagan’s “voodoo” economists blanched at “price fixing” – but there it is.

Next: the price is supported by government purchase – as if we don’t have enough warehouses of surplus agricultural products already! And finally, foreign sugar is handicapped by tariffs and quotas – vile deeds we promised our European trading partners never again to do.

Not only do we Mainiacs pay a peppermint penalty, there is another consideration, this time for the humanists or internationalists among us. Sugar’s artificial price hurts poor natives in foreign countries, who need a chance to sell their agricultural product. And, while more remote, there is still another facet of this boondoggle, this one, we hope, of concern to our recently become green president. Sugar prices have an impact on the cost of ethanol, thus making more expensive the 51 cents a gallon subsidy Mr. Bush is promising Iowa. Corn requires eight times more per unit of energy to produce than does sugar cane, yet the price differential makes sugar cane unable to compete.

Apparently the benefits provided to the politicians outweigh the pain of Len Libby and Haven’s. To a congressperson, the cries of our Brownie troop fudge makers are only whimpers – sniffles easily drowned out by the dulcet flutter of a campaign dollar bill.

Not to completely despair. We have allies in the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina. where sugar is a basic requirement for the few remaining individualists who distill their own pleasure. In their case, liquor is surely quicker.

By the same standard, if our Maine confectionery consumers could get a break, candy could certainly be more dandy.

Rodney Quinn, who lives in Gorham, is a writer and former secretary of state.

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