My wife and I sat for more than seven hours at the April 15 Oversight Committee hearing on Paul Violette’s extravagant spending while he served as the executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

I can honestly say we have never heard so many quotes from board members and staff admitting they did not know anything.

Violette never answered any questions except his name and residence, “taking the Fifth” so as not to incriminate himself, leaving all questions referring to mishandling of funds and gift cards and lavish spending in this country and overseas unanswered.

Other witnesses were called, and their quotes ranged from “I do not recall” to “I have no recollection” to “I do not know” to “No one told me.”

Another came from the authority’s head man, MTA Board Chairman Gerard Conley, “I did not know anything until OPEGA dropped the bomb on me.”

Another board member explained that staffers with concerns like CFO Neil Libby, who had approached Violette with his concerns about spending and gift cards, did not bring them to the attention of the higher-ups “because of the culture of the organization.”

The last to speak was new acting chairman and former state Sen. Peter Mills, who seems to have a handle on things so far and has started making some minor changes such as cutting back on credit cards from 51 to 13.

He states that the culture was inherited from other states and “has no room in Maine.”

Good luck to Mr. Mills, and let’s hope he is up to the task. Methinks it is going to be a long, hard road.

Lou Potvin



Column fails to explain why the rich get taxed


The attempt by Amity Shlaes (“Tax code has become a two-edged sword,” April 20) to link progressive tax reform with a quasi-religious cycle involving sin and repentance was very amusing.

Not to argue the pros and cons of progressive taxation, but I do think she’s stretching a bit for a rationale.

A 2003 publication from the Federal Reserve shows that in 2001, the wealthiest 10 percent of our population earned 34.9 percent of total income in the United States and controlled 77.7 percent of the country’s wealth.

I suspect this hasn’t changed materially over the last few years.

The real reason governments institute progressive taxation is, as Willie Sutton reportedly said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

John Bell



Amity Shlaes’ op-ed column demonstrates her remarkable ability to arrive at a conclusion using only part of the facts.

During the period from 1990 to 2008, the taxes paid by the top 1 percent of earners did increase from 19 percent to 38 percent of taxes, but the percentage of their income used to pay said taxes, thanks to their huge leap in income during that time period, actually fell from 34 percent in 1980 to 23 percent in 2008.

It is reasonable to infer that this mind-boggling growth was fueled by the “hot” investments of the time, corporations moving U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas and high-risk mortgage-backed securities.

When all the facts are presented, it becomes clear that the top 1 percent have enjoyed the very rates that Ms. Shlaes touts and that their effects have indeed trickled down on us all.

Douglas Sargent

Cape Elizabeth


Amity Shlaes’ tax code column needs a context!

It clearly presents a perspective in support of lower taxes, which is to be expected from an employee of a Bloomberg publication.

But I offer the following for consideration, since, in my view, it provides a broader spectrum approach to the discussion/debate/debacle currently raging.

I need not add to what Jonathan Chait wrote in “The Big Con”:

“It is true that the very richest have been paying a higher share of the federal tax burden. But that is entirely because they have earned a larger share of the income.

“In 1979, the highest-earning 0.1 percent took home about 3 percent of the national income and paid about 5 percent of the taxes.

In 1999, they earned about 10 percent of the national income and paid about 11 percent of the taxes.

“What this means is that while the share of income held by the richest one-thousandth tripled, their share of the tax burden only doubled.

“Why the discrepancy? Because the average tax rate faced by that group dropped from 32 (percent) and 23 percent.”

Taxes in the context of income? Makes more sense to me.

Mark Schwartz

South Portland


An expanded arena would attract well-known acts


In response to Lissa Villa’s Another View commentary regarding the proposed Cumberland County Civic Center referendum (“County should not pay to upgrade civic center,” April 20):

I moved here from upstate New York about 18 years ago, and the only thing I miss is the ability to see the big-draw music groups.

In Albany they have a civic center, which is the former home of the River Rats hockey team and was almost home to the Portland Pirates.

The civic center there seats almost 15,000 people and has been host to some of the most famous musical groups, from Frank Sinatra to The Who.

Among the ways that they pay the operating cost of the facility, in addition to ticket revenue, are the lease of the name and skyboxes, plus the sale of advertising space.

It would be a great benefit to Cumberland County to have a new and larger civic center that could serve as an alternative to the venues in Boston.

Donald Mac Lean III