Friday, April 13, 2007

Taxes in Maine: Impressions After My First Full Tax Year

When I was living those many years in MA and NH, I would often hear from my family how bad the taxes were in the state of Maine. When I was in NH, anything was probably worse (in the Tax Foundation 2007 report NH ranked 49th in overall taxes paid, above only Alaska). When I was in MA (in the Tax Foundation 2007 report ranked 28th in overall tax rate), which has had the nickname "Taxachusetts" for as long as I can remember, I remember thinking "How bad could they really be?"

Well after my first full tax year here, I can say the the overall tax burden here is not good. In the last report, Maine ranked right near the top, under only Vermont in overall tax rate. Think about that for a second. When I moved here from MA, my personal tax rate jumped over 3%. I don't own any property, so I can't speak on property taxes, but I think they are lower overall than those of say NH and MA. Car excise tax was roughly what I was paying in MA and NH, though it seemed to drop off quicker in Belmont, where I lived before moving back to Maine.

Where Maine really seems to get you is in all the things you don't immediately think about. Things like the city of Lewiston's policy of taxing all of your business' physical assets (even computers, desks, chairs and bookshelves). Things like, at least if I understood my accountant correctly, a Workers Compensation "tax" cost of over $250 per employee per MONTH. The more you find out, the more you start to understand why in Maine, small, vacation oriented businesses rule, and larger businesses that can move elsewhere, do. On top of all this, Maine also has a ridiculous "use tax" (something I strongly oppose) which requires you to pay sales tax on anything you purchased out of state. So with all this additional tax burden, do we get more from our state?

Not that I can see. True, the roads tend to be a little better overall. Driving around the Cambridge/Belmont/Watertown area in my car was a nightmare of potholes at every turn, waiting to swallow up my low profile tires, and here, if I stay on the high traffic roads and away from the frost heaves I have less trouble. But as far as overall services, I don't see that we're better off.

Granted, I still think the overall costs can be lower here. Property and rent costs are much lower here, as is car insurance (I saved 50% on my rent and car insurance when I moved here), but it depends somewhat on where you live too. Moving to Portland, a really nice little city, wouldn't have saved me nearly as much, if anything at all. But it all does really have me rethinking actually building a business here, not without major incentives from the city, or state.

But what REALLY kills me is that in every election, there are promises of "tax reform" and "tax easement" but to look at the numbers, you see that this is a total crock. Maine has had a top 5 overall tax rate 19 out of the last 20 years, actually ranking #1 for 5 straight years in the years 1997-2001.

Reading the report makes me wonder how MA got the "Taxachusetts" nickname in the first place. They have ranked no higher than 17th (in 1991) in overall tax burden in the last 20 years.

All tax burden data from Tax Foundation.

Snow Joke

Is this a picture from the middle of February? No this was taken today, on April 13th. This "Spring" has been brutal, with two significant snowfalls (around 8 inches last night, and 13+ inches last week) and below normal temperatures.

Remembering the Great Flood of 1987

I've been too busy to post this before now, but earier this month we passed the 20th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1987. Compare this photo to the header photo to see the difference in water levels. As fate would have it, I was actually in Portland for this entire week, so I missed the whole thing. I was doing an independent study week at WCSH in Portland with two friends of mine. If I remember correctly, they actually wanted to take us to our town with them to report on the flooding, but there was no way in, or out of the town of Rumford, which was hit even harder than Lewiston/Auburn because of ice jams, so really what I remember of the whole thing was photos and news footage.

On April 1, 1987, four days of rain combined with melting snow to create the worst flooding of the Androscoggin River since 1936. The river crested at a height of 23.66 feet, ten feet above flood stage and high enough to send water surging just below street level at the Longley Bridge. Although the flood did heavy damage in low-lying areas, no injuries were reported. The worst flooding in the state was in Augusta along the Kennebec River, which crested at 36 feet. (Sources: Lewiston Daily Sun, Lewiston Evening Journal, April 1 & 2, 1987.)

From a recent story on the flood:
The April Fools' Day flood of 1987 left many parts of Maine in ruins. In the western part of the state, where the Androscoggin River rose to 24 feet, destruction was widespread.

Two bridges washed away in Strong and another was destroyed in Farmington. In Wilton, a portion of a fire station crumbled beneath the might of rushing water.

In Lewiston and Auburn, the bridges withstood the rising river though aerial photographs showed that the water had risen right up to the deck of the Longley and South bridges. Powerful, churning water made its way into Heritage Park, covering park benches before the river receded.

In the Twin Cities, chaos came in many forms. Entire neighborhoods, like Little Canada at Lincoln and Cedar streets, had to be evacuated. Families took refuge in motels and looked to the American Red Cross for help.

In Auburn, Higgins Sports Center was among several buildings flooded when the Androscoggin rose over North River Road.

The river roared at 102,000 cubic square feet per second, causing some to flee in panic while others stood along river banks to witness the phenomenon. At Great Falls between Lewiston and Auburn, large crowds gathered as ferocious currents thundered over the falls. For two days, Great Falls was one of the most popular attractions in the area.

Homes and businesses were flooded or knocked down by relentless water that surged over riverbanks. Long sections of major throughways, such as Route 136 in Durham, were swallowed up by the rising river. Pavement on other roads washed away. (Source:, April 1, 2007.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Way Too Close for Comfort...

Last night 3 empty buildings one building away from the building my office is in caught fire (for the second time in about 3 years) and were gutted. Needless to say I was worried. The fire is under control but still smoldering. My building is the tallest to the right of the picture and as it turns out it is fine.

The next day, still smoldering, the buildings can be seen gutted. Apparently the cause of the fire was arson. (Photos from

Saturday, July 29, 2006

MA to ME: One Year Later...

So, it's now been a year since I made my move back to Maine from Massachusetts. It amazes me that the year passed so quickly. Clearly the busier you are, the faster time flies.

"So, how as the year gone?" you may ask. Overall, things haven't been that bad. We had a really mild Winter here, which made things a lot easier in January certainly. I honestly never really found the weather to be a LOT different though, except that with all the greenery, it cools off at night here and in the city, not so much.

Well, at any rate, here are some of the details from the last year...

  • The products are still paying the bills, which is good.

  • I work too much, I need to take more time off to enjoy and explore the things around me, so that hasn't changed from before the move. I haven't been to the ocean yet this year (I know, what's with that?) though I'll be remedying that soon, and I haven't been hiking, among other things.

  • I've managed to get back to MA often enough to not feel totally detached (thanks Russ and Jess for the place to crash).

  • I no longer see enough Red Sox games, but hey, my friends are happier because they get the tickets I can't use.

  • I'm tired of renting, I really need to buy something, maybe when the current market settles.

  • I miss Red Bones, Blue Ribbon, East Asia and Ranc's.

  • My short commute (bedroom to computer room when I don't go into the office) means I don't get to drive my car enough, but hey, I save on gas. I also love having a garage again.

  • Ok, I never had much luck with the ladies in MA, but there are even fewer here... I need the kind of social circle I had before, but that's not an easy thing.

  • Thank god for instant messaging. It allows you to stay in touch with your friends constantly, without having to pick up a phone, or compose an entire email message.

  • I haven't done as much creatively as I had wanted, though PDFs of two of my projects are at

So there's my oh-so brief recap. Welcome year #2.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Doesn't anyone walk just to... walk?

My office is close enough to my apartment that when the weather is decent, I can easily walk there.

You know, when I lived and worked in and around Cambridge/Somerville, seeing people walking in the morning was no big thing. SOOOO many people did it, because, in many cases in the city, it's easier than driving, A lot of people were also possibly walking to mass transit. Here, however, on a typical work-day morning, I don't think anyone walks, except maybe me. What's even odder is that I'm pretty sure that people must think that I'm jobless and without a car when they see me walking to work because... well no one walks! It's weird, and I really don't think it's entirely in my head. I will grant that parking is a lot easier here, and things are probably more spread out, but everyone here drives everywhere, even when they COULD walk.

One thing you DO seem to see a lot of here though, now that the weather is warmer, is an unsettling number of shirtless guys walking... somewhere. So it's me... and the shirtless dudes walking out there. See, I'm not crazy...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rain, Rain and More Rain

Strange how hard it rains now

Rows and rows of big dark clouds

When I'm holding on underneath this shroud

-- Patty Griffin, Rain from 1000 Kisses

Wow, it seems like it's been raining for days... well it HAS. It hasn't been as bad here as points a bit south, I mean we actually had a bit of sun on Sunday, and there have been times of just drizzle, etc. but we haven't had a nice, sunny, dry day in over a week now, and the forecast still looks bleak:more rain. Feast or famine, first we were too dry from lack of rain, now we're too wet from too MUCH rain.

Wanted: One ark, and two of each animal...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ahhh Spring!

Well Spring has arrived here. The snow is gone, the days are longer and the Red Sox are back on TV and the frost heaves have more or less flattened out. What's a frost heave? Man, did I ever forget. A frost heave is an "upthrust of ground or pavement caused by the freezing of moist soil." I got used to dodging potholes in MA, though the 2 tires I've lost is proof that I wasn't always successful. But here the problem in the Spring is more often to be the uprising of the pavement into a "bump" in the road. Sometimes calling them bumps is an understatement. Frost heaves at the end of your driveway or on a side street are more or less harmless. Frost heaves on a back road that aren't visible until it's too late and you are airborne or have bottomed out the suspension of your car is another thing altogether. I was painfully reminded of this while on a back road a few weeks back and bottomed out mine even though I had slowed down. Are frost heaves less damaging than potholes? I'd say in general, yes, but sometimes it's a toss up. At least sometimes frost heaves get marked with an orange "Bump" sign. I've never seen a pothole marked by anything other than a plastic wheel cover that popped off of some unlucky person's car.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In the "You Learn Something New Every Day Department:" B&M Baked Beans

All this time, all these years, I've been driving by the Burnham & Morrill building that you can see to the right of the Washington Ave. exit on 295 in Portland. I knew that they made B&M Baked Beans there, but what I DIDN'T know was that B&M Baked beans are a Maine institution, made here and only here. I'm not a big fan of baked beans in general, but these are a staple around here, and now I know why. Another product that they make is brown bread. I don't really like it either, but I never knew where it came from. Turns out, it's often a can. Who knew? Well I'm sure lots of people did, but I didn't.

Friday, February 17, 2006

One of My New Favorite Lunch Places: Simones World Famous Hot Dogs

Yes, red hot dogs are a Maine thing and honestly, I have never seen them outside of Maine. Years and years ago, when I was a kid, I seem to remember that the same banned red food coloring that was once used in M&Ms was used to give these hot dogs their bright red coloring. You'll sometimes hear them called "cancer dogs" by locals. This of course isn't true anymore (about red hot dogs or red M&Ms, and it might have just been an urban legend to being with). All I'm sure of is that they are darned good eating. The red dog is slightly longer and definitely thinner than a Kosher dog and the casing has a nice "snap" to it which is unlike the softer casing of say, a Fenway frank, and to me is a little spicier than other dogs.

So, as I was driving down Lisbon Street the other day, I happened to notice Simones (pronounced Sim-O-ness) World Famous Hot Dogs on Chestnut Street, which jarred the memory that someone had mentioned that it was a place worth checking out. Today I went and was made very happy.

First let me say that hot dogs aren't something I eat every day. They are usually confined to consumption at baseball games. I do however make exceptions when they are good. And the Simones dogs are definitely good.

The dogs I got at Simones were placed in soft Country Kitchen hot dog buns (Country Kitchen, another Maine institution, is actually more or less right next door), slathered in ketchup and mustard, which is the way I like 'em, and wrapped in wax paper. These little guys were quite tasty. As to the decor of the place? Well it doesn't really matter, but it's diner set-up with a long dining counter that stretches from one end to the other. The menu features (of course) hot dogs, and many other lunch and even breakfast items. A definite "good lunch place" vibe permeated the place.

Overall : 5 out of 5 Dogs (Rockin'!)

Simones World Famous Hot Dogs
99 Chestnut St., Lewiston
Open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Saturday, 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.

You can read another take on the place here.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sooooo Much Italian Food

For some reason, probably because it seems to be the epitome of "World Cuisine" around here, there is a proliferation of Italian restaurants. They range from so-so to good, with none of them being exactly spectacular. In addition to the 3 stand-bys I've been to, there is also a new one, with a Wine bar, called Espo's that I'm eager to try, so I can't speak of that one yet.

At any rate, at the lower end of the scale we have Marco's in Lewiston. Now Marco's has actually been around for a very long time, and just recently reopened after a fire gutted their previous location downtown. Rather than rebuilding in the downtown location, they chose to open in an industrial park. The new location is a lot bigger, and has plenty of parking. The interior design is open, but not anything special, which is fine. The food however, was unspectacular. It wasn't bad, but it was really pedestrian. The portions were HUGE, but I'm not looking for that. I'm actually kind of getting sick of this American move to quantity = quality. Give me a nicely sized single chicken breast, with a great sauce or topping, and an interesting side and I'm happy. The portion at Marco's consisted of two large-ish heavily breaded chicken breasts, with a piece of fairly fatty prosciutto between them on top of mushrooms, all in a heavy sauce. The Italian potatoes weren't bad, nor were the carrots, but it was really too much and it just didn't pack a lot of flavor or freshness. Like I said to my dining companion, it's safe Italian for people who have lived here many years. Granted Macro's is newly opened, and it could improve, but the current food seems to me to be just like it was in their previous incarnation, so I'm not sure that will change much.

Overall: 2 out of 5 red wine glasses (needs improvement)

Taking a definite step up, food wise, is Graziano's Casa Mia Restaurant in Lisbon. With a boxing theme and a kind of worn, shady lounge area, here the food was more reasonably portioned (still too much though) and just... better. The dishes at Graziano's have more flavor. The last time I was there, I had this Italian sausage and zitti dish in a marinara sauce and it was quite good. The bread they provided was also pretty good. Not artisan or anything, but I wouldn't really expect that. The selections on the menu were nothing to write home about, pretty standard fare, but I haven't been unhappy with anything I've had. The decor, well it's like early 70's threadbare, with boxing pictures adorning the walls. You don't go here for the decor. Seriously, I remember eating there as a child many, many years ago, and I think the place is pretty much the same now as it was then. Parking can be a bit "odd" but it's more or less plentiful. Overall, it's got a good "local vibe" going, and the food and prices aren't too bad.

Overall: 3 out of 5 red wine glasses (not bad)

Finally, we have DaVinci's Eatery in the Lewiston Bate's Mill. I love the location, and decor is pretty cool, considering it's in an old textile mill, but they use that to their advantage. The food here is fresh and has a lot of flavor, and in addition to standard Italian fare, you can get decent brick oven pizza. They still serve over-large portions, but they also feature "smaller" entrees, with is a nice touch. My last time there, I had a pretty standard Chicken Parm dish, but the sauce was fresh, and the mozzarella was smooth and tasty. Options for what kind of pasta you want is also a nice touch. Beware if you click through to their web site though, as annoying, loud "God Father" music plays and restarts with every page you load. (Seriously, any web developer who builds a web site that plays unnecessary music you can't even control should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot). The two downsides to DaVinci's current location is size, and parking. First, be prepared to wait at peak times, like Cambridge wait, an hour or more, but you can call for reservations. Second, you probably want to park in one of the free garages across the canal from the restaurant, as parking at the restaurant itself is thin.

Overall: 3 out of 5 red wine glasses (not bad)

I have yet to try Espo's which is a newly opened Trattoria and wine bar at the end of Lisbon Street. This is run by the same people who own Esposito's in Portland, and I've heard good things about that place.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Back in Maine, 6 months later

My 6 month "anniversary" of being back in the state of Maine was recently passed. The Winters here were always the toughest things for me when I lived here before (though really, I didn't find Boston Winters MUCH milder) and I really need to start vacationing somewhere WARM during this season. This winter, however has been freakishly warm. We have yet to have a really good snowstorm, by that I mean 1 foot plus of snow. In my previous 3 years just outside of Boston, we had 2+ feet of snow at least 3 times, with one snowfall totaling nearly 3 feet (I kid you not). I expected to get dumped on here at least once, but significant snowfall just hasn't happened (not that I'm complaining, mind you). Figures, I'm back in a place where I have a garage and don't have to shovel and... no snow (again, not that I'm complaining). Now that we're well past the Winter Solstice, and we've gained over an hour of daylight, I am certainly looking forward to Spring, longer days, putting the TT top down, etc.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Amato's - Home of the original Italian Sandwich

One of my favorite things about being up here is that instead of only being able to grab an Amato's "Original Italian" once in a great while when visiting, I can now grab one any time I want. I first had one with my high school friends Dave and James at, I think, the original India Street location. We used to grab one whenever we had the chance.

So what's "A Real Italian" sandwich? As far as I know, it's a Maine thing. You take really soft, fresh italian sandwich bread, add ham, fresh tomato slices, these amazing spicy sweet/sour pickles, cheese, black olives, and for some people, onions and green peppers. Drizzle some oil on it (which I think it a combination of canola and vegetable), top it with salt and pepper and you have a Maine "Italian Sandwich." This I think is what makes Amato's Amato's, their Italians. Oh, they make other things and I'm sure they are fine, but honestly, I've never made it that deep into their menu.

Now, for fans like me, they also have the Amato's Tamatos Club, which "entitles you to some truly fantastic benefits including special coupons and a newsletter with exclusive discounts and contests that only club members can win." Gotta love it.

If I had one gripe, it's that the Auburn location, which used to be a full service franchise, was closed in lieu of one of these "Amato's Express" branches in an Irving convenience/gas location. Just not the same. I much preferred the full size store, though the express has improved since opening.

Overall: 5 out of 5 tomatoes (most excellent!)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Antonio's Deli - A Slice of NYC in Downtown Lewiston

One place that I enjoy going for lunch is Antonio's New York Deli and Bakery. The food there is nicely priced, and it's quite good. Definitely a place like the ones I got used to in the Boston area, but right here at the end of downtown Lewiston. Nice.

For your convenience, and because they don't have these online, here is their current menu:

Overall: 4 pastrami sandwiches (it's hot)

Antonio's New York Deli and Bakery
29 Lisbon Street
Lewiston, ME

View From the Office

This is the view from one of my office windows. The shot is from a little earlier this year, before the snow.