A sign against the CMP corridor is seen in Milford on Thursday, June 10, 2020. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / BDN

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Told you so.

Last year, I made three predictions with respect to the CMP corridor. The first was that the referendum would pass resoundingly. Check.

The second was that the Maine judiciary would hold that the lease of land by the state to CMP would be overruled. Check so far at the first level, now awaiting the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s final decision.

Third, I guessed that the Maine Supreme Court would reject the referendum on “ex post facto” grounds – the law doesn’t generally permit the government to make new rules after-the-fact. Again, mostly check according to a decision released this week.

There is plenty to say about the ongoing saga surrounding Maine’s utility providers. But that is for another day.

The “ex post facto” attempt to change Maine law to defeat the hydropower corridor from Quebec is similar to President Joe Biden’s recent student loan pronouncement.

Many on the left are incredibly excited that Biden has announced he will effectively wipe out $10,000 of student loan debt for millions of borrowers. For many others, it offends their sense of justice.  

The left – and official White House social media accounts – have gone into attack mode. They have focused on the forgivable loans issued under the Paycheck Protection Program and attacked recipients to try and confuse the issue.

But the PPP loan process was forgivable from the outset if certain wickets were hit. There are legitimate lessons to learn from the program in hindsight, including credible criticisms. For example, did large law firms really need a forgivable loan to keep their people employed? Probably not.  

Did family-run restaurants need the help when they were ordered to temporarily close? Yeah, they probably did.  

Yet whatever issues existed with the PPP system were designed into it from the outset. Everyone knew these would be forgivable loans. That was the very point.

Biden’s student loan forgiveness gambit is different. No one took a student loan thinking that $10,000 would magically be forgiven. That wasn’t the deal.

So people who do not benefit from the forgiveness are, understandably, a bit miffed.  

Imagine Johnny. His heart was set on attending Bowdoin College, but he fell into a tough spot where he did not qualify for a lot of financial aid, but did not have support to help him pay the tuition bill. So, instead, Johnny went to the University of Maine at Machias because it was a more fiscally prudent choice. He graduated without needing to take loans.

Timmy was Johnny’s best friend. They were in the same boat. But Timmy decided to take the plunge and become a Bowdoin Polar Bear. He borrowed a bunch of money to do so.

With Biden’s action, Timmy gets – in essence – a $10,000 kiss. Johnny doesn’t. If Johnny knew that the rules would change after-the-fact, maybe he would have chosen a different path.    

These are the dangers with changing the rules after people have already made their decisions. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 44, explaining why ex post facto laws and policymaking were repugnant to the new American nation:

“The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy which has directed the public councils. They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become jobs in the hands of enterprising and influential speculators, and snares to the more-industrious and less informed part of the community.”

And whether you think the CMP corridor or Biden’s student loan policies are good or bad, you should always be concerned when the government changes the rules after people have made their decisions.

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.