The U.S. Department of Labor is stepping into the dispute over a pro-labor mural in Maine. On Monday the department accused Governor Paul LePage of violating the terms of a federal grant that paid the bulk of the mural’s $60,000 cost when he ordered it removed from state offices last month. The mural by artist by Judy Taylor depicts various scenes from labor history. Labor Department administrator Gay Gilbert stated that Mr. LePage must either display the mural or pay the Federal government 63% of its fair market value, which he argued may be much higher than $60,000.
It could of course be worth a lot less. And storing a large, multi-paneled mural would impose additional, continuing costs on Maine for the foreseeable future. The most sensible thing to do would be to auction off the mural on Ebay. This would end the debate over what the market value is (because whatever it sells for establishes that fact). Maine could send 63% of the proceeds to Washington, keep the rest, and avoid the expense of storing the mural. Surely if this work of art is as important as labor activists say it is then it would sell to some interested party for a large sum, right? And if it doesn’t, that settles the question too. Let the market decide. And don’t be surprised if it turns out the government vastly overpaid for this subsidized piece of art to begin with.