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Friday, January 30, 2009

Watchdog on the Radio: Weekend Edition

I'll be on "Meet the New Press" Saturday morning at 9 on WEMJ.
You can listen online here.

Rock 101 will also be re-airing my segment with Charlie Sherman Sunday morning at 7am. Wake up with some Rockin' Public Affairs Programming, followed by a block of Aerosmith. If you can't wait, you can always download WGIR "News To Go".

UL Ed Page Bashes Stimulus

The Union Leader this morning dedicates serious real estate to bashing the stimulus bill passed by the House, both in its lead editorial...
We were told that it would keep people from winding up on the streets. Only $11 billion goes to housing assistance.

We were told that it would help Americans who got laid off. Only $4.6 billion goes to employment and training programs, and $27 billion to expand unemployment benefits. (By contrast, the bill raises Medicaid spending by $89 billion.)

We were told that it had to be passed immediately. But the Congressional Budget Office notes that large portions of the spending cannot even begin until spring and will take three to eight years to complete.

The Wall Street Journal calculated that only 12 percent of the bill's provisions can accurately be called stimulative. The rest is simply being thrown at favored constituencies by Congress. The bill even includes a provision forbidding the use of foreign steel in the construction projects it funds. Does no one in Congress remember Smoot-Hawley?

And in an Op-Ed from former HHS Commissioner John Stephen:

The premise behind the "stimulus" bill is a belief in the debunked Keynesian notion that government spending creates a multiplying effect that accelerates economic activity. This belief continues despite numerous failed attempts at this policy, including in Japan and during the New Deal.

What those proposing this irresponsible plan miss is that the money for this spending has to come from somewhere, and that means borrowing it. However, taking money out of the economy only to put it back into federal programs gets America right back to square one. The only way this will improve the economy is if the federal government can use that money more efficiently than the private sector can. Anyone who believes this should call me because I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'm trying to sell.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gov. Lynch: The next state budget can't be balanced without layoffs

Tom Fahey breaks in the Union Leader that Governor John Lynch will seek layoffs in his proposed budget:

Layoffs among state workers will be unavoidable in the next two years if the state’s next budget is going to be balanced, Gov. John Lynch said this morning.

Lynch said he has been meeting six days a week with department heads across state government to find programs that are no longer necessary or can be combined with others. As those programs are cut or consolidated, some workers will lose their jobs, he said.

While he said he has not talked about any across-the-board layoffs, he said they must come as part of cost-saving moves for fiscal 2010 and 2011.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

NH has quietly built a mountain of debt


New Hampshire's budget deficit may be the worst in the modern history of the state, but it may not be the worst financial crisis we currently face. As the current budget eats away our financial reserves and puts enormous pressure on our budget structure, the state's long-term debt and obligations are rising to dangerous levels that make the budget deficit pale in comparison.

Like almost every government entity in the country, New Hampshire finances many of its capital projects with long-term debt or bonds. Twenty years ago, our general obligation debt was $349 million. Over 20 years, that number has risen to $738 million (as of June 2008) and is growing every year.

By federal standards, of course, $738 million is nothing. It's only $556 per capita. However, the trend is disturbing, as is the willingness to turn to debt whenever there's a problem. The most recent budget includes $40 million worth of items that had always been considered operating expenses before but which are now paid with debt. On top of that, we borrowed an additional $60 million to pay for highway fund expenses that used to be paid for with taxes.

The real problem isn't any one year of debt. The cumulative burden has been building for 20 years, slowly and inexorably. Stopping that growth is a long-term project.

Regular state debt is getting worrisome, but the hidden obligations of state government are the real problem. While nominal state debt is a little more than $700 million, the state's unfunded pension and similar obligations are almost 10 times that amount and growing rapidly.

Government accounting rules require a periodic statement of the state's pension liabilities and funding ratio. As recently as 1989, the state's unfunded liability was zero. We had enough assets in the system to cover our expected liabilities at projected growth rates.

Then the state's unfunded liability began to creep upward. By 1999, we were only 90 percent funded with a liability of $340 million. As of June 2008, the unfunded liability had exploded to $2.5 billion, and it's getting worse. The state reported that through October, the system lost almost $1.5 billion, making the unfunded liability $3.95 billion and growing. But that's only the beginning.

Recent accounting changes have forced the state to report the value of other benefit obligations. As of the last valuation two years ago, the state had no assets set aside for its "other post-employment benefits" (OPEB) obligation and had liabilities of $2.56 million.

In addition to the OPEB obligation, the state reports a separate health benefit liability of $495 million. Finally, the much-smaller judicial retirement system has dropped to 92 percent funding and has a liability of $4.3 million.

These four obligations combined have an unfunded liability of more than $7 billion, dwarfing the general state debt of $738 million. What's worse is that each of these obligations gets larger every year.

Our unfunded pension and benefits liabilities increase with serious declines in the stock market. During market retreats, they will look much worse than they are in the long term just as market booms will exaggerate their health.

But regardless of market distortions, we have among the worst-funded pensions in the country. We've gone from being more or less fully funded and keeping up with our growing obligation each year to having billions of dollars in debt.

For decades, debt and the long-term pension obligations were an insignificant part of policy debate. They were out of sight and out of mind. Finally, the growing shortfall had an impact on the state's annual contribution and therefore affected the state's operating budget.

There was a strong effort by the House to pass significant reforms to secure the long-term future of the retirement system. In the end, some changes were made, but there's much more work to do. The changes are not just about the solvency of the pension system. They're about the solvency of the state.

The debt problem is part of the whole budget-deficit problem, and the time to act is now. The new President of the debt-ridden federal government, Barack Obama, put it succinctly: "What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and not in a position to kick it any further."

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House Committee Keeps Toll Control with Council

(CONCORD) The House Public Works and Highways Committee has unanimously rejected a proposal to give the Legislature control over New Hampshire tolls. HB 137 would have set state toll rates in law, rather than by the Executive Council.

The five-member council last year raised toll rates around the state in order to make up for a projected shortfall in turnpike revenues. The Legislature currently retains the right to set discounts under the electronic "E-Z Pass" system, and to decide where and when toll booths will be installed.

Committee Chair Candace Bouchard (D-Concord) and Vice-Chair David Campbell (D-Nashua) urged their collegues to keep the current system, arguing that last year's toll increase showed that the Council had the political courage to raise toll rates.

Representative John Graham (R-Bedford) argued that such decisions should all be made by the same body, preferably the Legislature, but went along with the Committee's 17-0 decision. The full House will likely take up the bill on February 4th.

Anti-tobacco groups target smokers for a buck a pack

(CONCORD) A coalition of anti-tobacco groups is looking to smokers to pay an extra dollar per pack in tobacco taxes to help pay for smoking prevention programs. The Tobacco Free NH Coalition is supporting HB 638, which would increase in the state tobacco tax from $1.33 per pack to $2.33 per pack, and would dedicate the first nickel per pack to a state cancer plan.

Representative Bill Butynski (D-Hinsdale) argues that New Hampshire isn't spending enough to help adults kick the habit, or keep teenagers from picking it up. The Coalition argues that spending money on tobacco prevention will save health care dollars in the long run.

"There is no greater return on investment than from investing in tobacco use prevention. With so much of our health care costs due to smoking related diseases, there are serious consequences to doing nothing to prevent smoking and to not helping the majority of smokers who want to quit," said Susan Martore-Baker, Chair for the American Lung Association of New Hampshire.

The Granite State raised its tobacco tax by $.25 per pack in October, and the current tariff of $1.33 per pack ranks 22nd in the nation. The American Lung Association gave New Hampshire an "F" for Tobacco Prevention and Control Spending on its 2008 Tobacco Report Card, citing just over $1 million in state spending, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that New Hampshire spend over $19 million per year. The American Lung Association gives New Hampshire a "D" for Smokefree Air, despite extensive smoking bans and restrictions in public buildings, private workplaces, public schools, restaurants, and bars.

Bill supporters estimate that raising the tax by $1 per pack would generate $50 million in annual revenue, with $2.5 million going to the cancer plan. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids projects that the tax increase would cut youth smoking by 15.5%, and push 7,000 New Hampshire adults to quit. It says that increasing tobacco taxes cuts cigarette sales, but not enough to wipe out the increased revenues per pack. The Legislative Budget Assistant has not yet completed its estimate of how such a tax increase would impact New Hampshire revenues. The House Ways and Means Committee has not yet scheduled a public hearing on the proposal.

Shovel Ready?

Lauren Dorgan reports in the Concord Monitor on yesterday's presentation by Congressman Paul Hodes about the stimulus package, and his efforts to exempt New Hampshire from the shovel-ready restrictions on transportation spending:
That was one of the many questions local and state officials put to U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Concord Democrat, yesterday morning in a forum on the expected $825 billion federal stimulus package and what it will bring to New Hampshire. Last night, Hodes submitted an amendment to the House Rules Committee permitting an exemption for states where "cold weather and freezing conditions" make winter construction impossible.

"This is a question that Congressman Hodes is very concerned about," said Hodes spokesman Mark Bergman.

New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton said administrators from his department had raised a concern about whether cold weather would freeze New Hampshire out of eligibility for full road aid. The shovel-ready, or 120-day standard, was promoted to ensure the roughly $30 billion the federal government will funnel to states for roads and bridges will put people to work fast.

Under the plan being debated in Washington, states would have 120 days from passage to begin construction on any projects included in the bill. Even if the bill passed today, that means projects would have begin by May 27th, so it's hard to imagine frozen ground keeping New Hampshire projects off the list.

UNH president: Salaries, benefits targeted

Clynton Namuo reports in the Union Leader that UNH President Mark Huddleston is targeting salries and benefits:

Another round of belt-tightening is coming to the University of New Hampshire and salaries are likely to be first up, according to a letter President Mark Huddleston issued yesterday to the university community.

The letter offers few specifics, but makes clear that UNH is feeling the pinch and because of that, expenses must be cut and money made. Huddleston's letter says UNH's revenue sources are declining or stagnating, while costs are not.

"A central challenge will be salary and benefits, the largest drivers of our budget," Huddleston said in the letter, adding, "I expect any increase in salaries will be modest at best."

State budget cuts: Watch the politics closely

The Union Leader tops its editorial page by arguing that partisan politics has shifted Democratic attitudes on budget cuts in Concord:
Among the proposed savings: cutting Medicaid reimbursements to local hospitals by $1 million, reducing AIDS prevention funding by $500,000, taking $2 million back from the Police Standards and Training Council, reducing highway fund transfers by $5 million, and spending $441,000 less on state courts.

The House Finance Committee unanimously supported this bill, and Democratic House leaders support it. It is interesting how partisan politics plays such a big role in these decisions. When Republicans proposed the exact same Medicaid savings, Democrats opposed it. But legislative Democrats need to support Gov. Lynch to show that the party is serious about controlling spending.

There is much to consider before funding commuter rail

Rep. Peter Leishman (D-Peterborough) is a long-time advocate for passenger rail in New Hampshire. He lays out some of the key questions that need to be answered about bringing commuter rail to Nashua in this morning's Union Leader:
However, other sticking points remain. The owner of the rail line from the New Hampshire border north to Manchester and beyond is controlled by a privately owned railroad company. Officers of that company, Pan Am Railways, have testified before a legislative committee that they would only consider passenger rail service if their company is exempt from any responsibility for an accident, even in the case of gross negligence. I think that most of us would find this requirement hard to swallow.

As we continue with the passenger rail debate, I believe a couple of options deserve serious consideration before we consider spending more than $300 million.

First, working with the MBTA, we need to look at extending commuter rail service to the New Hampshire state line (south Nashua). The cost of this option is substantially less expensive, as most, if not all, of the necessary studies have been completed, and the MBTA owns the rail corridor from south Nashua to Boston.

Second, the New Hampshire Legislature needs to hold noticed public hearings to explore the advantages and disadvantages that would come should the state acquire the Nashua to Manchester railroad corridor for future commuter rail service. This should be done before committing public funds to this project.

Finally, I believe we should enlist the support of New Hampshire bus operators. They could provide service not only from Manchester to the station in Nashua, but from other cities, such as Concord. That would enable New Hampshire to commence an energy-efficient transportation service to serve this corridor, and bus service would significantly reduce the cost of providing service beyond Nashua.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Talking Transportation

AM 610 WGIR has posted this morning's Newsmakers segment with Charlie Sherman on "New Hampshire's Morning News."

You listen to the entire hour here.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Watchdog on the radio

On NH's Morning News with Charlie Sherman, discussing transportation and RGGI.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whose Priorities

The Concord Monitor reports on our latesdt study, "Get Your Shovels Ready" in this weekend's Capital Beat column:

Whose priorities?

Former GOP congressional candidate Grant Bosse, an investigator for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy Research, released a cleverly titled report criticizing the state Department of Transportation for its bailout wish list.

The report, "Get Your Shovels Ready: State DOT Wish List Ignores Legislative Priorities," essentially lambasted the list created by Transportation Commissioner George Campbell, saying it's heavy on rail and light on the 10-year highway plan, which legislators have approved.

"The New Hampshire Department of Transportation Wish List for spending the anticipated federal windfall from the Obama Administration ignores legislative priorities from the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan, and misses an opportunity to fix every Red List bridge in the state," Bosse wrote.

By the numbers, Bosse makes a point: Campbell's list includes about $220 million for highway projects and $310 million worth of railroad projects not on the 10-year plan.

But Transportation Department spokesman Bill Boynton said the report was misleading.

"To say in a so-called research effort that we're ignoring our legislative priorities or we're ignoring the 10-year plan is not true," Boynton said.

First off, Boynton said, roughly $60 million worth of road repair/preservation efforts depicted in the report as being non-10-year-plan priorities were, in fact, included in the plan (though not by name), on page 87.

More broadly, Boynton said, the department listed all the high-priority road projects it felt it could get going in the 120-day window the feds have asked for. And, he said, the rail projects were listed because specific money will likely be doled out to rail projects.

"The comparison should not be $300 million to $200 million, it should be $300 million to zero," Boynton said. "Because if we didn't apply for anything called 'rail and transit,' that's what we'd get - zero."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Watchdog on the Radio

Tune in this afternoon at 1:25pm on WTPL's "Bulldog Live".

I'll be talking about our latest report "Get Your Shovels Ready", and the DOT response.

You can listen live online.

Bill Boynton: Study, editorial on state DOT spending priorities inaccurate

The Union Leader this morning publishes the DOT response to the study "Get Your Shovels Ready" and yesterday's editorial:

The Josiah Bartlett Center report issued Wednesday may have appeared to be a softball right down the middle of the plate for an editorial, but a call to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) could have quickly clarified some very basic fundamental errors in the premise of the report that made its conclusions seriously flawed.

(1) All of the road and bridge projects ($220 million) in the NHDOT economic stimulus draft list are priorities within the state's 10-year plan. Author Grant Bosse incorrectly assumed (he didn't call me for clarification) that $58.7 million in "resurfacing pavement reconstruction projects" are not in the plan when in fact they have all been identified by the NHDOT as priorities under the 10-year plan heading of "Interstate Preservation Projects."

(2) All of the road and bridge projects in the draft list are "shovel ready" (design, right-of-way, etc.) and could be acted upon within 120 days as suggested in the federal criteria.

(3) The rail money sought ($310 million) was correctly anticipated by the NHDOT to be available through a separate funding category in the House bill for "rail and transit." It is a huge, incorrect assumption that this money could somehow be available for addressing Red List bridges.

(4) Whether or not you agree editorially with pursuing the rail improvements, the $10 million for the St. Lawrence and Atlantic upgrade in the North Country is in the state's "capital plan," and the $300 million for the upgrade of the "Capital Corridor line" (Lowell-Nashua-Manchester) is a priority for the New Hampshire Rail Authority, which was established in law by the New Hampshire Legislature.

It is very unfortunate that much-needed assistance for transportation infrastructure improvements and preservation in New Hampshire is recklessly characterized in the Union Leader editorial as "the corrupting effect of 'free' money from Washington," especially in light of the facts.

Bill Boynton is public information officer for the state Department of Transportation.

Here is our response:

Our study "Get Your Shovels Ready" gave an accurate report on the differences between the DOT Wish List for transportation stimulus funds and the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan.

To address Mr. Boynton's first point, the Ten Year Plan does not specifically mention several of the resurfacing projects on the Wish List. To be fair, the Ten Year Plan does contain $6 million per year for resurfacing projects, for which the DOT projects would qualify. We did not mean to criticize DOT for providing greater detail under this category, and thank them for their work.

We do not question that any of the listed projects would meet the Obama Administration's "Shovel Ready" definition, but many projects are not scheduled for several years, and would not provide public benefits for several more.

Nor do we fault DOT for preparing rail projects in the event that Congress prevents states from using stimulus funds on their top priorities. In fact, we urge Congress to give states greater flexibility so that New Hampshire can fix roads and highways rather than spend "free" money on a lower priority rail project.

Should New Hampshire be forced to "use or lose" federal rail money, it should go towards projects already identified as state priorities, and not funneled into double tracking a rail line that was never included under the Ten Year Plan.

We also don't question that some projects may be priorities for the Rail Authority or other groups. But they have not been stateside priorities, and are not included in the Ten Year Plan. Indeed, the Ten Year Plan includes just over $20 million for the entire project. The DOT Wish List seeks $300 million. That money would be better spent to meet the needs of the Ten Year Plan, should Congress allow it. We don't blame DOT for working under these assumptions, but urge lawmakers to move beyond them.

The Bartlett Center has provided a side by side comparison of transportation priorities. It is up to policy makers if these priorities will be set in Concord, or in Congress.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DOT Responds

NH Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton has responded to yesterday's study and today's editorial in the Union Leader:
The Josiah Bartlett Center report issued Wednesday may have appeared to be a softball right down the middle of the plate for an editorial, but a call to the NH Department of Transportation (you know my number and Tom Fahey did call me) could have quickly clarified some very basic fundamental errors in the premise of the report that made its conclusions seriously flawed.

(1) All of the road and bridge projects ($220 million) in the NHDOT draft list of economic stimulus draft list are priorities within the State’s 10 Year Plan. Author Grant Bosse incorrectly assumed (he didn’t call me either for clarification) that $58.7 million in “resurfacing-pavement reconstruction projects” are not in the plan when in fact they have All been identified by the NHDOT as priorities under the 10 Year Plan heading of “Interstate Preservation Projects”.

(2) All of the road and bridge projects in the draft list are all “shovel ready” (design, right-of-way, etc.) and could be acted upon within 120 days as suggested in the Federal criteria.

(3) The rail money sought ($310 million) was correctly anticipated by the NHDOT to be available through a separate funding category in the House Bill for “rail and transit”. It is a HUGE, wrong assumption that this money could somehow be available for addressing Red List bridges.

(4) Whether or not you agree editorially with pursuing the rail improvements, the $10 million for the St. Lawrence and Atlantic upgrade in the North Country is in the State’s “Capital Plan”, and the $300 million for the upgrade of the “Capital Corridor line” (Lowell-Nashua-Manchester) is a priority for the NH Rail Authority which was established in law by the New Hampshire Legislature.

It is very unfortunate that much needed assistance for transportation infrastructure improvements and preservation in New Hampshire is recklessly characterized in your editorial as “the corrupting effect of "free" money from Washington”, especially in light of the facts.

Bill Boynton
Public Information Officer
NH Department of Transportation

Our report was based on a side-by-side comparison of three documents, the DOT Wish List, the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan approved by the Legislature in 2008, and the Red List of bridges maintained by the DOT Bureau of Bridge Design. It is intended to provide alternatives to lawmakers, and to show where New Hampshire had set its transportation priorities before talk a stimulus package led to the formation of a Wish List.

DOT has prepared funding requests based on the assumption that New Hampshire could receive separate funds for highway and rail projects. While we do not fault DOT for preparing its list under this assumption, policy makers shouldn't be bound by it. Our report states that such decisions are still being made by Congress, and that New Hampshire officials should push for greater flexibility to meet long-standing priorities. We stand by our report.

From the Telegraph

The Nashua Telegraph reports on yesterday's study of transportation priorities in New Hampshire:
A public policy think tank said the state's Department of Transportation "wish list'' for the stimulus package pending before Congress contains projects not on the state's 10-year highway plan.

Transportation Commissioner George Campbell recently detailed the $535 million of "shovel ready'' projects the state wants the Obama administration and both houses of Congress to approve.

But the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy noted that $220 million to double the railroad tracks from the Massachusetts line to Manchester was not included in the state's original plan to restore commuter rail through Nashua.

The $300 million commuter rail request is by far the largest by the state.

A stimulus plan unveiled in a House committee last week, however, relies heavily upon an existing formula for state-by-state federal highway aid that penalizes New Hampshire and gives it less in aid for every $1 federal gas tax dollar motorists from the state send to Washington.

Lead investigator Grant Bosse said the state would be better off redirecting some of the rail spending to fixing ailing bridges on the state's Red List.

"New Hampshire should stick to its transportation priorities, and not rush into a use-it-or-lose-it attitude," Bosse added. "If Congress gives the Granite State enough flexibility, New Hampshire can wipe out its Red List instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars a commuter rail line it doesn't need and can't afford.

The DOT wish list: low priorities abound

The Union Leader leads its editorial page this morning with comment on yesterday's study of the DOT Wish List for federal stimulus money:

To see the corrupting effect of "free" money from Washington, look no further than the state Department of Transportation's federal bailout wish list. More than 60 percent of the list consists of projects not included in the state's 10-year highway plan, which is the list of the state's top transportation priorities.

In a study released yesterday, Grant Bosse of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy found that the state could fix all of its red-list bridges -- those in most dire need of repair -- if it gets the entire $535 million in requested bailout funds. Yet the DOT included only two red-list bridges in its bailout wish list.

You can read the FULL REPORT online.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Borrowed ideas can reduce politics in Concord


As Gov. John Lynch puts together the most important speech of his time in office, he should plan on borrowing ideas from President Barack Obama and from Iowa to reduce the amount of politics in Concord.

In three weeks, the governor will present his budget address, a compilation of his ideas on cutting spending, other proposals and the budget that holds them together. In the face of the biggest budget crisis in the recent history of the state, he's going to want to cobble together ideas from as many people as he can. We have to cut every dollar of spending possible, so I thought I would save him the price of a phone call and put a few ideas forward right here.

New Hampshire has a budget based on estimating the amount of revenue we think our current taxes are likely to raise. If that estimate is higher, spending can be higher. If the estimate is lower, spending is automatically restrained.

Historically, revenue estimates have always been a political football. Those who wish to spend are more likely to believe higher estimates. Those of us who want government to spend less become naturally pessimistic about the same estimates.

There is some sniping and griping about the revenue estimates every year, but the last budget was typical. One budget writer is said to have urged the tax committee to look to the skies for their estimates because the spending needs were great. Consequently, the budget debate in the House focused on whether the estimates were unrealistic.

Later in the process, when the House and Senate were millions of dollars apart in reconciling their two budget bills, a conference committee solved the problem overnight by adjusting revenue estimates by the amount of the impasse.

There is a better way, and Iowa has found it. Those sensible Midwesterners put together a Revenue Estimating Panel outside the political process. Each quarter, a group of professionals puts together a new, public estimate of consensus estimates for each tax source. They don't write the budget; they don't consider policy changes; they aren't working for one party or another. They just issue regularly revised statements explaining how much money will be available at current rates.

They won't always be right, but the consensus estimate assures the public that we're budgeting based on what's likely to happen, and we've attempted to control for our own bias toward higher or lower spending. It should help the debate focus on policy choices and not whether someone is trying to cook the books.

The second change Gov. Lynch should propose comes from our new national leader. You probably noticed that yesterday we swore in a new President (if not, flip your newspaper to the front page and read the lead story before continuing). President Obama and I have a difference of opinion on a few things, but I've mentioned before that he has some great ideas about transparency in government.

One of his proposals is called "sunlight before signing." Essentially, he won't sign any non-emergency bill without it having been posted on the White House Web site for at least five days. In essence, we shouldn't pass anything before people have a chance to see what we're doing and weigh in. Great idea.

In New Hampshire, we do a good job of this in most areas. Bills are all posted online, and for the most part changes are posted before the Legislature votes. Oddly, the one area where we don't do this is the budget.

The governor's budget proposal is a wonderful document. It includes a detailed and relatively easy to understand 30-page executive summary. The summary has charts, summaries by program and the very important "surplus statement" that explains how the budget is balanced. It is an essential tool to understanding the 1,000-page, oddly laid out, budget itself.

However, once the governor's done on Feb. 12, we won't see summaries again. In fact, in too many years even a revised surplus statement is not available before the vote. All too often, the final budget is hashed out in the wee hours, and members of each legislative chamber have to vote with little time to digest information. The public sees nothing.

Sunlight before signing or voting would require summaries as part of the budget bill itself, all posted online, and five days for legislators to read a complicated document and hear from the public before the vote. More information and less politics can make a better budget. Government is not shy about borrowing money; let's borrow a couple ideas instead.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

Get Your Shovels Ready

Bartlett Center releases report on Transportation Priorities

(Concord) The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy today released a report outlining how the New Hampshire Department of Transportation’s recent Wish List of “shovel ready” projects differs from the state’s Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan. The Bartlett Center also studied two alternative plans for spending any federal transportation dollars headed to New Hampshire which make fixing the state’s Red List bridges a top priority.

“The New Hampshire Legislature has already set out its priorities for roads and bridges, but the DOT Wish List doesn’t really reflect those choices,” said Grant Bosse, lead investigative reporter for the Bartlett Center, who authored the report.

The DOT Wish List totals $535 million, including $300 million for a commuter rail line between Manchester and Lowell, MA. By redirecting money from this project towards existing priorities, the Bartlett Center finds that New Hampshire could fix 75% of its Red List bridges. By reprioritizing the entire DOT Wish List, New Hampshire lawmakers could not only fix every Red List bridge in the state, but also fix twelve additional bridges that the DOT argues should be added to the Red List, and still have over $100 million for other transportation projects.

"New Hampshire should stick to its transportation priorities, and not rush into a use-it-or-lose-it attitude,” Bosse added. “If Congress gives the Granite State enough flexibility, New Hampshire can wipe out its Red List instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars a commuter rail line it doesn’t need and can’t afford.


The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy is a free market think tank based in Concord, New Hampshire. For more information go to www.jbartlett.org.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

"$8, $9, $10, maybe $12 million,"

Lawmaker wants Old Man replica installed

A freshman state representative has introduced legislation this session calling for a likeness of the Old Man of the Mountain to be returned to the cliff from which the granite visage tumbled nearly six years ago.

Kenneth Gidge, D-Nashua, envisions a replica of the Old Man constructed as a monument on the ledge above Profile Lake, made with materials that can withstand the harsh climate in Franconia Notch and large enough for visitors to walk inside, once they've climbed up a walking trail to reach it.

This seems like the best way to spend money since:

Watch more Family Guy videos on AOL Video

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stimulus Bill Now Online

The proposed stimulus bill is now online.

The Committee Report is also available.

This legislation does not detail which specific projects would receive federal funding, or how much each state will receive.

It does contain an extra billion dollars for the 2010 Census, $200 million for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and $150 million for the Smithsonian.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Budgets can't be balanced with windfalls


Rather than helping New Hampshire, a federal bailout of the states has the potential to create a long-term deficit and undermine the financial stability of our state. Free money from the federal government can't be used to balance the budget in any real sense and could create long-term obligations we can't afford to fund ourselves.

Ever since the federal government began printing money a few months ago to help bail out everyone with significant political clout in Washington, governors across the country have looked to the federal Treasury with dollar signs in their eyes.

The feds began the excitement by creating a $700 billion bailout fund to buy troubled assets from financial institutions and also to loan money to automakers. In theory, the government receives assets that may have some future value, or it expects to be paid back when the auto industry recovers.

Nonetheless, governors see the federal government as a big pot of money to tap. States face a discipline unknown to the federal government: They are required to balance their budgets, or at least try to. Where Washington spendthrifts merely nod with amusement at suggestions of fiscal discipline and go off to tax and borrow, the states have to balance spending and revenue. In good times, this is relatively easy. As the economy turns sour, it becomes more difficult.

Enter the state plan to have the best of both worlds. We can balance our budget by merely getting free cash from the big spenders who don't have to balance their own budget. They don't have the money, but they're borrowing so much anyway we can tap them for a few hundred billion dollars.

Today, it is likely that the federal government will borrow money so state governments don't have to, send them a check and not ask for it to be repaid.

If it happens, we must be careful not to count that money toward balancing the budget. It will be a one-time infusion of cash that will have to be replaced later if used for recurring expenses.

State budgets include operating costs and capital costs. When news reports talk about the budget, the revenue shortfall, the looming deficit or state spending, they mean the state's operating budget -- general program expenses that we expect to have for more than just this year.

These programs are the rough equivalent of your household expenses, such as mortgage and utility payments. In your budget, you use wages to pay for them. You don't budget around windfalls, such as an unexpected lottery prize.

The state is no different. Operating expenses can't be balanced by borrowing or bailouts. Rather than fixing the problem, that merely hides the problem for someone else to fix.

The current budget is a good example. The two-year budget was not fully balanced in this sense when it was passed. General fund spending was $106 million more than the taxes the budget expected to raise. Part of the difference was covered by a large transfer from the education trust fund. But about $21 million would have come from surplus money, not revenues.

When the revenue estimates turned out to be high, more money was needed. Much of it has come from one-time revenue sources. The state has borrowed money for operating expenses, received one-time transfers from the Pease Development Authority, and is looking to collect one-time surpluses from other areas. In addition, it spent about $40 million of surplus money to balance the first of the two budget years.

All that borrowing and one-time money means the problems weren't fixed. They merely added to next year's growing problem. A federal bailout presents exactly the same danger. We have to be careful not to use any federal largesse to merely hide an operating budget deficit.

I hope the federal government pares the amount of money it will borrow on behalf of state governments. If it doesn't, we should work to ensure that such money gets spent only on capital costs that don't recur. In addition, we should try to spend it on priorities we have established anyway.

The state should not develop a list of projects that weren't a priority before. If we didn't want to borrow, tax or cut spending to fund something ourselves, borrowed money from the federal sinkhole shouldn't change our mind.

Whatever we do, we should move cautiously so federal help doesn't make things worse.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

Monday, January 12, 2009

State Oil Board Backs Gas Tax Increases

(CONCORD) The state Oil Fund Disbursement Board is pushing a pair of gas tax increases to boost flagging funds used to clean up petroleum storage tanks. At its first meeting of 2009, the Board discussed two bills being drafted by Representative Chris Christensen (R-Merrimack), who was re-elected Chairman. The panel oversees several state funds which assist gas station owners, as well as cities and towns, to clean up leaking gas storage tanks and monitor groundwater near contaminated sites.

Christensen's first bill would increase the state's import fee on fuel oil by 25%, from a penny per gallon to 1.25 cents, with the revenues going to the Fuel Oil Discharge Cleanup Fund (FOD). The Department of Environmental Services estimates the increase would generate $680,000 in revenues. The FOD has received $925,000 so far this fiscal year, but has paid out over $1.7 million, and currently has a balance of just $125,000.

The second proposal would increase the import fee on diesel fuel by 17%, from 1.5 cents per gallon to 1.75 cents. Those revenues would flow to the Oil Discharge and Disposal Cleanup Fund (ODD). DES projects this fund to spend up to $2.5 million more than it takes in in Fiscal 2009, drawing the ODD fund down to just over $1.3 million.

The Board also weighed in on a draft proposal being prepared by Representative Candace Bouchard (D-Concord), which would lapse the ODD Fund in 2012, three years earlier than current law. Bouchard would then transfer some of the remaining money towards highway and bridge repair. According to Christensen, Bouchard would like major gas station chains to pay for their own oil tank cleanup projects, and not receive state reimbursement.

The Board spent several minutes discussing the legislation's political prospects, such as its chances of coming out of the House Ways and Means Committee. Senator Harold Janeway (D-Webster) suggested using the projected cost of the bill to kill it, noting that the Fiscal Note prepared by DES could "do the job.". The Board voted unanimously to oppose the bill as proposed. Under Section 146-D, the Oil Fund Disbursement Board lacks any authority to provide legislative recommendations or lobby the Legislature. The Board will meet next on March 2.

Battle of the Think Tanks

The Union Leader editorializes about the House and Senate leadership's reliance on the left-leaning New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, and wonders if budget writers will be as open to free-market advice from groups such as the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy:
Now, there is nothing wrong with hearing, and weighing, such options.

But have the Democrats in charge, or even the Republican minority, heard from or plan to invite the head of a right-leaning New Hampshire "think tank" to Concord to hear his views?

They should. But if they don't, they can read Charles M. Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, each Wednesday in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lynch's Third Inaugural Address

Here's the speech.

Here's streaming audio and video.

Lynch's Address begins 1:17:30 into the video, which also contains the complete morning session, including the musical groups and introduction of guests and dignitaries.

Lynch Calls for Spending Restraint, Green Jobs, and Federal Stimulus

By Grant Bosse
January 8, 2009

(CONCORD) In a speech filled with applause lines, but short of specifics, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch delivered his Third Inaugural Address in the New Hampshire House Chamber this afternoon. The Hopkinton Democrat warned the Legislature of a “budget challenge of unprecedented dimensions”, but did not set out his preferred solutions, either in terms of new revenues or spending cuts.

Republican lawmakers warned Lynch and Democratic budget writers two years ago that the revenue projections used to justify spending increases were unrealistic. But Lynch repeatedly pointed to the national economic climate as the reason for New Hampshire’s budget woes, rather than the 17.5% increase in state General Fund spending over the past two years.

“The national recession is having a dramatic impact on our state budget,” Lynch stated. “New Hampshire and states across the nation have seen significant shortfalls in revenue as this recession has deepened.”

Lynch called on Congress to quickly send aid to struggling states in the form of a stimulus package, drawing the first standing ovation of the afternoon from Democratic lawmakers.

“We need national solutions to this crisis. I urge the new Congress and President-elect Obama to act quickly to pass a stimulus package that will create jobs for our workers now,” Lynch said.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Lou D’Allesandro is also counting on Washington to help close New Hampshire’s budget gap.

“Clearly, the federal stimulus is an important ingredient in the package, and it’s incumbent on the Congress of the United States to work with the incoming President to get that done sooner rather than later.”

Former Republican Governor John Sununu will likely be the next Chairman of the Republican State Committee. He wanted Lynch to take more responsibility for the problems facing New Hampshire, rather than turning to Washington.

“I’m just surprised and disappointed that our principle strategy for dealing with the deficit is to wait for the federal bailout. I was hoping that we’d hear some specifics on reductions and so on, but there weren’t any,” Sununu said.

While not mentioning the size of the current budget gap, nor the structural deficit expected in next year’s budget, Lynch argued “this next budget cannot be balanced by tweaks and minor adjustments.” He promised to “examine every area of spending, look at every program, and say ‘no’ more often that we would like.”

Lynch also echoed his opposition to either a state sales or income tax, drawing his most enthusiastic response from Republican lawmakers. Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon led the only GOP-backed standing-O of the speech.

“We like the idea of no sales or income tax. We like the Governor’s idea of having to say no. We wish that we had said no to things in the last two years,” Bragdon said. “I’m disappointed though to hear that there’s no exclusion of other new taxes, and no exclusion of raiding the Rainy Day Fund to pay off the overspending of the last two years.”

While Lynch’s call for fiscal restraint meant with muted applause from the Democratically-controlled Legislature, it was his new spending initiatives that received the warmest response. Lynch unveiled a “Green Jobs Initiative” to be paid for from the proceeds of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program would increase energy efficiency in state buildings, increases worker training programs, and create a low-interest revolving loan fund to assist New Hampshire businesses with energy efficiency or alternative energy projects.

“The Green Jobs Initiative will help create jobs for our people now, and make New Hampshire’s economy stronger for the future,” Lynch said to a chorus of applause. “Let’s help New Hampshire workers and businesses keep their competitive edge, and let’s keep good paying jobs right here in New Hampshire.”

Lynch did not say how much the Initiative would cost, though New Hampshire could receive $25 to $35 million a year based on the current cost of carbon dioxide allowances. Senate President Sylvia Larsen admitted that she hasn’t yet seen the details of the Green Jobs Initiative, but welcomes the approach.

“I think that was one of the highlights of his speech, and one which has potential both for people who might be out of work, but also for young people who are graduating who might see an opening for a career ahead of them,” Larsen commented.

House Minority Leader Sherman Packard also expressed interest in the program, providing that its cost doesn’t land on New Hampshire ratepayers.

“Anyway that we can get away from importing oil, and sending money overseas, to South America and Russia, is a great idea,” Packard argued. “But I’d have to see how he plans on paying for this, whether it’s on private people who would do this, or whether he plans on putting state money into this.”

The final third of Lynch’s address concentrated on education, congratulating New Hampshire for mandating public kindergarten in every community, and for defining an adequate education. Lynch also renewed his support for a Constitutional Amendment that would allow targeted aid to needy communities, but stopped short of lobbying the Legislature to put such an amendment on the ballot.

“I also recognize that there has not been a consensus in the Legislature on a Constitutional Amendment that would allow for that approach. I believe the discussion should continue, but we also need to meet our education responsibilities and build on the progress we have made,” Lynch added.

Lynch’s comments on education were just one area where Deputy Minority Whip Andrew Renzullo says the Governor has failed to govern.

“He was congratulating himself on the definition of an adequate education. Unfortunately, that’s a $100 million hole in the budget. What does he plan to do about it? Does he plan to come and say that we need a more reasonable definition of an adequate education?” Renzullo asked.

Republican leaders argued that Lynch’s address was another in a long line of speeches calling for bipartisan cooperation and problem solving, but lacking any clear direction. Packard says it’s time for the three-term Governor to step up.

“We still need to hear the details on how he’s going to solve the problem. This is the party in power. He’s the Governor. And we’re certainly willing to work with him, but it’s incumbent on him to bring forward his ideas on how we’re going to solve these problems,” Packard said.

Republican Representative David Hess didn’t think the speech lived up the moment.

“In these difficult times, unprecedented in the last 70 or 80 years, it’s disappointing that the Governor didn’t have any specifics about what the state can and should do to alleviate the economic conditions, to keep the unemployment rate as low as possible,” Hess argued. “These are extraordinary times, and they call for an extraordinary Inaugural Address.”

But Democratic leaders defended the speech, arguing that while it may not have contained specifics, it did set out Lynch’s priorities.

“The roadmap he presented was one which we will work to preserve the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens, and to recognize the importance of maintaining public safety,” Larsen said. “In a time when we’re cutting other programs, those are critical needs that we’re going to work to protect as we look to cut back in state government.”

Larsen said Lynch struck a balanced tone between the somber economic times, and the ability of New Hampshire to rebound.

“Through green job growth, as well as job retraining, we can hopefully grow a new economy that is perhaps not exactly the same as in the past, but one which is forward thinking and moves towards new forms of energy, alternative energy, and jobs that relate to energy savings,” Larsen said. “I thought it was an upbeat message considering the economy we’re facing.”

D’Allesandro said he could easily summarize the Governor’s message.

“What he said was ‘Listen, we’ve got a problem, but we’ve got a great country. We’ve got a great state. And if we work together, we can keep these things going and we can bring success to the down economic situation,’” D’Allesandro concluded.

Lynch Inaugurated

Governor John Lynch has taken the Oath of Office from Chief Justice John Broderick, and begun his third term as Governor of New Hampshire.

$500 million problem

Steve Norton, our counterpart at the left-leaning New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, briefed House and Senate budget writers yesterday on the enormity of the pending deficit facing New Hampshire:
Norton estimated the state could face a $500 million revenue shortfall over the life of the next two-year budget that begins July 1.

Norton said the federal government helped states in 2001 by temporarily increasing the federal share of the Medicaid program. He said a similar boost is under discussion and could mean as much as $75 million a year in additional federal aid.

Governor John Lynch delivers his Inaugural Address later this morning. We'll see if it contains specific requests for spending cuts or tax and fee increases.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Legislating in the snow

The New Hampshire House and Senate have convened in Joint Session in order to canvass the vote for Governor and Executive Council. Without this important, and Constitutionally required step, neither John Lynch nor the Council could start their terms.

The Council meets this afternoon for a boilerplate session that will authorize the daily functions of state government.

John Lynch takes the oath of office and delivers is inaugural address tomorrow.

A way to fix state education funding


Because of the state budget crisis, most of the efforts made on education funding over the last two years will have to be changed. The Legislature has the ability and the opportunity to craft a new plan with the potential to end the constant battle with the courts.

Every month brings news that the state's general tax revenues are not just a little behind the budgeted estimates of a few years ago but are in decline, getting worse, and contributing to a budget hole that will require hundreds of millions of dollars of spending reductions.

The education funding plan that passed last year would require state grants in the next two years of about $100 million more than we will spend in the current two-year budget. But government doesn't have an additional $100 million. On the contrary, we must cut that $100 million and more.

It is not reasonable to believe that we will cut almost every department, division and program of state government but add $100 million to one of the four major state education aid programs (even as we cut or eliminate the other three).

If the amount is to decline, and it almost surely must, then the plan must be revised in total. The necessary revision is an opportunity.

The Legislature can and should draft an education funding plan that starts with the constitution and what legislators think it allows and does not allow. It is the duty of the Legislature to do just that. If lawmakers think a sensible plan that directs aid where it's needed is permissible, they should pass such a plan with an explanation of why they believe it fully complies with their duty to "cherish all seminaries and public schools."

Many who supported some sort of a constitutional amendment did so believing they were changing not the actual constitution but merely rebutting the parts of court decisions they believed were either in error or too inflexible in their interpretation of six words. Many who don't support an amendment believe that flexibility exists within the confines of the court decision.

Without a doubt, some degree of compromise will be necessary. A good starting place for compromise is in the governor's original funding proposal from 2005.

Shortly after his election, Gov. John Lynch proposed a targeted aid plan he believed was constitutional, which eliminated the statewide property tax and sent more aid to towns universally regarded as needy and sent less aid to towns generally regarded as having less need.

The details of which criteria ought to be used and some of the nuances of construction will have to be gone through, but in its broad outlines that plan could command wide support. At the time, it had the support of most of the Democratic leadership and a good portion of the Republican leadership.

Those of us of a more conservative cast were happy to eliminate the statewide property tax. Currently, it merely renames an existing local resource and leaves the money with the local community. But a budget crisis could see the state take over a share and start using it to fund its own shortfalls.

Those of us who asked the governor to include a constitutional amendment with his plan made clear that we thought the Constitution didn't prohibit what he wanted to do, but we were afraid the Supreme Court would say it did. We thought attaching an amendment to the plan was one of the best chances of passing an amendment.

With just five months before a plan must be in place, now is the time for bold action on the part of the governor. The piece of state aid for education that we call "adequacy" will have to be reduced. The best way to make sure that the funds we have are targeted most effectively is to go back to a plan that explicitly targets.

The plan should be sensible and constitutional. It should include a preamble or introduction that explains in detail why the supporters believe it is constitutional. The idea is to attack neither the constitution nor the court. Instead, the governor can explain how he started at a different point than the status quo and how he and the legislators who pass the bill believe it is good policy and constitutional at the same time.

Faced with such a sensible and reasonable effort, the five men and women sitting on the Supreme Court would certainly give due consideration to the argument. More important, instead of trying to figure out what the court wants, the Legislature will have done what it thinks is right.

Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.

The first Wednesday following the first Tuesday in January

Part Second, Article III of the New Hampshire Constitution requires the House and Senate to meet today:
The senate and house shall assemble biennially on the first Wednesday of December for organizational purposes in even numbered years, and shall assemble annually on the first Wednesday following the first Tuesday in January...

The New Hampshire Constitution does not include the words "weather permitting", meaning that 400 Representatives and 24 Senators will battle the ice and snow to begin the 2009 Session.

Both the House and Senate have light agendas today, as each chamber will adopt its own rules, and come back tomorrow for a joint session to inaugurate the Governor. If Mother Nature prevents a quorum, the House and Senate will need to meet tomorrow morning before John Lynch can officially begin his third term.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

State Revenues Down

The Department of Administrative Services has issued its monthly report on state revenues, and it's not pretty. For much of the past year, policy makers have been blaming the national economy for the growing budget deficit, when in fact revenues were up over the year before. Now, revenues are actually declining from a year ago, and not coming close to the large annual increases written into the budget by the Legislature.

The General and Education Funds are $21.4 million short of projections, while the Highway Fund has taken in $900,000 less than planned.

Tom Fahey details the year to year comparisons in the Union Leader.
A report yesterday from the Department of Administrative Services showed that business taxes were off by $78 million from July through December. Last month alone saw them come in $20 million below expectations.

The business profits and business enterprise taxes produced $220 million through six months, $54 million less than they brought in a year earlier.

Tax collections of $855 million so far this fiscal year are $59 million, or 6.5 percent, below what the state took in last year.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Ideas, but No New Money

Dan Touhy writes in the Union Leader that state legislators are drafting 1,000 new bills for introduction this year.

Senator Lou D'Allesandro warns lawmakers not to expect new money to flow to their new ideas:
"As usual, people put in lots of legislation, but I don't think there will be any spending legislation," said Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "We're facing an economy that's down nationwide and very much in peril as we speak."

Under New Hampshire system, each bill will receive a public hearing, and at least the opportunity for an up-or-down vote on the House or Senate floor. Unlike Washington, bills can not be killed in Committee, or simply thrown in a drawer if Leadership finds it inconvenient. Such openness is commendable, but it does lead to the Legislature spending its time in interesting ways:
They deal with just about everything: Providing property tax relief, protecting the lead role of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, banning text messaging while driving, raising the state gas tax, and suspending a driver's license for the theft of gasoline.

A month after Michael K. Addison was sentenced to death for killing Manchester police officer Michael Briggs in 2006, lawmakers are pitching several ideas to reform, expand or abolish the state's death penalty law.

But scores of the proposed laws are of a decidedly lighter fare.

Make the Chinook the state dog?

Create a specific penalty for taking stones from one's stone wall?

Text of the legislative requests are forthcoming this month, but their subject titles may prompt some shrugs. A few culled from the list propose:

--Imposing a safari fee on big game hunting preserves.

--Urging the U.S. to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

--Examine the treatment of pregnant inmates.

--Require developers to create space for people to dry laundry without electricity.

A dozen or so call for naming buildings, roads or bridges in honor of someone.

One bill proposes renaming the Christa McAuliffe planetarium the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, after NASA astronaut and New Hampshire native Alan B. Shepard. Another would rename a bridge to honor Navy SEAL Daniel Healy, an Exeter man who died in 2005 while on a combat mission in Afghanistan.

Retirement System Reform back on the table?

Tom Fahey reports that efforts to reform the New Hampshire Retirement System are back on the table, following legislative changes in each of the last two years.
Unions say it's time to stop tinkering with the system, which last summer was $2.7 billion under-funded for its long-term obligations, and let reforms take hold.

"If we keep operating on this patient without allowing time to heal, sooner or later he'll die on the table and I don't think that's something anybody wants," David Lang, president of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, said.

Maura Carroll, legal counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, argued that it makes sense to keep moving. Three years ago, critics said not enough was being done, she noted.

"This doesn't mean you make wholesale changes every year, but that you learn something every year, and if you can make some tweaks to improve the system, you ought to act," she said.

The New Hampshire Retirement System faces two fundamental challenges. It has habitually promised far more generous benefits that it could reasonably provide, and the returns on its investments have been worse than the market average for the past decade. The current economic slump certainly doesn't help, but can in no way be blamed for the shakiness of state pensions.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Stephen Pushed NH Reforms in RI

Tom Fahey leads his Under the State House Dome column with word that former NH Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen is working to implement some of the changes he championed in New Hampshire down in Rhode Island:
Stephen, now a management consultant on health care and government affairs, worked to convince federal regulators to approve a Medicaid waiver that, among other things, would allow Rhode Island to shift long-term care emphasis from nursing homes to community and home-based care.

He brought a similar plan to New Hampshire with great fanfare in 2004 while Gov. Craig Benson, who appointed Stephen, was still in office. Stephen predicted New Hampshire would save $380 million over five years, most of it through cuts in nursing home use.

GraniteCare moved through several phases before passing pieces of it in 2005, when Stephen butted heads with Gov. John Lynch over its details.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year- New Laws

January 1st is often used as the day on which new laws go into effect. Norma Love of the Associated Press runs down some of the new laws that become official yesterday in New Hampshire, including a cap on payday loans:
Payday lenders typically charge $20 per $100 for two-week loans backed by the borrower's car title or next paycheck. That amounts to 1.43 percent interest per day, an annual rate of 521 percent.

The cap translates to a daily interest rate of about 0.1 percent, or total interest charges of $1.38 – a dime a day – on a $100, two-week loan.

The rest of the list is quite eclectic:
• State transportation officials must minimize hazards to bicycles from rumble strips, drain grates and road surface treatments by establishing placement standards that keep cyclists in mind. The law also allows cyclists to pass stopped vehicles on the right without penalty.

• Insurers and pharmacy benefits managers must require pharmacies they contract with to charge enrollees the pharmacy’s usual and customary price for a prescription or the insurance copayment, whichever is less.

• Urinating or defecating in a public place (other than a restroom) is now a violation if the person knew or should have known the act would cause affront or alarm.

• People with seizure disorders diagnosed by a physician may use service dogs in public facilities and places the public is invited.

• Judges can no longer keep traffic convictions from appearing on the records of commercial drivers by placing the convictions on file, deferring judgment or allowing drivers to enter diversion programs that eliminate a conviction. Parking tickets are exempt.

• Administering drugs to wildlife without state permission is now a misdemeanor. The law covers drugs for fertility control, disease prevention or treatment, immobilization and growth stimulation administered to any mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian under the jurisdiction of the Fish and Game Department. The law does not apply to drugs used in normal animal husbandry practices.

• People alleging they were victims of sexual assault as minors have more time to file civil lawsuits. Lawsuits can now be filed until age 30 – a five year increase from the old law – or later if filed within three years of when injury from the assault was discovered or should have been discovered.

• Courts now have specific power to prohibit people convicted of conducting illegal animal fights from having custody or control over the species in the future.

Irony Watch- State to require students to study personal finance

State Representative Don Petterson (D-Brentwood) wants to require every school in New Hampshire to add financial literacy to its curriculum. Lauren Dorgan reports on the new legislation in the Concord Monitor:
Rep. Don Petterson has a New Year's resolution for high-schoolers across the state: They will learn to manage their finances.

The Brentwood state representative has filed a bill that would require high-school economics classes to include lessons on personal financial literacy, everything from how to balance a checkbook, follow a budget, understand credit cards and buy homes.

New Hampshire already requires economics classes in order for students to graduate. Peeterson's bill would specify what should be taught during those classes.

Setting aside the micromanagement of microeconomics, it's ironic that a Legislature that couldn't balance its own budget now wants to teach high school students how to balance a checkbook.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

All the best in 2009

A happy, free, and prosperous New Year from NH Watchdog and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.