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Wednesday, September 30, 2009
DAS Letter on Waviers 09-29-09
The New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) has decided not to apply for $300 million in federal funding under the "High Speed Passenger Rail Program" that would have helped make possible passenger rail service along 39 miles of upgraded tracks from Nashua to Concord. The deadline for "Track 2 corridor service development and improvements" program applications is October 2, 2009.The high-speed rail project is a boondoggle of the first magnitude. Had New Hampshire received the federal grant under the stimulus, it would have committed state taxpayers to a long-term subsidy for a rail line guaranteed to lose money on every ticket sold.
"It’s very unfortunate that we are not able to take advantage of this huge window of opportunity for passenger rail in New Hampshire with any prospect of success at this time due to the lack of cooperation and involvement of Pan Am Railways, the host railroad along the corridor," says NHDOT Commissioner George Campbell. "By walking away from this unique and exiting initiative, Pan Am has effectively closed the window on strengthening New Hampshire’s economy. Our citizens and businesses along this corridor deserve better transportation choices than they have today."
Pan Am Railways announced on June 30 that it was no longer interested in either operating or hosting passenger rail along the rail corridor it owns. The State of New Hampshire is discussing with Amtrak its interest in operating passenger rail along the “NH Capital Corridor” (NHCC). Amtrak has successfully run the Downeaster service for the last decade and offers intercity rail service extensively across America.
After reading our report, they found the two missing waiver requests, which had been misfiled at the Department. They are:
H-17 A request from the Office of Energy and Planning to hire an Administrative Assistant. The estimated 2008 cost was $2,880, and the annualized cost was $19,284. This request was approved.
H-57 A request from the Office of Information Technology to hire a Director of the Agency Softare Division. The estimated 2008 cost was $3,953, and the annualized cost was $36,232. This request was approved.
DAS is also drafting an official response to some of the other discrepencies between their 9/2 report to the Fiscal Committee and our analysis. We will gladly publish it in full. In the meantime, we are continuing our investigation into how New Hampshire has implemented its General Fund spending freezes over the last year and a half.
The state’s health and human services chief says Medicaid and state welfare assistance spending will have to be cut because the recession has caused caseloads to rise above estimates made only four months ago.
Health & Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas said that unless spending adjustments are made, the Medicaid and Transitional Assistance to Needy Families programs together will spend $10 million more than their budget this year.
“Our belief is that what we need to do as an agency is look at taking further cost containment measures,” Toumpas told the Legislative Fiscal Committee on Tuesday.
Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose Michigan-made film “Capitalism: A Love Story” opens nationwide this weekend, told Michigan Messenger recently that he is not sure yet whether his production will apply for the film credits.Giving favored industries a tax break at the expense of others isn't capitalism. It's cronyism. I don't agree with Moore all that often, but he's right about this.
“I am under pressure from the studio to do this,” he said.
Moore said that he had personally trained a dozen people in film related work during the 18-month-long production of his current film and said he was unaware of recent criticism of the state’s film incentive program.
“If it’s not good for Michigan,” he said, “Michigan shouldn’t do it.”
Hattip: Kathy Hoekstra, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
Sunny weather from July 1 through Labor Day helped the state park system make more money this summer than last.
The division took in almost 5 percent more in operations income and almost 12 percent in retail sales, while its campgrounds saw an income hike of almost 3 percent, said Ted Austin, director of parks and recreation.
While occupancy at the state parks was down 1 percent from last summer's number, the income generated was slightly higher, about $60,000 more than the past summer's $2,078,048.
The problem with contemporary economics, at least with the purer strain of free-market economics associated with the University of Chicago, is not simply that it failed to predict the near-collapse of the world financial system last year. The problem is that it believed such a collapse could not happen, that all risk could be quantified by mathematical models and that these quantifications could help us correctly price just about everything. Out of this belief arose the banks' practice of securitization, which put a value on all manner of mortgages and enabled buyers to purchase and swap them with the certainty that such transactions reflected an accurate judgment of the value of the properties and the risks associated with them.The housing bubble that burst last year was fueled by government subsidies and a Congress pushing banks to loan to unqualified home owners. The Chicago School certainly never postulated that home values always go up, or that excessive risk should be rewarded through government bailouts.
Meyerson's straw man is that free market economists believe that everything is always correctly priced, and therefore bubbles can't exist. He is, to use a technical term, an idiot. No school of economic or political thought has the power to predict the future, but the theory of markets does predict that people will respond to incentives. Government intervention created incentives for people to buy homes they could not afford, and for businesses to take foolish risks knowing that Uncle Sam was there to bail them out.
Ignoring these ideas, Meyerson falls back on the Church of John Maynard Keynes, which he interprets as having a single commandment; more government spending. It doesn't work, but why believe the evidence of the last century? Far better to base our national economy on anecdote and logical fallacy. Besides, all of that math makes his head hurt.
The session will include input from economists, educators, business people and national tax experts. They will be asked for opinions on current tax practices and what they think the state's revenue structure will be like in the near future, Ways and Means chair Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, said.Our President, Charlie Arlinghaus, has been asked to be part of a panel on the second day of the summit. NH Watchdog will provide continuing coverage from the State House. Who knows? We may even break out the ever-popular live blog once again.
The sessions will be open to the public, but only committee members and senators who attend will be able to ask questions of those presenting testimony. Almy plans to start each day's program at 9 a.m.
The biggest issue in state government right now is the struggle between state employees and the governor. The details about state employee compensation and its impact on the state budget are not often discussed, and this leads people to make assumptions that may or may not be accurate.
We must do something about the cost of state employees because they are the lion's share of the cost of having state government, we're told. The exact cost is hard to track down, but in 2008 the state employed about 12,000 people who make an average of $42,000, for about $504 million in salary cost. Add to that some additional people not included in the list of 12,000, a raise in 2009, increased pay step levels, and salaries still total less than $600 million.
The largest other employee cost is medical insurance. In New Hampshire, medical insurance had been growing rapidly. From 1999 to 2004, premiums paid for state employee medical benefits increased by about 20 percent a year -- from $49 million to $117 million. During the Benson administration, the state switched to self-insurance to try to better control costs, as many large companies do. As a result, premium growth slowed dramatically to about 7 percent each year. Medical coverage cost $156 million in 2008. At the old rate of growth, it would have been $80 million higher.
If we add together salary costs, health insurance and a few other items such as retirement contributions and retiree health costs, the total is around $800 million in an annual budget of around $5.7 billion -- about 14 percent of the total. Mind you, it may be a smaller percentage than people often think, but $800 million is nothing to sneeze at.
While its growth is not nearly as fast as state government itself, the state employee work force is still growing. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of filled permanent positions increased by 16.7 percent -- about 1,600 additional employees. The state budget in the same time period increased by 85 percent -- about $2.3 billion.
It is true that at one time the average state employee made less than the average citizen. That's no longer the case. From 2003 to 2008, state employee average pay increased from $33,600 to $42,500 -- about 4.8 percent per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average pay in 2008 in all occupations in the state was $42,600. In 2009, a pay raise sent state employee pay past the state average.
So salaries are almost exactly average, but benefits are much higher. Private sector insurance is much less generous and involves higher co-pays than the typical state government plan. Even among state government plans, New Hampshire's is among the most generous. According the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual survey, only one state has a higher total cost, and it has significantly higher cost-sharing.
Family coverage costs about $20,800 for a state employee here compared to the national average of $12,700. The NCSL also estimates that average cost-sharing is 18 percent of that total, but only 2 percent in New Hampshire. So it costs taxpayers about $10,000 more per state employee than average.
In New Hampshire, this is a conscious decision. State employees have chosen to forgo higher pay in exchange for a more generous health insurance policy. Even so, an employee with family coverage has salary and medical benefits that are a good 20 percent higher than the average worker in the state.
There is much consternation over the possible layoff of 750 state workers. Yet history suggests that most of those workers could be rehired relatively quickly. Despite attractive pay and benefits, state government is not an unchanging monolith. Each year an average of 1,100 employees leave state service. Combined with the regular growth in the total number of employees and the creation of temporary positions, it means about 210 new employees are hired each month.
The state has been in the middle of a nominal hiring freeze for more than a year, but that doesn't stop positions from being filled. The freeze only applies to general funds, which cover fewer than half the employees. Even then, exceptions are granted. For example, during the four months of 2008 covered by the freeze, 71 exceptions were granted. In addition, another 100 or so other positions were filled. Combined with temporary and seasonal positions, about 1,000 people were hired in those four months.
Government has to be mindful of state employees both to ensure it attracts a dedicated work force and to make sure it isn't overcharging taxpayers. A look under the hood of state government suggests that we certainly aren't shortchanging the workers. But it also shows that 86 percent of the cost of government lies elsewhere and needs the same tough scrutiny that contracts are undergoing.
Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The $20 million will go towards ten projects spread over the state Departments of Labor, Environmental Services, Health and Human Services, and Resources and Economic Development. The ten-member Fiscal Committee, composed of both Representatives and Senators, accepted every item on today's agenda without debate, as well as four additional items that were taken up without prior public notice.
The only item to generate debate was a transfer of $8,435,000 within the Department of Environmental Services from a Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund to the Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund. Responding to an inquiry from Rep. Neal Kurk (R-Weare), a DES official stated that the move was intended to help communities qualify for 50% loan forgiveness under ARRA, and that the Clean Water fund had a surplus balance not needed to support the program.
Committee members also questioned HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas extensively about his response to rising caseloads not anticipated in the Department's two-year budget. Toumpas says that acceptance of federal funds under ARRA prevents the state from altering its eligibility requirements for overstretched programs for the next 15 months.
Following its business meeting, the Fiscal Committee reviewed an audit on the state Board of Pharmacy, which found that the six-member voluntary board lacked organizational structure, adequate financial controls, or a formal fraud preventing and detection program.
The Committee will also receive a report from the Department of Administrative Services on waivers to the hiring freeze during FY08. We hope the members have seen yesterday report on the 2008 hiring freeze waivers.
We will report on what transpires later today.
After a series of delays, the Interstate 93 widening project is back on track in New Hampshire with some bridge and roadwork expected to be done by next year.The I-93 project is a classic example of opponents of a construction project using convoluted federal laws to block in court what they couldn't stop politically. The environmental impact paperwork requirements are so vague and byzantine that there will always be grounds for nearly endless review. The review process needs to be streamlined. There's a place for the courts to review if state and local governments are complying with the law, but the courts should not be used as a stalling tactic to drive up the cost and the wait of public works projects.
Construction is currently focusing on exit 3 in Windham. The goal is to add additional lanes and longer ramps and give drivers less of a curve to navigate.
Update- the video is having problems loading sometimes. You can right click to go to the site, or see it on the Hattip Link at the bottom of this post.
I'm convinced. Let's make sure running a health insurance company pays poorly. That should improve service for everyone. At this point, I think I'd vote Jon Hamm for President. He's not a conservative, but he plays one on TV.
Haatip: Carpe Diem
Monday, September 28, 2009
(Concord) A new report from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy shows that Governor John Lynch approved 71 waivers to the hiring freeze he imposed between February and June of last year, at a cost of nearly $3.9 million per year. The waiver committee set up by Governor Lynch denied 25 requests in that time, saving just over $1 million per year. The report shows that a summary of FY08 waivers submitted to the Legislative Fiscal Committee last week understates both the number and the cost of the waivers granted.
"When Governor Lynch put in this hiring freeze a year and a half ago, he was right to maintain flexibility in filling critical positions," said Lead Investigator Grant Bosse, who authored the report. "But he was also right to require public notice when the freeze was waived. It's important for policy makers to have accurate information, and we're glad to provide this data in preparation for tomorrow's meeting of the Legislative Fiscal Committee."
Under the terms of Executive Order 2008-01, Governor Lynch may grant exceptions to the hiring freeze if he gives notice to the Fiscal Committee. The Department of Administrative Services supplied data on FY09 last month, but had not released any detailed information from the prior year until last week. The Josiah Bartlett Center has found 71 total waivers costing $484,000 in FY08. Bosse calculates the positions will add $3,878,000 to the state's annual payroll. These are in addition to the 352 waivers granted in FY09.
Read the full report
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.
Why should you care about transportation projects planned out for the next 10 years?
Because they could affect your morning commute, how you get downtown or your secret route to the grocery store.
That's why state officials want the public to attend meetings about the 10-year transportation improvement plan: to get feedback, which may shape roads and bridges in the future.
There may be many sides in a genteel debate, but in the Safire world of politics and journalism it was simpler: There was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the blubber of fools he called “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”
The Child Development Bureau will start the waiting list - a first for the department - as a way to stay on budget in a year when unprecedented numbers of families have sought aid.
The state has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of children receiving scholarships between February 2008 and August 2009, when the rolls increased from 7,294 children to 8,411 children, according to the bureau's figures.
While total enrollment has risen, the most expensive categories of child care - care for infants and full-time care - have seen disproportionate increases. Children up to 18 months accounted for nearly 25 percent of those receiving scholarship in August, up from 10 percent of those enrolled a year and a half earlier.
For programs such as this, the state can simply stop signing up new beneficiaries when the money runs out. If it underestimates caseloads for mandatory welfare programs, anyone qualifying for state money still gets it, and the deficit is added to the state's growing budget hole.
Imagine for a moment that the fantasists win the day and that at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December every nation commits to reductions even larger than Japan's, designed to keep temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius. The result will be a global price tag of $46 trillion in 2100, to avoid expected climate damage costing just $1.1 trillion, according to climate economist Richard Tol, a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose cost findings were commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center and are to be published by Cambridge University Press next year. That phenomenal cost, calculated by all the main economic models, assumes that politicians across the globe will make the most effective, efficient choices. In the real world, where policies have many other objectives and legislation is easily filled with pork and payoffs, the deal easily gets worse.
Yet the real tragedy is that, by exaggerating the threat of global warming, we have awoken the beast of protectionism. There are always forces in society that demand that politicians create more barriers to trade because they cannot compete on an even, fair playing field. Global warming has given them a much stronger voice.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
The book provides interesting insights into the world of politics and the pressures politicians face. One of several examples he provides is the uphill battle he has had with some veterans’ groups. Even though “serving veterans has been a top priority” he has been given an “F” by one national group because he voted against a veterans’ bill. The reasoning for his vote was sound but fodder for the special interests. (As a veteran, with a son in the Marines, I am quick to side with veterans’ groups but must now admit the Senator’s book opened my eyes. Maybe I need to dig deeper before I react.)
The Veterans Administration wanted to “downsize an under-utilized veterans’ hospital in Los Angeles.” By selling off several acres the VA estimated they could add $5 billion (with a “b”) to the veterans’ budget. “But Hollywood friends of the two California Senators wanted to keep the area as a park, so the bill included an ‘earmark’ to prohibit the VA from selling the property.” The money from the sale would have gone to veteran’s health-care. Senator DeMint tried to remove the “earmark” but his amendment failed so he voted against the bill. As a result he was targeted by certain veterans’ groups and now assumes he will spend money at his re-election combating ads attacking him for being against military veterans.
But the book doesn’t whine about our nation’s problems. He provides an action plan for the nation and the individual to reclaim our freedoms. As Fox News says, “We report, you decide.” I would encourage everyone to take a look. “Saving Freedom” provides knowledge and some practical ways of doing and serving. Become informed and get involved. It is our country but it may not be the country we think we know if we don’t act soon.
According to Bill Janelle of the Department of Transportation, 22 of the state's 24 American Recovery and Reinvestment contracts originally called for signs. An 8-by-7-foot sign costs $750, including installation; and a 10-by-9 costs $1,350.
Each project was supposed to have between two and four signs. But once half the contracts were out, the state started hearing concerns about the signs. "We said hold on, don't put anymore up," Janelle said.
Now, Janelle said, larger projects like the $25 million Interstate 93 widening have signs. Smaller resurfacing projects do not.
Janelle estimates that 30 or 40 signs were put up before the state stopped. Assuming half were the larger size, that means the state has spent roughly $36,750.
New Hampshire Public Television is also air this week's "NH Outlook" featuring Charlie this morning at 9:30. It should be available online shortly.
In his column, Landrigran reports that union negotiator Diana Lacey says state workers are looking out for New Hampshire residents and not just their paychecks.
Under the State House Dome, Fahey writes that the contract isn't the only choice facing union members.
SEA chief negotiator Diana Lacey said that in casting their votes, employees will have the proper delivery of state services on their minds as much as their own finances.
"Therein lies the struggle that has far more to do with a long-term issue state employees have been living with, but for which the public is essentially unaware,'' she wrote in an op-ed piece released Friday.
This isn't the only big vote coming up for SEA, either. On Oct. 24, about 400 union delegates will gather in Nashua to vote for SEA president, second vice president and secretary. The last time President Gary Smith was elected, the results were challenged. The new vote is the negotiated outcome of a complaint to the U.S. Department of Labor that Smith used a delegate contact list he withheld from other candidates.
The union also faces a renewed effort by the New England Police Benevolent Association to woo corrections officers away from SEA. The group already voted once to join NEPBA, but the results were thrown out because of problems in timing of the organizing petition.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
The popular Concord-based station said in a news release its new strategic plan includes the transition to digital media, and the reorganization is designed to create efficiencies in an economy challenged by declining corporate support.
The jobs of business reporter David Darman, a 15-year NHPR veteran, two administrative positions and an engineering job were included in the cuts.
Darman's reporting will be missed. As the resources of the New Hampshire press corps continue to dwindle, the role of citizen journalists to crowd-source what's really happening will increase. We look to you for your tips and stories.
Baucus has promised to resume committee work Tuesday. But the fight is increasingly shifting away from him and onto the Senate floor, where 99 other independent-minded lawmakers are already scheming about how to put their stamp on what could be the most significant piece of domestic-policy legislation in a generation.
In a plodding week of partisan sniping, the bill that was supposed to be President Obama's greatest hope for a grand bipartisan solution was instead described as little more than a decent rough draft, certain to be rewritten by others.
Of course, it might be easier to debate and amend the bill if they'd actually publish it for both Senators and the public to read.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Kansas becoming less business friendly
W.Va. ranked 37th in "Business Friendliness"
Commissioner Hodgden, who told the Fiscal Committee last month that this report has already been given to them, admits in her letter that the Governor had not transmitted the list of waivers for FY08 to Fiscal as required by the Executive Order.
FY08 Waiver Report- DAS
More than 40 years ago, a young New Hampshire physician looked at the state of medicine, and said we can do better, and established NH's first HMO. We speak with Dr. James Squires about the Matthew Thornton Health Care Plan he began. Our Outlook panel will discuss the lessons it holds for the current health care debate.NH Outlook airs tonight at 6, Sunday morning at 9:30, and several times next week.
Our guests are: Tom Bunnell, Director of the Institute for Health, Law & Ethics at Franklin Pierce Law Center; Steve Norton, Executive Director of the NH Center for Public Policy Studies; and Charlie Arlinghaus, President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.
Gov. Lynch said, "We should not have employees using state cars to commute between home and work."
Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon responded, "We need to find out where it's written down that says that."
We need to find out? The audit flagged that as an issue for resolution last September. Hodgdon's department has been required by statute (RSA 21-I:7-a) since 1985 to "monitor state agency activities and evaluate agency operations" in five specific areas, including "fleet operation." That's 24 years of noncompliance with state law.
Vice President Joe Biden delivered a rousing review of the government’s economic stimulus plan in a conversation with the nation’s governors. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought it would work this well,” he said. “Thank you, thank you.” (Emphasis added)
he governor instructed the state negotiating team to work toward a well-structured furlough plan. It was, and is, Gov. Lynch's preference to achieve the mandated savings through furloughs rather than layoffs. Unlike layoffs, furloughs can only take place upon agreement with the union.
To work toward this end, the state negotiating team put forward several provisions to help union leadership reach agreement on a furlough program.
Layoffs are addressed at the beginning of the agreement in a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum states that for the rest of the biennium, state employees can be laid off only under certain circumstances: if facilities are closed or programs are suspended, if federal grants are reduced, or if the layoffs were mandated by the 2010-11 operating budget. The latter category includes about 200 workers who were or will be laid off due to the closing of the Laconia prison, the closing of the Tobey School in Concord, and a restructuring of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Legislature has required Health and Human Services to cut $21 million from its budget.
The contract also gives protections to employees who might be laid off. For one, it restores "bumping rights," which allow senior employees who are laid off to take the jobs of junior employees. In crafting the budget, the Legislature got rid of bumping rights, but the contract would reinstate them in a modified form.
According to the contract, within five days of being laid off, an employee with more than 10 years of experience could bump someone with less than 10 years of experience, as long as the person doing the bumping is qualified for the job and the less experienced employee was earning a lower salary. If the contract is approved, bumping rights would go into effect retroactively to Sept. 17. Those rights would not be applied to those laid off in July, a stipulation SEA negotiators had hoped to include in the contract.
The protesters banged on drums and chanted "Ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop."Here's what peaceful protests look like.
The marchers included small groups of self-described anarchists, some wearing dark clothes and bandanas and carrying black flags. Others wore helmets and safety goggles.
One banner read, "No borders, no banks," another, "No hope in capitalism." A few minutes into the march, protesters unfurled a large banner reading "NO BAILOUT NO CAPITALISM" with an encircled "A," a recognized sign of anarchists.
Please notice which group is calling for capitalism, and which is protesting against it.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
#7 New Hampshire
#44 Rhode Island
#49 New York
Notably, New Hampshire ranks 50th on the report's Corporate Tax Index, down from 48th in 2006.
Hattip: Tax Prof Blog
And who ranked dead last among the 50 states?
The report lists Claremont as the community with the highest combined state and local school property tax rate in New Hampshire: $27.02 per $1,000 valuation in 2008. Residents of Newington, home to power plants, industries and a large commercial district, paid just $5.90 per $1,000 that year.Well, no, not really. The Claremont decisions on their face were about equal tax rates for the state's contribution to schools. Nothing more. Of course, the real motivations behind the lawsuits were for property-poor towns to get money from their property-rich neighbors. Some towns are forunate to be next to the ocean, a lake, or a mountain. Other made the decision to put up with more traffic by developing their commercial districts. Still others worked hard to keep businesses out, and then went to court to fix the disparity in their tax bases. The Claremont Education Lawsuits had nothing to do with education, and everything to do with rent-seeking. Since someone will always want someone else's money, the case will never really be closed.
Though it charges almost five times Newington's tax rate, Claremont can only afford to spend $11,523 to educate each elementary school student, and it can only spend that much because it gets more state education aid per pupil than Newington does. Newington, however, spent $23,293 per young pupil that year, while keeping taxes in the cellar.
That's the kind of discrepancy the Claremont lawsuits were supposed to fix.
This is where you come in. Have a reporter from your home state (or adopted home state) that you think does a great job getting to the bottom of the political scrum? Offer his or her name in the comment section.Cillizza already lists John DiStaso at the Union Leader and Kevin Landrigan at the Nashua Telegraph for New Hampshire. But do others belong on the list? How about James Pindell's all-politics website, NH Political Report?* Or our all-policy-all-the-time approach here at NH Watchdog? Or the more partisan commentary at Red Hampshire, Blue Hampshire, and Granite Grok?
We have a few of our own personal favorites -- Glen Johnson (the reporter, not the soccer player) in Massachusetts, John O'Connor in South Carolina, Jon Ralston in Nevada -- but we want to have EVERY state in the union represented.
When we get all 50, we'll post the names in this space.
Post your vote in the Comments section below, and post it at The Fix.
*Corrected to the new website. Politicker is so 2008.
Sometime between now and Oct. 12, the SEA's general membership will vote on the contract the union leaders have rejected. But the ability to vote comes with a caveat, the stated recommendation of the leaders that the rank-and-file members, too, reject the offer.
Gov. Lynch has made reasonable offers to keep from having to lay off hundreds of state employees. The state has already realized savings with the closing of the Laconia State Prison and a school in Concord for children with behavioral problems. The two closings saw the elimination of about 200 state employment positions.
What Best and Horiuchi did find was a huge increase in false reports of Halloween sadism from 1969 through 1971. Those three years accounted for 31 of the 76 reports of Halloween sadism they found from 1958 to 1984. When did Manchester begin setting daytime trick-or-treating hours? In 1972: just after the peak of the Halloween safety scare.
Manchester's children are the victims of urban legends. Generations of city children have been denied the thrill of nighttime trick-or-treating because of myths that began circulating 40 years ago and were debunked 25 years ago.
This foolishness must end. It's time the aldermen revoked the chief's authority to set trick-or-treating hours and returned Halloween to its rightful owners: the children.
Halloween is October 31st. This year, it's a Saturday. What could possibly be wrong with kids trick-or-treating on a Saturday afternoon? I'm not a big fan of moving holidays anyway, but moving them by falsely claiming it improves public safety makes no sense at all.
I'm not a fool - I know full well that not a single member of Congress read every word of, say, the 1,427-page Waxman-Markley energy bill. But I think we give up something valuable if we accept that as acceptable behavior. I guess it didn't occur to the editorialists at the Post that if members of Congress actually tried to live up to this most basic obligation, that 1,427-page long bills would no longer be introduced, which would surely, all other things being equal, be a good thing for the Republic.The Washington Post argues that such a requirement is impractical.
They have a point. But their proposal would bring government to a standstill.A few suggestions to get around this problem, and give Members of Congress some free time to do all the amendment drafting and constituent service they are allegedly doing now.
The average college graduate reads about 300 words per minute. Assume that there are about 150 words per page of legislative text, a number we derived from counting the words on a few randomly chosen pages from the Waxman-Markey energy bill. To read all 1,427 pages of Waxman-Markey, it would take at least 12 hours -- tough on a tight legislative timeline. And that assumes that lawmakers can read complex bills at the same pace they do a John Grisham novel (we tried -- it's not even close).
- Shorter bills
- Fewer bills
- Have Members of Congress disclose which bills they read themselves, and on which they rely on summaries and staff memos.
I don't think it's unreasonable for someone to support or oppose legislation based on a well-written summary. I've written them. But Congress has started making bills overly long and complex in order to make it harder for the public to know what's in them. Perhaps requiring Congress to read the bills will force Congress to write bills short enough to read.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
While in Pittsburgh, a sense of seemliness should prevent President Obama from again exhorting the Group of 20, as he did April 2 in London, to be strong in resisting domestic pressures for protectionism. This month, invertebrate as he invariably is when organized labor barks, he imposed a 35 percent tariff on imports of tires that China makes for the low-price end of the market. This antic nonsense matters not only because of trade disruptions it may cause but also because it is evidence of his willowy weakness under pressure from his political patrons. (Emphasis added)
Enrollment in New Hampshire’s seven community colleges is up 12 percent this fall, an apparent reaction to the current economic climate. Students affected by the downturn — including recent high school graduates seeking an affordable way to continue their education, and older students looking to update their skills in a progressively more competitive job market — are turning to community colleges for help, according to Shannon Reid, director of communications for the Community College System of New Hampshire.
Although the state’s community colleges have seen steady enrollment increases over the past decade — typically between 3 and 5 percent — this year’s enrollment jump was the largest in recent memory, Reid said.
Confronted with a staggering federal deficit, the White House is inviting employees across the federal sector to submit suggestions on how to cut waste and make government more efficient. A Web site, http://www.saveaward.gov, has been established to receive the ideas.
There is no monetary award for the winning entry. The winner will, however, present the suggestion in person to President Obama. Moreover, the idea will be immortalized by its inclusion in the fiscal 2011 budget.
Governor Craig Benson tried a similar approach in New Hampshire, but offered employees a cut of the savings their ideas produced. It will be interesting to see if non-financial incentives work well in generating cost-cutting ideas from the federal bureaucracy.
The Tax Foundation reported that Connecticut displaced New Hampshire as the second-highest taxed state in the region; Connecticut property taxes in 2008 totaled $4,603 compared to New Hampshire's total of $4,501 last year.
New Hampshire had been second highest over each of the last five years, according to the group's analysis.
New Jersey led the nation as it has for more than a decade with an average property tax bill of $6,320 per household.
This isn't to say that property taxes in New Hampshire aren't high, or a tough burden for home and business owners. But you don't lower taxes by raising taxes.
Over the years, state employees in New Hampshire have earned a reputation as a fine, dedicated work force. The SEA leaders seem not to realize that the reputation of unionized state employees is taking a beating because of the leadership's stance. It makes taxpayers think the union is intransigent at a time when cooperation is needed to make sure quality services are provided at a price the people can afford.
Asking for a guarantee of no future layoffs is entirely unreasonable. If SEA members reject this contract for that reason, they'll only alienate the taxpayers even more and weaken the union's position in any future negotiations.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
New Hampshire's Executive Council is expected to vote on spending $1.7 million on 18 no-bid contracts when it meets today in Warren.
It will be the first meeting since NHBR published its most recent report on such “sole-source” contracts, which totaled $107 million last year -- a sixfold increase from six years ago. For the first six months of 2009, no-bid contracts accounted for about 10 percent of the total number of contracts approved by the council.
Today, 18 of the 119 items on the council's agenda are labeled as sole source. (more)
The contract is not a great one. It requires that workers take 19 days of furlough over two years in exchange for an equivalent amount of additional vacation time in the following two years. That translates into a temporary 3.5 percent pay cut, but unlike most workers in the private sector, state employees got a 5.5 percent pay increase in January and a 3.5 percent increase the previous year. Many also got step increases - regular pay hikes for longevity that rarely exist outside the public sector. The situation in most states is worse than in New Hampshire, and mass layoffs have become commonplace in the public and in the private sector. So have wage freezes, mandatory furloughs, increased employee health insurance contributions and curtailed company retirement contributions.
The recession and the budget crisis it has created in every state have created an opportunity for New Hampshire to respond in a way that can ensure jobs and opportunity as the recession ends.
In a Sept. 3 Wall Street Journal column, Indiana's governor, Mitch Daniels, described the recession's long-term impact on state government as a permanent reduction in revenues that requires what he calls "the coming reset in state government."
Daniels, a former federal budget director, figures that states are seeing not a slowdown, but something of a ratcheting down that will require the government itself to reduce its size and scope of activities rather than wait for growth to bring us back to the previous status quo.
He particularly worries about sales taxes that generally account for a third of state tax collections (and as much one-half in some states). The slump in retail sales and other activities means those numbers will be slow to return. Sales-type taxes will not suddenly rocket back to previous levels.
New Hampshire doesn't have a general sales tax. However, we do tax a number of sales, such as beer, tobacco, rental cars, rooms and meals (which includes campgrounds this year), insurance policies plus liquor and lottery sales. All told, our taxes on sales accounted for about 42 percent of general revenues last year. We rely much more heavily than most states on the taxation of sales.
To bolster Daniels' point about requiring a reset of state government, this recession is affecting government in a different way than the last one. Seven and eight years ago, we saw state revenue growth not decline, but just slow down, and that caused havoc. Not including the state property tax, which doesn't fluctuate, or federal Medicaid enhancement, general state revenues grew only 2 percent and 1 percent for fiscal years 2003 and 2004.
The pressure and general concern throughout Concord were quickly erased when 11 percent and 9 percent growth made up for the slowdown and then some.
This last year, we saw something quite different. Those same revenues, which had averaged growth rates above 5 percent, actually declined by about 8 percent. In 2009, they were just slightly higher than they had been in 2006.
Early indications are that they will be flat for another year or two, repeating the dismal growth of the early 1990s. This trend is being repeated across the country.
Government responses to this reset create two different scenarios for job-creation prospects. The predictable response by many in government is to look for ways to raise taxes to protect the size of government. We see this trend in many of our neighbor states as they look for ways to continue to grow government. In fact, our own government increased 41 different taxes and fees, some small some larger. However, our course is not yet set.
As states around us look to protect the size of government and increase taxes, they send a clear message to companies and entrepreneurs looking to relocate and create jobs. As the economy recovers, jobs will be created somewhere. What we do next can shine a spotlight on New Hampshire or close a door.
Too much of the discussion of taxes and state fiscal policy focuses on the safety and well-being of only the government sector. We have an opportunity to make sure that job creation takes place here and employs New Hampshire people.
New Hampshire's success has been dictated in the past by creating an environment that attracts jobs. The recession and a modest reset of government create one of those opportunities.
When states around the country were adopting sales and income taxes, we resisted and created opportunity by carving out a niche for job creation. We were different in ways that appealed to employers.
Forty years ago, we showed how nimble we were by quickly eliminating a dozen taxes that penalized capital. Our economy grew dramatically because we tore down a barrier to start-up businesses and the jobs they bring.
As states around the country lose their heads and raise taxes, they are focusing on a short-term goal at the expense of their long-term economic growth. Caught in the mistake are their citizens who want and need jobs.
Their mistakes can become our opportunity. As government resets itself, we must remember not to get so blinded by the details of the short-term crisis that we fail to keep an eye on the long-term growth of the state.
Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.
Lynch and his staff are working through proposals that department heads have made on how to cut jobs to save $25 million in state funds over the next two years. The savings are mandated in the state budget that took effect July 1.
"It has been the governor's preference that we achieve that saving through a well-structured furlough program, rather than laying off hundreds of state employees," Colin Manning, Lynch's press secretary, said.
The layoffs wouldn't go into effect if the contract is approved. But Lynch is right to prepare for the alternative.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
"After serving in Iraq, in the fight against terrorism, I didn't appreciate coming back and being terrorized by the Governor and the Legislature," said Chapter 22 President Bruce Vanlandingham.In the Union Leader, Mark Hayward reports that the bargaining unit is more concerned with the furloughs for 10,000 state workers than with the 750 possible layoffs if no deal is reached.
"It's not a good contract. It's not a good deal for the employees," Barwell said, minutes after 162 members of the bargaining senate voted last night. He said the voice vote was overwhelming, but not unanimous.In the Concord Monitor, Shira Schoenberg gets reaction to the recommendation from the Governor's Office.
Barwell said the contract will be mailed on Thursday to members, and they can begin discussing it.
Diana Lacey, the head of the bargaining team, said the cuts do not provide enough job security for state workers and affect all public services provided by the state.
Colin Manning, spokesman for Lynch, said he still hoped union members would ratify the agreement.If the full union membership rejects the agreement, both sides could return to the bargaining table, or Governor Lynch could begin making layoffs to reach the $25 million in savings mandated by the state budget.
"We continue to believe that it's important that state employees be allowed to vote on a contract that could save hundreds of jobs," Manning said.
"It is our hope that they approve this contract and that we can implement a well-structured furlough program and avoid laying off hundreds of state employees."
Union negotiators blinked, and the people of New Hampshire won.
Lynch never wanted to order layoffs. His preference all along has been structured furloughs for state employees — unpaid days off through the current biennium that will allow the state's 11,500 state employees to keep their jobs and most of their benefits. Under the terms of the initial tentative agreement, 18 days were to be furloughed by spring of next year.
The agreement reached on Friday adds a day to the furloughs. The furlough schedule includes 12 days on which government business is shut down — days similar to and including state holidays. Employees would choose when to take the other seven days.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
By Diane Macedo
Americans who slap $1 pricetags on their used possessions at garage sales or bazaar events risk being slapped with fines of up to $15 million, thanks to a new government campaign. The "Resale Round-up," launched by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, enforces new limits on lead in children's products and makes it illegal to sell any items that don't meet those limits or have been recalled for any other reason.
The strict standards were set in the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement after a series of high-profile recalls of Chinese-made toys.
The standards were originally interpreted to apply only to new products, but now the CPSC says they apply to used items as well.
"Those who resell recalled children's products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children's lives at risk,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Resale stores should make safety their business and check for recalled products and hazards to children."
In order to comply, stores, flea markets, charities and individuals selling used goods — in person or online — are expected to consult the commission's 24-page Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers (pdf) and its Web site for a breakdown of what they can't sell.
Violators caught selling anything on the enormous list face fines of up to $100,000 per infraction and up to $15 million for a related series of infractions. (more)
One of the more concrete ways the money will come to Concord is in the form of a new police officer. The police department received $207,000 to hire a new officer for three years - the city had to agree to pay for the position for one year after that - and Chief Robert Barry said he plans to hire that officer by the end of the year.
Earlier this year, the department was awarded more than $180,000 through a federal grant enlarged by stimulus money, about $125,000 of which has been used to retain two officers, Barry said. He will use the rest to buy two police cruisers later this year.
That $180,000 doesn't show up on the state's reports breaking down the awards by municipality. Neither does a $208,000 award the city expects to receive for energy efficient projects.
Last week, the nut cracked. Two conservative activists, James E. O'Keefe III and Hannah Giles, had disinfected the group with sunshine.
The pair, dressed as stereotypes of a pimp and a prostitute, went to ACORN offices and asked for advice on how to launder prostitution money so they could pay the mortgage on a brothel without drawing suspicion. ACORN employees gladly explained to them how to execute their plan without getting caught. They seemed to be experts on tax fraud and money laundering. All of this was caught on video, then put online.
The reaction in Washington was unusually swift. The Census Bureau, which had contracted with ACORN, severed all ties. The Senate voted 83-7 to strip ACORN of access to federal transportation and housing money. Then the House voted 345-75 to defund ACORN entirely.
Keep in mind that the two votes to defund ACORN were on different bills. That means ACORN hasn't lost its federal funding yet. Keep a close eye on Congress to see if it follows through on its vote to defund a corrupt political ally.
The president said he is "happy to look at" bills before Congress that would give struggling news organizations tax breaks if they were to restructure as nonprofit businesses.
"I haven't seen detailed proposals yet, but I'll be happy to look at them," Obama told the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade in an interview.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced S. 673, the so-called "Newspaper Revitalization Act," that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin's Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Stossel is leaving ABC for Fox News. Stossel's work is valuable, and especially refreshing on ABC News. It's a shame that the network is losing just about its only free-market voice. Along with Glenn Beck's recent move from CNN Headline News to Fox News, it's a shame there will be so few advocates for smaller government and personal responsibility left on every other channel.
Hattip: Susan Peterson
Tom Fahey's Under the State House Dome in the Union Leader: not online. Is it in the print edition?
Kevin Landrigan in the Nashua Telegraph: lots of politics, but he also provides some behind the scenes reporting on the negotiations going into the state employees' new contract proposal.
How tough did Lynch have to get in order to gain agreement on a final contract with the State Employees Association?
Answer: Not very. It's clearly in SEA's best interest to reach a deal on furloughing state workers to avoid what would have been as many as 500 employee layoffs.
SEA President Gary Smith was under some pressure as an ex-corrections officer who was trying to deliver for his members a pay increase to make up for the loss of 15 minutes of daily overtime pay they had been getting for a morning briefing.
But Lynch couldn't and wouldn't go along with a pay increase for a small group at the same time he was making more than 10,000 state workers put up with the equivalent of a 6 percent pay cut by taking 19 days off without pay over the next 21 months.
Lynch gave up making all workers join a point-of-service health plan that would have reduced the state's administrative costs. In exchange, the union accepted one more furlough day.
James Pindell has the complete rundown at NH Political Report.
9:30am: NH Public TV's Outlook: Drew Cline of the NH Union-Leader; Ralph Jimenez of the Concord Monitor, and James Pindell of NHPoliticalReport.com, discuss civility in political conversationsMeanwhile, President Obama will make the rounds on five national talkers this morning, so I don't feel overexposed.
10am: WMUR's Close-Up
Mike Brunelle- NH Democratic Party v Kevin Smith- Cornerstone Policy Research
Grant Bosse-Josiah Bartlett Center For Public Policy v Peter Sullivan- Manchester Alderman
11am: MyTV's "Politics in Progress- Sunday, 11am
Host: Charlie Sherman; Guests: Andy Smith, UNH Survey Center, Kathy Sullivan, DNC Committeeman, Grant Bosse, Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy
Topics: Manchester Mayor's Race, Health Care, NH Senate Race
Levin is withering in his assessment of “Barack Milhous Nobama” and the kind of “statist” he represents, who is “dissatisfied with the condition of his own existence” and likes to blame “his fellow man, surroundings and society itself for denying him the fulfillment, success and adulation he believes he deserves.”Maybe they'll eventually get around to reviewing Michelle Malkin's "Culture of Corruption" which just finished six weeks at #1 on that list.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Agreed to late in the afternoon, the proposal will go to the bargaining senate of the State Employees Association on Monday. The 250-member body will decide whether to forward it to members for ratification and whether to recommend passage, said Diana Lacey, chairman of the collective bargaining team for the SEA.
The agreement ends days of intense negotiations between the two sides. On Wednesday, Gov. John Lynch cautioned that layoffs of 750 workers would begin if no deal were reached by yesterday. The SEA contract covers 10,200 state workers, the union said...
Lynch spokesman Colin Manning said the union has agreed to an additional day of furlough in order to avoid any changes to the health care plan. The deal calls for 19 days of furlough over two years, he said.
Manning said the agreement would not provide higher pay for corrections workers, as the SEA had wanted.
Probably because I posted some of the only detailed analysis of the Manchester Mayor's Race over at RedHampshire, I'm the belle of the ball this week on the talking heads circuit. I'll be joining Doug and Skip of Granite Grok this morning on Meet the New Press at 9am.
James Pindell also points out that I'll be following in Barack Obama's footsteps by hitting all the local Sunday talkers on the same day.
I may not always be right, but I'm usually pithy.
Friday, September 18, 2009
The sources for both studies, the left-leaning Families USA and the Obama administration, used the results to promote pending legislation in Congress to offer universal health care coverage.The New Hampshire Legislature last year dramatically increased its interference in the health insurance market, creating a "public option" style plan written by state bureaucrats, and increasing mandated coverage requirements. Not surprisingly, premiums went up dramatically. Now, the same advocates who drove prices sky-high are calling on even greater government intervention to bring them down.
"Our findings are clear. Health coverage is suddenly becoming too costly for New Hampshire's working families,'' the Families USA report concluded.
Average, annual premiums rose 92 percent to $14,448 last year compared to $7,525 in 2000.
Meanwhile, wages during the same period of the Families USA study rose only 21 percent to $33,003 up from $27,226.
The situation is further complicated by a requirement that limits bidding to small firms, which would be less likely to have PLA experience.
Under such conditions, not a single firm in New Hampshire is eligible for the project, Gregg said.
"The Administration's decision to discriminate against successful and independent construction firms simply because New Hampshire employees choose to work in a union-free workplace and not bow to the demands of big labor is extremely unfair to our state," Gregg said.
"As of 6 p.m. this evening, talks were completed between the SEA and the governor's office," SEA spokesman Mike Barwell said last night. "We have addressed all outstanding concerns in a tentative agreement."
Colin Manning, a spokesman for Gov. John Lynch, sounded more cautious, noting that the final language must still be worked out.
"Both sides are going back to the table tomorrow to hopefully come to agreement on the final language," Manning said. "We're hopeful there can be agreement so that employees will have a contract they can vote on."
Time, as it often does, will tell.
Adding the cost of those signs for the more than 20,000 stimulus projects nationwide, "we are talking about a cost of somewhere between $6 million and $15 million being spent on signs," Gregg told the Senate. "That is an inexcusable waste of money. That money could be used for something valuable, for example, rather than a sign."
He got only five Democrats (including Sen. Jeanne Shaheen) to vote for his amendment. It failed, 52-45.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., accused Gregg of being "anti-jobs." Actually, he is pro-taxpayer. "The practical effect of this is," he said, "the signs should say 'Wasting taxpayers' dollars; project funded by the future generations of Americans.'"
Thursday, September 17, 2009
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It's still the best manual for self-government ever written.
The state's highest court is set to rule on the legality of tax caps, possibly ending months of legal wrangling that has killed citizen petitions and jeopardized the spending limits in numerous Granite State communities.
On Tuesday, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge recommended the state Supreme Court rule on a petition challenging the legality of a proposed tax cap in Manchester.
Keep Manchester Moving, an anti-tax cap group, filed the petition and is pushing for a Supreme Court decision to be reached by the November election.
The major components of the agreement are:
* 18 furlough days over biennium, 12 of which shall come from state government shut-downs.
* Shut-downs would be similar to state holidays, with essential health and public safety functions continuing. Instead of taking furloughs, employees who work at 24-hour operations will forego 18 days of holiday pay for this biennium.
* No additional layoffs. There will not be any additional layoffs of generally funded positions, other than those anticipated by the budget, or necessary because of a reduction of federal funds or grants or closing of facilities or suspension of programs.
* Freeze on step increases in FY 2011.
* Health plan changes, including wellness program and required mail-order refills for certain maintenance prescription drugs.
* Partial restoration of "bumping" for the biennium that limits it to one "bump." An employee with more than 10 years of service may bump an employee with less than 10 years of service within a division.
* Lay-offs shall first apply to part-time workers within a facility or community where the layoffs are to occur.
* Employees receive 18 vacation days, spread over four years beginning in FY 2012. The vacation days will not lapse but will have no cash value at retirement or termination.
Daniel Barrack's piece in the Monitor this morning outlines the areas still being contested.
• Pay cuts at the Department of Corrections, where workers are seeking a new pay structure to account for the time they spend getting ready at the beginning and end of shifts.
• The structure of a new state employee health plan, which state officials say could save nearly $1 million a year but that union leaders say would be costlier to workers.
• Whether to allow retroactive "bumping rights," which allow more experienced state workers to take the jobs of less experienced workers in the case of a layoff. State officials say allowing retroactive "bumps" for workers who have already been laid off would create chaos.