We've Moved- Please Come See Us

Check out the new home for New Hampshire Watchdog:


Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Josiah Bartlett Center Launches News Site- NewHampshireWatchdog.org

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy marks the one-year anniversary of its Watchdog Project by launching a news and information website designed to deliver the Center's ground-breaking reporting, commentary, and features. NewHampshireWatchdog.org will publish stories from investigative reporter Grant Bosse, Center President Charlie Arlinghaus's weekly column for the Union Leader, and updates on the Center's government transparency project overseen by Jay Flanders.

"For the past year, the Josiah Bartlett Center has provided the most comprehensive and authoritative coverage of the New Hampshire budget, the JUA Lawsuit, and how the Granite State is implementing the federal stimulus package," Bosse said. "New Hampshire Watchdog will give us a platform to share that coverage with our readers in a more dynamic and interactive way."

Over the past two weeks, the Josiah Bartlett Center has been the first to report several important stories, including the threat to the financing of Manchester's civic center, the rash of errors in the federal government stimulus oversight program that led to the creation of phantom Congressional Districts, and the impact that the health care bill under consideration in Congress could have on New Hampshire's medical liability laws. The new website will host a library for the nearly 1,500 reports filed by the Watchdog Project over the past year as well as discussion boards for public debate on state policy.

"As traditional media outlets cut back on the resources they can devote to complex stories, we're providing the depth of investigative journalism needed in a democratic society," added Arlinghaus. "As the Watchdog Project continues to grow, we're thrilled to be able to give New Hampshire residents better access to their government and its decisions."

Visit the news site at NewHampshireWatchdog.org.

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.

Happy Blogoversary- New Hampshire Watchdog Turns One!

One year ago today, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy launched the Watchdog Project, promising to bring investigative journalism back to New Hampshire government. Over the past year, we've provided the best coverage of the state budget, the JUA lawsuit, and New Hampshire's implementation of the stimulus package.

As we enter our second year, we move our online publishing to a new platform, NewHampshireWatchdog.org. This news site will not only host our in-depth and breaking news, but provide more interactive access to our popular features, including Charlie Arlinghaus's weekly column, our Sunday Book Review, and Jay Flanders outstanding work on government transparency. Please visit NewHampshireWatchdog.org today, and reset your bookmarks.

The news site also lets you sign up for our New Hampshire Watchdog newsletter, send in news tips on stories we should cover, and leave comments both on our news stories on our blog. We hope you will find the new platform both education and entertaining, and make a daily must-read for keeping up with New Hampshire government.

See you at NewHampshireWatchdog.org.

Grant Bosse
New Hampshire Watchdog

PS- Later today, we will have breaking news on how the national health care debate could hamstring New Hampshire laws, and on the latest on inflated jobs estimates in the stimulus package.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recovery.org removes phantom Congressional Districts

The federal website set up to track how the government is spending $787 billion in stimulus money has corrected the errors in the database which showed 440 phantom Congressional Districts across the country, including three new ones in New Hampshire. Recovery.gov now shows that New Hampshire has received $285 million in the First Congressional District, $213 million in the Second, and $197 million that hasn't been assigned to either district.

ARRA Corrected

Federal officials blamed the phantom districts on data entry mistakes from stimulus grant recipients. Earlier this week, the Obama Administration was forced to remove 60,000 jobs from its stimulus report card after finding 12 recipients who over-reported the number of jobs created or saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Washington Examiner has found over 75,000 jobs in the stimulus report that don't exist. Reporters David Freddoso and Mark Hemingway have created an interactive map of bogus jobs, such as a $1,000 grant for a single lawn mower that is credited with saving 50 jobs.

Your Guide to the Stimulus, District by (Phantom) District

Bill McMorris has compiled all 440 phantom Congressional Districts on the Recovery.org website. The vast amount of bad data in the stimulus oversight project shows that it can't honestly be dismissed as just a few typos.

A debacle of the first order

Uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds sums up the increasingly ridiculous stimulus tracking website, Recovery.gov.

That whole thing has been a debacle of the first order. From the people who were supposed to return competence and transparency to the federal government.

Stimulus Help Line Advised Recipients to Enter Bad Data

ABC's Jonathan Karl follows up his report on stimulus money going to non-existent Congressional Districts. He finds even more errors in the projects in actual Congressional Districts, and at least one stimulus recipient who was advised to inflate his job estimates by the Administration's Help Line.

ABC News does not allow us to embed their videos, but you can watch the report here.

NH Representatives Respond to Phantom Congressional Districts

Adam Krauss at Foster's Daily Democrat has gotten reaction to this week's news of massive errors in the Recovery.org database from New Hampshire's two Representatives in Congress.

Matt Robison, chief of staff for Rep. Paul Hodes, D-Concord, said "there's no question that this was a serious mistake and an example of sloppy record-keeping by the administration and Paul Hodes believes we need real answers and an accurate picture of the situation that working families are facing."

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-Rochester, said the typos were discovered because of the "unprecedented level of transparency and disclosure" at Recovery.gov. "While it is unacceptable for Recovery.gov to have any typos, I am pleased that the administration is working to immediately correct them," she said.
No reaction yet from the Congressman from the mythical 4th, 6th, 27th, and 00th Districts.

Top Dem slams Recovery.gov errors

Fox News interviews Rep. David Obey, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, about the rash of errors plaguing the stimulus oversight project at Recovery.gov.

In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Obey called the inaccuracies on Recovery.gov "infuriating" and said the success of the government's stimulus package has been "obscured by the silly mistakes."

"In my judgment, someone who doesn't know which congressional district they're in doesn't have enough of a clue to receive taxpayer money in the first place," Obey said.

"When you put out information that turns out to be inaccurate, you shouldn't be surprised if the public says, 'Hey, do they know what they're doing?'" he added.

The new health care bureaucracy


True health care reform will allow more options and more choices. The current plans in Washington create a central control that transfers authority from the people to the government and from the state to the federal government. Whether you believe in greater government spending or not, this is exactly the wrong approach.

Anytime Washington gets involved in any policy decision, Washington writes all the rules and tells everyone what to do. Health care is no exception. What started as a plan to find ways to cover people who don't have insurance transformed into thousands of pages of new regulations, mandates, prohibitions, oversight and general central control.

The federal government does not currently set mandates for health insurance; each state does to varying degrees. The new health care bills would transfer most of that authority to Washington. Washington will write the rules because Washington knows best.

Does Washington want to set up a few basic minimums that should be included? No. It wants to set up minimum coverage levels higher than many people's insurance today, maximum coverage levels, specific programs that every policy must include and a new administrative office to review and approve plan designs, plan changes and premium changes.

Generally, the more things a health insurance plan covers, the more expensive it is. Higher co-pays or deductibles will reduce the amount of financial risk and, therefore, the amount of the premium. More expensive plans will cover a higher percentage of "actuarial value," the amount you are expected to cost by statistical averages.

A high-deductible plan might make a lot of sense for a healthy young person, who will be covered against a catastrophe, but still have an affordable premium and, therefore, will buy insurance rather than avoiding it.

However, under the proposed reform, high deductibles are not allowed. New plans must cover at least 70 percent of value. You can keep the plan you have unless it's a budget plan. Budgets and cost-sharing are not going to be permitted. Never mind that most economists think that consumer involvement in costs is a good way to reduce the rate of premium increase.

On the other hand, while we want you to have insurance, we also don't want it to be too good. If your insurance coverage is too good, we're going to tax it. At the levels being considered in the Senate bill, New Hampshire state employees' coverage is about 25 percent too generous. In addition, about 25 percent of employers in New Hampshire give a benefit that the government thinks is too generous. Too nice to your workers? We'll tax that.

It's Goldilocks government at its best. We don't want plans that are too big or plans that are too small. Every plan needs to be just right.

Instead of Goldilocks making these judgments, we'll have a health choices commissioner. The commish will be assisted by the creation of more than 100 new bureaus and federal programs, including the Health Benefits Advisory Committee.

Our new health choices commissioner will have the authority to decide what falls into the just-right range of policy choices that are preapproved for you to choose.

Whether the final bill includes a government-run "public option" or not, the new regulations on private policies amount to more or less the same thing as the government actually running the plan. The "choices commissioner" will be able to approve or deny premiums, dictate coverage levels and "negotiate" prices. So the government will decide what coverage you can have, what it will cost and how much providers will get paid.

There are other ways to make changes in health care that don't involve a large new office in a concrete building in Washington making the rules for everyone in America.

Louis Brandeis believed that change could come from a single state serving as a laboratory of democracy to "try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." In theory, we could watch what happened in a state like Massachusetts and decide if it would work here.

The current proposals in Washington are the exact opposite of Brandeis' approach. A giant new bureaucracy won't allow different states to experiment with different things. Limiting plans to a narrow range of choices -- not too expensive, not too cheap -- eliminates any choices and innovation even in the design of individual plans. Centralized government planning with strict limits on thinking outside the government box does not traditionally lead to innovation.

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

NH Stimulus Director responds to Phantom Congressional Districts

Orville "Bud" Fitch, Deputy Attorney General and Director of New Hampshire Office of Economic Stimulus, has responded to news this week that the federal government's Recovery.gov database has created phantom Congressional Districts across the country.

Responding to an inquiry from the Josiah Bartlett Center, Fitch says he learned about the problems with the Recovery.gov database upon returning to the state yesterday.

Preliminary information is that this may stem from reports filed by folks who received funds directly from the federal government and report directly, not through the State's process. We worked hard to ensure congressional district data was accurate on the reports filed by State ARRA fund recipients. We are attempting to identify whether the non-existent congressional district data stems from input errors from these reports filed by others or if they involve entities doing work in NH who have headquarters in other states where they have the congressional districts listed. The federal reports that recipients of ARRA funds are required to submit have fields for the Congressional District where the primary work site is and also for the Congressional District where the recipient's headquarters is located. If one is not careful during input and when reading, the two could be confused.

Fitch added that he has asked his staff to look into the errors, and determine if the faulty data came from the state reports he submits or from individual recipients. Reporter Bill McMorris has found 440 phantom districts nationwide which are listed as receiving $6.4 million from the Americand Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Administration tries to explain away stimulus errors

Responding to rash of errors in its tracking of the $787 billion stimulus package, the Obama Administration has mounted a defense of its $84 million web boondoggle.

Obama special adviser G. Edward DeSeve writes on the White House website that the errors are minor compared to the overall to the massive bill.
First, the mistakes are RELATIVELY few, and don’t change the fundamental conclusions one can draw from the data. Even if as many as 5-10% of the reports or 5-10% of the totals are wrong (and we don’t think it is that high), that still means the Recovery Act saved or created between 600,000 and 700,000 direct jobs in its first seven months – more than most experts predicted when it passed. And most leading experts agree that – whatever the recipient reported total should be – the actual number of jobs saved or created is about double that, because the recipient reports don’t include direct payments to individuals, the jobs created by Recovery Act tax cuts, and the jobs created when workers on Recovery Act projects spend their paychecks.

The Recovery.gov team even weighed in on Twitter, passing the blame for the slew of faulty job numbers and phantom Congressional Districts on recipients making mistakes on the reports they submitted.
Did you know? Unless an egregious error is noted, Recovery.gov posts data exactly as it is reported by recipients.

But the Board overseeing the $84 million Recovery.gov project admits it never checked to see that the data going into the database was accurate. Ed Pound is Director of Communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.
“People make errors, and we’ve found people are making errors in these reports,” Pound said…

Recipients file their reports on a password-protected site. That information is then relayed to officials who oversee the recovery.gov website to post, Pound said. Unless an egregious error is noted, Pound said they post the information exactly as it is received.

“Our job is data integrity, not data quality,” he said.

In New Hampshire, the stimulus website shows that 92.5% of all jobs "created or saved" by the stimulus are in Concord, likely the result of how state officials reported how they were spending the money to Washington. Of the 3,000 jobs reported by New Hampshire stimulus coordinator Bud Fitch, over 2,000 were public school teachers, and nearly all were working for state or federal governments.

As the Administration tries to explain away its ability to track how the government is spending $787 billion in taxpayer money, it lacks any explanation for how the stimulus has failed to meet the Administration's rosy projections, or why the same bureaucrats should be trusted with America's health care industry.

$6.4 Billion Stimulus Goes to Phantom Districts

Bill McMorris, who I quoted in this morning's story on the 440 phantom Congressional Districts that received funding under the stimulus.

The site’s monitors, however, are not too savvy about America’s political or geographic landscape. More than $2 million was given to the 99th District of North Dakota, a state which has only one congressional district. In order to qualify for 99 districts, North Dakota would have to have a population of about 60 million people, almost 24 million more people than California.

The stimulus revived 8 recently retired congressional districts. Pennsylvania’s 21st District has received just under $2 million in funds. Mississippi’s 5th District and Oklahoma’s 6th received $1 million from the legislation, respectively. All three were eliminated by the 2000 census.

Many other recipients carried the banner for congressional districts that have been defunct for decades. South Carolina’s 7th took the cake, garnering more than $27 million in stimulus funds, despite being eliminated in 1930. And Virginia’s 12th District may have been written off at the start of the Civil War, but it must carry some sentimental value in Old Dominion–it received more than $2 million, according to recovery.gov.

The stimulus helped to create 35 congressional districts in Washington D.C. and the four American territories, all of which have no congressional districts. These areas received $5 of the $6.4 billion distributed to the non-existent districts.
$84 million for a great website, with tons of functionality. Too bad they didn't bother to check to see if the data going in was garbage.

Mark Steyn tours the 00th Congressional District

Over at National Review Online, Mark Steyn explores the political implications of making up Congress Districts, like the Obama Administration has done with the stimulus package.

Reading those jobs numbers, I can't be the only resident of New Hampshire's Second Congressional District who dreams of relocating to the "00 Congressional District", land of 2,873.9 newly created jobs. What a great name! Because in the Obama budget you can always use a couple extra zeroes.

I like to think of it as somewhere up around the Fourth Connecticut Lake or the Indian Stream by the old bootlegging routes in from Quebec. I drive around in the forlorn hope that one day on a rutted Class VI road deep in the woods, just over the washed out culvert, I'll round the bend and see the sign saying "Now Entering The 00 Congressional District. This $47,000 sign brought to you by the America Recovery & Reinvestment Act", and the Emerald City of Oo will rise before me, its streets paved with Stimulus green and lined with dancing fountains of sparkling H1N1 vaccine and Obamatronic statues that bow as you pass by as if you're the Japanese Emperor and they sing "Be Our Guest" in a faintly metallic voice. And I'll be greeted by 2,873.9 gnarled old stump-toothed loggers with an average of 2.7 fingers between them, now federally retrained as green jobs czars, NEA performance artists, end-of-life counseling coordinators and Joe Biden speechwriters...

92.5% of all NH Stimulus Jobs in Concord

According to the federal government's Recovery.gov database, which tracks how state governments are spending the $787 billion stimulus package approved last year, 92.5% of all New Hampshire jobs "created or saved" by the legislation are concentrated in the State Capital of Concord.
According to the New Hampshire summary page, the government credits the American Relief and Recovery Act with creating or saving 3,528.8 full-time jobs across New Hampshire. 3,264.4 of those jobs are listed under Concord zip codes. Outside of Concord, only a few communities have more than a handful of jobs credited to the stimulus; 37 in Manchester, 25 in Salem, 47 in Portsmouth, and 14 in Durham.

Orville "Bud" Fitch oversees Governor John Lynch's Office of Economic Stimulus. Last month, he reported that the stimulus had created or saved 3,007 full-time equivalent jobs statewide through September 30, 2009. The federal website relies on reports from individual grant recipients, as well as the state's report every three months.

The Onion covers Obama Teleprompter Malfunction

You know, when you've lost the Onion...actually, they destroy pretty much everybody.

Obama's Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner

Stimulus Package doubles size of Congress

The political appeal of the $787 billion stimulus package was that it allowed the Obama Administration to spread the money across all 435 Congressional Districts in an attempt to win votes from politicians eager to bring home the bacon in rough economic times. But reports by the Obama Administration's Recovery.gov database show that the money wasn't limited to those 435 districts. It also went to 440 Congressional Districts that don't exist.

Reporter Jim Scarantino of the Rio Grande Foundation broke the news yesterday that the stimulus tracking website listed millions in federal funds for projects in ten bogus New Mexico districts. Within hours, colleagues at other state think-tanks had published stories detailing the massive errors in their state's stimulus disclosure databases. By late-afternoon, ABC News and the L.A. Times had picked up the story, prompting an angry reaction from Democratic Congressman David Obey, who blasted the Administration's lax oversight of the nearly $1 trillion spending package.

Reporter Michael Noyes of the Montana Policy Institute investigated how his state could have received funding in 13 separate Congressional districts, when it has only one Representative.

Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, tells the Montana Policy Institute that his organization posts whatever information is reported by stimulus grant recipients, and doesn't check to make sure it's actually true.

"Our job is data integrity, not data quality," he said.

The Recovery.Gov website was set up in February with a budget of $84 million.

Overall, Bill McMorris of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity calculates that $6.4 billion of the stimulus package has been distributed to 440 phantom Congressional Districts, which the Administration claims created over 28,000 jobs at a cost of $224,500 each.

The news of the mythical Congressional Districts comes on the heels of an admission by the Obama Administration that 60,000 jobs had to be cut from its latest stimulus report after finding faulty data from a dozen stimulus recipients.

Reported problems with the stimulus jobs data are so widespread that the Washington Examiner's David Freddoso and Mark Hemingway have published an interactive map of bogus jobs created or saved by the stimulus.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama Administration gives New Hampshire three new Congressional Districts

Good news for all those Congressional candidates facing tough primaries next fall. The Obama Administration's stimulus package has created three or four more Congressional Districts in New Hampshire.

According to the summary of stimulus jobs "created or saved" in New Hampshire, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has created 3.2 jobs in the 6th District, zero jobs in the 4th District, and two jobs in the 27th District. New Hampshire, of course, only has two Congressional Districts.

The site also lists a whopping 2,873.9 jobs in the 00 Congressional District, which is presumably where former Celtic Hall of Famer Robert Parish lives.

Hattip: Jim Scarantino at New Mexico Watchdog, who discovered the problems with Recovery.org in his state. This appears to be a nationwide problem with the confusing reporting requirements imposed on recepients of grants under the stimulus package.

2 lawyers wrote their own meal ticket

The Nashua Telegraph runs an AP story on one of the most egregious cases of rent-seeking I've ever seen.
Every lawsuit filed or even threatened under a California law aimed at electing more minorities to local offices - and all of the roughly $4.3 million from settlements so far - can be traced to just two people: a pair of attorneys who worked together writing the statute, The Associated Press has found. The law makes it easier for lawyers to sue and win financial judgments in cases arising from claims that minorities effectively were shut out of local elections, while shielding attorneys from liability if the claims are tossed out.

The law was drafted mainly by Seattle law professor Joaquin Avila, with advice from lawyers including Robert Rubin, legal director for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Avila, Rubin's committee and lawyers working with them have collected or billed local governments about $4.3 million in three cases that settled, and could reap more from two pending lawsuits.
Basically, these two daring entrepreneurs decided to go into the subsidy farming business in California. They push through a law that not only forces local governments to write them fat settlement checks, but also shields them from the consequnces of frivilous lawsuits. Win-Win, for them.

How's Your Bailout? Automotive Edition

The Wall Street Journal reports that General Motors is getting ready to pay back some of the money it borrowed from the federal government ahead of schedule. That sounds like good news, until you learn that it is paying back the loan with money cash it got from the auto bailout.
General Motors Co. plans to begin paying back a $6.7 billion loan it owes the U.S. government starting late this year, putting it on track to potentially repay the entire note by the middle of 2011, said a person familiar with the matter.

But in a move that could be controversial and risky, the car maker plans to use other money it received from the government to pay back the borrowing.

How's Your Bailout? Financial Edition

The Washington Post reports that 46 firms that received money from the Troubles Asset Relief Fund, otherwise known as TARP or the federal bailout, "had missed required dividend payments to the government as of the end of September".
Analysts expect more bailed-out firms to fail in the months ahead. Others may survive but will struggle to repay the government. Steven Rattner, the former head of the government's efforts to bail out the auto industry, said recently that the full public investment in GM is unlikely to be repaid. Meanwhile, AIG is dismantling itself, selling healthy subsidiaries at what critics say are bargain prices in an all-out effort to get cash to repay the government.

About $400 billion of federal investments remain in the corporate sector, much of it channeled through TARP. Critics of the program say losses were inevitable, in many cases.

There was a reason private investors didn't want to give these failing firms their money. It was a bad investment. Congress was more than willing to invest our money, though.

The FDA is out of control

I had missed this story on Friday. The New York Times reports that the Food and Drug Administration blames to ban alcoholic beverages with caffeine, unless the manufacturer can prove to federal bureaucrats that they are safe.
In a statement, the Food and Drug Administration said it had told nearly 30 manufacturers of the drinks that unless they could provide clear evidence of safety, it would “take appropriate action to ensure that the products are removed from the marketplace.” Officials did not say how long such a determination might take.

The drinks, which combine malt liquor or other spirits with caffeine and fruit juices at alcohol concentrations up to about 10 percent, have become increasingly popular among college students. In a news conference, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the agency’s principal deputy commissioner, said their consumption was associated with increased risk of serious injury, drunken driving, sexual assault and other dangerous behavior.
I hope the Obama Administration leaves me along the next time I enjoy an Irish coffee. Or a Red Bull and vodka. (Okay, I hate Red Bull and vodka.) The FDA appears to be operating under the assumption that they get to arbitrarily decide where their regulatory powers begin and end. They haven't bothered to find out if these products are dangerous. They don't see any need to actually present evidence to ban the products until the prove they are safe. This
"Precautionary Principle" sounds like common sense, but it is actually an insidious way to ban any behavior that regulators don't like. Proving no harm is a huge, counterfactual burden for any manufacturer to clear. The FDA's failure to approve new drugs kills more people than it saves. Now, they want to bring that same failed approach to the grocery story.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Book Review- It's Getting Better All the Time

The late Julian Simon once bet doomsayer Paul Erlich that the price of a set of five precious commodities would drop from 1980 to 1990. Erlich thought that our limited resources would dwindle in the face of surging populations. Simon thought that human ingenuity would find ways to improve life for more and more people. Simon was right. He wanted to repeat the bet from 1990 to 2000, but the details were never settled. He would have won again, as the real price of the five commodities fell another 19% over the decade.

Simon died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 65, but his unyielding optimism in the face of the world's problem led Stephen Moore to finish Simon's manuscript, published as It's Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years.
How has the United States changed over the past century? Is life truly better now than it was in the past? Using statistical reports and other historical materials, Moore (fiscal policy studies, Cato Inst.) and the late Simon (business administration, Univ. of Maryland) argue that for the most part people entering the new millennium are much better off than their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. The areas covered include health, economics, race relations, safety, environmental issues, and women's rights. A number of charts and graphs, well complemented by an extensive index and a bibliography, shows the positive changes that have taken place over the past 100 years. Readers will appreciate the information provided by these colorful graphics, which readily allow for additional research on subjects of interest. (Library Journal)
Simon and Moore do not suggest that the challenges we face are not daunting, or important. Or that we can blithely ignore them as they will be inevitably solved. Rather, they provide staggering evidence that by tackling these problems with innovation and freedom, we can solve them faster and cheaper than you might think.

Expanded gambling not always sure thing

Kevin Landrigan leads off his weekly column in the Nashua Telegraph by reporting a glitch in the proposal to put video slot machines at the state's racetracks.
As it turns out, VLT gaming appears to meet the definition of a state lottery game. Voters approved more than a decade ago an amendment to the state Constitution which says that all profit from lottery games has to go to education.

For the layman, the essential difference is that at a VLT, all players are competing for one big jackpot. Theoretically at least, two people sitting next to one another playing a slot machine can win the jackpot at the same time.

Gaming Commission Chairman Andrew Lietz has confirmed that he would be asking Attorney General Michael Delaney’s office for a legal opinion on this subject.

Lots of other good stuff in the column, as always.

NH Retirement System reform may hit cities and towns

Shira Schoenberg leads her Capital Beat column in the Concord Monitor with some good old fashioned, green eyeshade, public policy reporting on the problems facing the New Hampshire Retirement System.

Actuarial consultant Gabriel, Roeder Smith & Co. is recommending that the retirement system raise the rates for employer contributions by an average of 22.68 percent in 2011. The increase would be lowest for state employees and highest for local police officers, firefighters and teachers.

"This is going to be a good-size hit on (municipalities') budgets," said Barbara Reid, government finance adviser for the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Dean Michener, director of governmental relations for the New Hampshire School Boards Association put it this way: "This kind of increase is just not sustainable."

Don't worry. She's got plenty of the campaign tidbits that make the column a must-read for political junkies as well.

NH Building Aid not sustainable

Karen Langley in the Concord Monitor reports on the state's Building Aid Program, which is currently funding by borrowing money to give to local school districts.
The state pays out about $45 million in partial reimbursement of school building costs annually. The money was included in the state budget's general fund until 2009, when an increasingly tortured economy pushed legislators to borrow the aid.

Borrowing the money can work as a temporary salve but would have a crippling effect if continued, the state treasurer has told members of the legislative committee commissioned to study the program. If the state continues bonding at current rates, the annual debt service will reach $50 million by 2020, said state Treasurer Catherine Provencher.

No Guarantees: Eagle Times subsidy is wrong

The Union Leader comes out against the New Hampshire government backing a loan for a local newspaper.
One is the Eagle Times, the Claremont newspaper that folded earlier this year only to be reborn under a new publisher. The council agreed -- unanimously -- to have the state guarantee 75 percent of a $250,000 line of credit to the publisher. That's $181,500 for which taxpayers are on the hook if the paper goes out of business again.

This is an outrageous risk of taxpayer money.

You will get no argument from us about newspapers' value to a republic. But the civic services journalists perform are beside the point. A newspaper is a private enterprise. The state's duty is to spend taxpayer money on legitimate public services that only the state can provide. Bankrolling a business -- any business -- is not one of those functions.

Obama proposes Federal Subway Administration

Is there any challenge in this country for which the Obama Administration won't seek a federal takeover?
The Obama administration will propose that the federal government take over safety regulation of the nation's subway and light-rail systems, responding to what it says is haphazard and ineffective oversight by state agencies.

Under the proposal, the U.S. Department of Transportation would do for transit what it does for airlines and Amtrak: set and enforce federal regulations to ensure that millions of passengers get to their destinations safely. Administration officials said the plan will be presented in coming weeks to Congress, which must approve a change in the law.

The proposal would affect every subway and light-rail system in the country, including large systems in Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

State Finance Directors Warn of More Trouble Ahead

The Wall Street Journal reports that next year's state budget problems will likely be larger than this year's.
Short-term budget gaps have battered states as revenues plummeted during the recession. Aided by about $250 billion in funds from the stimulus package expected through the end of next year, states managed to close the gaps this year. But both finance directors, speaking at a Pew Center on the States event in Washington, were pessimistic about their states' futures beyond fiscal 2011.

"We're facing a cliff in 2011 when stimulus dollars run out," said Mitchell Bean, director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency. "There is not an end in sight, even in recovery."

Welcome to the NH Blogosphere

Adam Krauss has done a fine job covering New Hampshire politics for Foster's Daily Democrat. He wrote some outstanding stories on the revenue sharing debate in this year's budget. Now, he's started his posting political tidbits on a new blog called Soundings.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Narrow Victory for the New Hampshire Economic Recovery Coalition

That was a close one. Forces in Maine tried to remove our neighbors from the New Hampshire Economic Recovery Coalition by lowering Maine's income tax.
A law that would have lowered the state's income tax but imposed sales taxes on a variety of services is on hold now that opponents have collected enough signatures to place a repeal of the law on the June 2010 ballot.

Maine's secretary of state announced Nov. 9 that sufficient signatures had been collected.

The bill to revamp the state's tax system was approved by the Maine Legislature in June and signed by the governor.
Following last week's rejection of the Spending Cap, Maine is clearly doing its part to help the Granite State. But hold off on the celebratory parades in Portsmouth and North Conway. Maine voters have a chance to reinstate the lower income tax rate next year.

The Cost of Downshifting to Granite State Taxpayers

Tom DeRosa asked me to stop by for the NH GOP's weekly podcast. We discussed the cost of downshifting, from the Congress to state budgets, and from the state to local taxpayers.

TGIFriedman- Big Government Part I

New Hampshire may have to lift Charter School moratorium to get federal aid

Kevin Landrigan reports on the Nashua Telegraph that New Hampshire officials are applying for $75 million in federal funds from the Department of Education, but might not qualify unless it lifts its Charter School moratorium.
It’s likely some state education laws will have to be changed for the state to become eligible, the state educators said.

The state has a moratorium on additional, state-created charter schools. New charter schools can still open up in the state as long as they are first approved by local voters.

The Race to the Top law encourages charter schools; Barry said existing federal advisories have warned states against having any caps on charter schools.

Maine is not eligible to apply for any of the money because there are no charter schools in that state, Barry said.

Concord lawyer honored for fighting for free press

I was honored to attend last night's Nackey Loeb Dinner in Manchester to benefit the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. The Union Leader reports on this year's honoree for his work in opening up government records to the public.
Concord attorney William Chapman said winning the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award is like getting an award for skiing. Fighting for a free press and open access to the government isn't work, he said, it's fun.

Chapman, of the Concord law firm of Orr and Reno, was honored last night at the seventh annual Loeb First Amendment Award Honors dinner at the Radisson Hotel for his 37 years of work in media law.

Chapman is considered a top authority on New Hampshire's freedom of public access and media law and has argued dozens of cases involving access to records and government proceedings on behalf of New Hampshire media outlets. Chapman also helped set the standard for protecting reporters' sources in criminal cases and public access to court and government records.
Our work on the Josiah Bartlett Center often relies on getting access to public records from state officials, who are sometimes cooperative and sometimes not. As the distinction between free speech and free press continues to diminish in importance, we are happy to salute Mr. Chapman for his life's work.

Robert Foster, the recently deceased publisher of Foster's Daily Democrat, received the annual Quill & Ink Award for his years of work putting out one of New Hampshire's finest newspapers. His contributions to journalism are noted, and will be missed.

Half done on health reform

David Broder's column in the Washington Post defines the conventional wisdom in Washington. He relaibly reflects what the Inside the Beltway crowd think about politics, and even he is acknowledging that the numbers used to justify the House-approved health care bill don't add up.
But, as many sympathetic voices have been telling them: Unless you find more realistic ways of paying for the promises included in the bill, you are simply setting up the public for more frustration -- and yourselves for a political backlash.

At least a dozen health and budget experts have filled the Web and the airwaves with warnings that the House bill simply postpones the cost controls needed to finance the vast expansion of insurance coverage and Medicaid benefits envisaged by its sponsors.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Amendment X: Ethics in Colorado- Update

Last month, we noted the efforts of Todd Shepard at the Independence Institute to get members of the Governor's Cabinet in Colorado to file their ethics disclosures, at required by Executive Order.

Then, we found out that Governor Bill Ritter had re-issued the order to require his Cabinet officers to file new ethics disclosures, while ignoring the missed filings.

Since then, the Independence Institute learned that Ritter's climate advisor, Alice Madden, was also on the payroll of the liberal Center for American Progress. Faced with public disclosure of this conflict, Madden has been forced to resign from CAP.

This shows why it is not only important to put ethics codes on the books, but also for independent watchdogs to hold government accountable to them.

A crusader for the public's right to know

The Concord Monitor asks how much of what goes on at Town Hall should the public have the right to know?
The short answer: nearly everything.

Trouble is, reasonable - and sometimes unreasonable - people can disagree over the specifics. In New Hampshire and across the country, there will always be public officials working hard to keep the public's business from the public. That's where lawyers like Bill Chapman come in. And thank goodness.

Chapman, who has long represented the Concord Monitor and other news organizations, will receive the annual First Amendment Award this evening from the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester. Chapman, who has fought for open government in New Hampshire for nearly four decades, is well deserving of the honor. The beneficiaries of his hard work, after all, are each and every resident of the state - citizens who have the right and ability to learn more about the workings of their government and court system because of his efforts.

George Will warns of dollar's demise

In his column in the Washington Post, George Will warns that this year's federal spending spree is endangering the long-term value of American currency.
The fiscal 2009 budget deficit, triple that of 2008, was 10 percent of GDP. Lawrence Lindsey says probable policies will produce deficits of 7 percent of GDP for a decade. Ronald Reagan's worst deficit was 6 percent of GDP and for only one year.

Lindsey -- a former member of the Federal Reserve board of governors and director of George W. Bush's National Economic Council (2001-02) -- says Americans' net worth has dropped at least $13 trillion since the recession began in December 2007. What is to be done?

Americans could suddenly begin saving substantially more, but this would deepen and prolong the recession. Alternatively, America could reflate the value of its assets by printing money. Lindsey says it is already doing that -- printing bonds promiscuously and lending money to banks at negligible rates, money that banks can use to buy the bonds. This sharply increases the money supply, which sets the stage either for inflation -- too much money chasing too few goods -- or for recovery-snuffing higher interest rates to try to prevent inflation. Or for something like Japan's lost decade -- banks pouring money into government bonds rather than the real economy.

Health Care Reform Hits Home

New Hampshire Public Radio tackles health care reform this morning on "The Exchange".

* Ned Helms, director of the New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire
* Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy

"The Exchange" airs from 9am to 10am, and reairs at 8pm.

Death by Government: Cuban Energy Policy

Centralized planning claims another victim: Cuba's energy grid.
Cuba has ordered all state enterprises to adopt "extreme measures" to cut energy usage through the end of the year in hopes of avoiding the dreaded blackouts that plagued the country following the 1991 collapse of its then-top ally, the Soviet Union.

In documents seen by Reuters, government officials have been warned that the island is facing a "critical" energy shortage that requires the closing of non-essential factories and workshops and the shutting down of air conditioners and refrigerators not needed to preserve food and medicine.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Arlinghaus on your TV

Well, if you live in the Manchester area anyway. Charlie Arlinghaus will be talking about the Verizon Wireless Arena bonds and municipal retirement stories this evening on "Two Live Joes" on MCAM, Channel 23 from 8:00 to 8:30.

N.H. Backs Bank Loan To ‘Eagle Times' Owner

John Gregg has an excellent piece in the Valley News on the state loan guarantee to the new owners of the Eagle-Times in Claremont.
Donahue, who has worked at the BFA since it was created 17 years ago, said this was the first guarantee involving a New Hampshire newspaper that he could recall, but that there are “no restrictions that would preclude us from doing it.”

Gov. John Lynch, who presided over the Executive Council meeting, said in an interview after an appearance at Dartmouth College on Friday evening that he had no problems with the loan guarantee.

“It's really more of a job development, economic development type of issue,” said Lynch who said he has not met Sample and was not involved in putting the deal together. “I think it was the right thing to do, and it came up through the appropriate channels.”

The Eagle Times ran a photograph and congratulatory letter from Lynch, welcoming the return of the newspaper, on the front page of its first post-bankruptcy edition on Oct. 12. (emphasis added)
So we have a newspaper running a picture of the Governor who pushed through their financing on the front page. Why would anyone have a problem with that?

Armistice Day

Posted on behalf of Charlie Arlinghaus

Today used to be called Armistice Day in remembrance of the armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that ended what was called The Great War in 1918. The moving poem "In Flanders Fields" was written by a soldier and is the reason we wear poppies at remembrance ceremonies.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Stimulus Numbers Continue to be Exaggerated

Bill McMorris does not surprise our regular readers when he reports that the job creation numbers attributed to the stimulus package are exaggerated.
Authorities continue to overestimate the number of jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus package, according to an independent review conducted by the the Boston Globe.

While Massachusetts recipients of federal stimulus money collectively report 12,374 jobs saved or created, a Globe review shows that number is wildly exaggerated. Organizations that received stimulus money miscounted jobs, filed erroneous figures, or claimed jobs for work that has not yet started.

The review saw some agencies that had reported creating dozens of jobs created recant their stories.

“There were no jobs created. It was just shuffling around of the funds,’’ said Susan Kelly, director of property management for Boston Land Co., which reported retaining 26 jobs with $2.7 million in rental subsidies for its affordable housing developments in Waltham. “It’s hard to figure out if you did the paperwork right. We never asked for this.’’

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we remember.

As we mark Veterans Day, and thank those among us who risked their lives to secure our freedom, it's appropriate to share our recent report on the number of veterans currently living in New Hampshire. We originally published this report on Memorial, but it is even more appropriate today. More than 120,000 of our neighbors in the Granite State served in times of war and peace. This data is from the 2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

To all those who served in the U.S. military throughout the years, we will never forget your service and sacrifice. To those serving today, God Bless and a safe return home.

NH Veterans by Date of Service

A Red Ink Trainwreck

Cato's Dan Mitchell has the rare ability to translate arcane policy into plain English. His latest video tackles how the Pelosi health care bill will bust the budget.

Hattip: Powerline

Retiree hike hits with thud

Tom Fahey reports in the Union Leader on the cost of shoring up municipal pension programs.
Towns, cities, school districts and the state itself could see pension costs for police, teachers and other public workers increase by an average of nearly 23 percent July 1, 2011.

Consultants for the New Hampshire Retirement System yesterday recommended the rate hike. The steep increase stems from a combination of investment losses -- 18 percent for the year that ended June 30 -- and the need to catch up with a long-term funding problem that began building nearly two decades ago.

The rates won't take effect until the NHRS board of trustees formally adopts them in September 2010. At that point, they will become a factor in budget planning for towns and school budgets. A year ago, rates were projected to go up between 25 and 35 percent.

Charles M. Arlinghaus: City's revenue sharing loss was inevitable


The state's decision to freeze revenue sharing payments was not a criminal act. It doesn't constitute fraud. It isn't unconstitutional. It shouldn't send your town into turmoil, and it's not even a bad idea. It may have a negative impact on the Verizon Wireless Arena, but every change in state law shouldn't lead to a lawsuit.

Manchester's bond payments on the arena are guaranteed by the city's portion of the state meals and rooms tax revenue. Neither the state nor the city is on the hook for anything other than the city's share of that payment, about $4.6 million last year.

It is a risky setup for bondholders because the state meals and rooms payments are not guaranteed and have gone up and down in their short history.

The meals and rooms tax was passed in 1967 to provide additional revenue for the state, but also for the towns. The state tinkered with the share going to towns and eventually took it all. Starting in 1995, state lawmakers decided to bring back some degree of revenue sharing.

They created a formula that started small, but dedicated most of the annual rise in revenue toward increasing the share sent to the towns. In theory, the town share of the total revenue would increase until municipalities were finally receiving 40 percent of the total. Right now, they are up to about 25 percent.

In the last budget, the governor originally proposed suspending revenue sharing entirely for two years. In the end, the Legislature proposed freezing it at 2009 levels for two years.

The state canceled the other major municipal revenue sharing program anyway, and lawmakers were convinced they couldn't cut too much more without burdening towns. Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta at the time fought to restore some of the funding for fear of defaulting on the arena's bond payments.

Any revenue sharing program goes up and goes down. This program has a history over 42 years of rising, sometimes declining, sometimes disappearing entirely. Strangely, bondholders were willing to invest in a proposition secured by such an unreliable source.

If the state behaved as it had in the past, payments would go down. If it behaved as most states do in difficult economic times, payments would go down. If the state ever passed a tax cut (less likely), payments would go down.

The city's bond counsel warned the state that changes to state law might cause a lawsuit. He cited a Washington case to suggest the state can't repeal a tax the city used to pay bonds. But while a state might be obligated if it used a tax to secure a bond, it is just not reasonable to think that state action can be vetoed because of what one city decided to do with its aid payment.

Just as important, there's no reason for anyone to be surprised by this action. The governor's spokesman told the Josiah Bartlett Center when we broke the story on Monday that "Moody's raised this as a risky funding scheme when this was put together, pointing out that meals and rooms revenues are not guaranteed to be constant." There's some fear that bondholders might sue, but they knew the risks at the time and don't have much cause for surprise.

The bond counsel's proposed solution is even sillier than a lawsuit. He suggests that the old version of the law be grandfathered for any city that used the payment to secure bonds. In other words, Manchester would be rewarded for taking a risky decision, while the rest of the state would operate under a different law. Payments to your town would be frozen, but not payments to Manchester.

To be fair, paying for the arena is going to be difficult for Manchester, but every city and town in the state faced similar struggles and similar budget uncertainty. Many towns noticed the financial difficulties the state was having. I think I even wrote about it once or twice.

My own town of Canterbury is a good example of the common sense of citizen selectmen. Canterbury is not particularly frugal, just average. Our taxes have gone up by an average 5 percent each year for the last 15 years. But selectmen knew that state aid was going to be cut, so they didn't count on getting it. Instead, they cut the town budget by 6 percent, and the school budget declined as well. The end result was that our property taxes went down by 8 percent, which was needed relief to people fighting a recession.

The recession has been tough on every budget. It was expected that the state would freeze aid. The right approach is the one fiscally responsible towns have taken. Long-term obligations put pressure on the rest of your budget, but it doesn't have to stop you from cutting taxes even when state aid is frozen.

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

Amendment X: Government Transparency in Michigan

Yesterday, we highlighted the fine work being done by the Show-Me Institute to open Missouri government to the public. Today, we look at the Mackinac Center's ongoing battle to shine a light on the hidden workings of Michigan's government. After been given a bill of almost $7 million for a FOIA request.
$6,876,303.90, to be exact. That's what the Michigan Department of State Police is charging for documents that I requested via the Freedom of Information Act regarding the state's handling of federal homeland security grant money from 2002 to present (see image at right). This is definitely a record for Mackinac Center FOIA requests. In fact, this may be a record for any FOIA request. Even the $3,438,151.95 down payment seems likely to be a speck above the average FOIA asking price.
The Michigan bureaucrats who are blocking public access to public records should be promptly removed from public service. Attempting to keep public data hidden away with the rouse of an unpayable price tag is obscene, and should not be tolerated by anyone claiming to value open government.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Too little focus on health costs

BIA President Jim Roche writes in the Concord Monitor on the need to examine the costs of the health care bills making their way through Congress.
It's remarkable, therefore, that health care reform under consideration by our congressional delegation in our nation's capitol seems very likely to add to health care costs, not reduce them. What happened to "bending the cost curve" and eventually lowering it?

Pick your source - the Congressional Budget Office, the Lewin Group, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and others - they conclude that health care reform legislation under consideration will, incredibly, increase costs, not lower them.

Lots of attention is being paid to expanding government programs like Medicaid, or creating new ones like a "public option" insurance plan, to cover more uninsured and underinsured individuals. Unfortunately, the federal government's long track record of grossly under-funding health care providers for their cost of caring for individuals in existing government programs like Medicaid and Medicare makes many employers understandably concerned about expanding them or creating new ones.

More under-funding from the federal government means more cost-shifting to the business community in the form of higher health insurance premiums. How is this reform?

Amendment X: Government Transparency in Missouri

Our colleague Aubrey Spalding at the Show-Me Institute found the state's transparency website lacking, since it didn't allow the public to access the data behind the spending and revenue reports it offered. So she asked for them to do better.
While MAP had readily searchable tables of employee salaries, state spending, tax revenues, and tax credits, the large databases behind those tables weren’t available for download as a whole; instead, they were exportable only in bite-sized tables. This made analyzing, say, state expenditures during the past decade impossible.

I left a voicemail; they left a voicemail. I left another voicemail. And then, on Friday, I was told that the web page was up.

That’s right, not only did the folks at MAP fulfill my request, but they thought they might as well fix this problem for everyone. Here’s the link: http://mapyourtaxes.mo.gov/MAP/Download/Default.aspx. On this page, you can download: state expenditures for the past decade, either by year or as a gigantic database; stimulus revenues and expenditures; a database of employee salaries for the past three years; and the amounts that the state has given away in tax credits during the past decade. Oh, and the spreadsheets for this year are updated each night — so you don’t get stale data.
We need to remind our state officials that such transparency is not only possible; it's necessary.

Watchdog on the Radio- Tuesday Morning Edition

Grant Bosse will join WGIR's Charlie Sherman at 7:37am to discuss his exclusive story on the threat of default on the bonds for the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Mayor-elect Gatsas reacts to possible bond default

(MANCHESTER) Mayor-elect Ted Gatsas says Manchester taxpayers and budget writers won't be on the hook if the bonds on the Verizon Wireless Arena default. The current State Senator and Alderman, and incoming Mayor reacted to the Josiah Bartlett Center 's report that changes in the state budget could prevent the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority from making its bond payments in 2010.

In 2000, the city funded construction of the Civic Center, since renamed the Verizon Wireless Arena, through non-recourse bonds funded through the city's share of Meals and Rooms Tax Revenues. This year's budget capped those revenues for two years. Last week, Moody's Investor Services downgraded the bonds to "junk bond" status, and warned of a possible default next year. But Gatsas is confident that any problems with the arena won't spill over into the city budget.

"These bonds don't affect city's bond capacity or bond rating," Gatsas says.

Gatsas opposed the state budget when the Senate approved HB 2 in June. He spoke out at the time against cutting state revenue sharing to balance the $11.5 billion spending plan.

"The downshifting is something I had a concern with, as does every community in the state," Gatsas added. "With the JUA in question, what would be the next position that the state may take?"

The budget anticipates restoring the old revenue sharing formula in 2012, and Gatsas hopes the temporary suspension will go away as the economy recovers.

"Everyone hopes the economy is going to recover by then," Gatsas explained. "I would share the hope that the economy would change."

Monday, November 9, 2009

WMUR tackles downshifting in Health Care Bill

WMUR's Josh McElveen reports on opposition to the Pelosi Health Care Bill because of its reliance on state budgets to pay for many of its mandates.
The question of what it could cost states has piqued Gov. John Lynch's interest. He spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about his concerns last week.

Analysts said they believe governors will play a major role in health care reform before anything is passed.

"There's little question that the current bill does cost-shift to the states," said Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. "The question is how much. So, I think you are going to see some pressure to try and eliminate some of that cost shifting."

Video at the link.

State Revenue Sharing Decision could Endanger Manchester Arena

The state’s decision to freeze revenue sharing under the Meals and Rooms Tax could endanger the financing for the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. Last week, Moody’s Investors Services downgraded the bonds used to fund the arena, held by the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority, from Baaa3 to Ba2. The lower rating puts the bonds in “non-investment grade” or “junk bond” status, meaning they have only moderate security of future repayment. Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta notified Governor John Lynch of the decision in a letter on Friday.

Read the full story below:
State Revenue Sharing Decision could Endanger Manchester Arena

Mayor Guinta letter to Governor Lynch

Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta's letter to Governor John Lynch concerning the possible default of bonds on the Verizon Wireless Arena.
Guinta Letter 11-06-09

Email from Moody’s Investor Services to William Sanders

Notice from Moody's Investor Services on downgrading the bonds against the Verizon Wireless Arena held by the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Moody's Notice to downgrade bonds on Verizon Wireless Arena

Letter from Robert Beinfield to Walter St. Onge

Manchester Bond Counsel Robert Beinfield's letter outlining the city's concerns with Governor John Lynch's proposal to suspend revenue sharing under the Meals and Rooms Tax.
Beinfield Letter to Walter St. Onge

$700,000 in stimulus for offshore wind turbines

You know what's really going to give the New Hampshire economy an immediate boost? Offshore wind turbines! Because nothing gives small business owners an incentive to grow their workforce like a windmill, in the water. UNH is getting $700,000 from us, through the stimulus package, for an experimental program that anchors wind turbines in deep water to the ocean floor. Seacoast Online reprints the UNH press release.
Within the next year, CORE will install a wind turbine with a 25-foot diameter on a 60-foot tower floating in 170 feet of water just south of the Isles of Shoals, where a mooring grid is already in place – and permitted – from UNH's Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center. The site is six miles offshore and one mile south of White Island. CORE researchers will equip the 10-kilowatt turbine with extensive instrumentation to measure wind, wave, and temperature effects on the turbine itself, the platform on which it floats, and the mooring lines that anchor it to the ocean floor.
I'm sure the folks at UNH are doing good work. Maybe some day, we will be getting 20% of our electricity from windmills, as the Department of Energy hopes. But does this really reach the level of an emergency stimulus package, or is it just another way for Congress to borrow from the future in order to buy support back home?

Telegraph slaps Court over cable ruling

The Nashua Telegraph takes issue with a recent New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling, which decided that a landlord could not cut off an illegal cable hookup from a tenant who had stopped paying the rent.
That’s seems a bit of a stretch. Television and Internet service are not cited in the legislation, and although telephone service is protected, there is no indication that cable was a telephone provider in this case.

If the connection was illegal, as the landlord claims, then it should have been disconnected anyway, making this a poor case upon which to set such a broad precedent if that was the court’s objective.

With this ruling, the court has essentially put cable television in the same category as essentials like water, light and electricity. What’s next? “Cable stamps” for those who can’t afford a hook-up; or Internet assistance for those who qualify for fuel assistance and subsidized school lunch?

City pays consultants $200,000 to find savings

Our friends at the Commonwealth Foundation pass along news that the city of Harrisburg is spending $200,000 on consultants to make the tough decisions for them.
Management Partners, Inc. suggested Lancaster needed to increase service fees and even cut staff. Of the 180 recommendations, the city acted on nearly half.

"Some of them we couldn't implement because of resistance from unions," Gray said. "Some of them we're still looking at and in the process of implementing."
The Commonwealth Foundation offers a radical, alternative approach.
Here is one suggestion: stop spending so much money on consultants ... or eliminate the budget office that can't do the job itself.

Amendment X: Education Reform in Wisconsin

Bill Osmulski at the MacIver Institute reports that Wisconsin Republicans are taking up President Obama's call for education reform.

Wisconsin Republicans say they like what the President has to say about the need for education reform, even more so than state Democrats do. Only time will tell if it stays that way. Over the last 24 hours, WEAC's clout helped block sweeping merit pay reforms from passing in the legislature, while more modest changes were accepted.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Book Review- Super Freakonomics

The LA Times' Gregory Hess pens a useful review of Steven D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dubner's Super Freakonomics, the follow-up to 2005's best-seller Freakonomics.
The world, however, has changed since "Freakonomics," and now everyone questions the worthiness of economists during our current financial crisis. Can the Steves help us get our economic groove back? Yes. But let's first begin with what the authors do not claim to be, and what the book is not about -- they do not pretend in "Super Freakonomics" to be our economic saviors. They don't provide solutions to the financial crisis, subprime debt, CEO compensation or a template for healthcare reform.

Rather, the Steves wryly, humorously and almost sadistically remind us that we are slaves to our own failures to parse situations into basic economic components. They consider three key areas: first, we must understand individual incentives and how this drives strategic behavior; we also need to understand market behavior and how changes in government policy or social culture can help us to better understand individual incentives; and third, little can be understood without finding some data and thoughtfully dissecting it.

The examples the authors use in "Super Freakonomics" won't disappoint, though these are now more concentrated on edgier topics. Prostitution, terrorism and the altruistic indeterminacy of just about everything form much of the landscape in this book. Topics are simultaneously interesting and profoundly disturbing -- in other words, freaky. The book runs the gamut on prostitution -- from pimps to chimps -- teaching us about the hidden excitement of old-time Chicago family summer gatherings and that policemen enjoy more than just doughnuts on patrol. We also learn who becomes a terrorist and how they could hide themselves better from the prying eyes of cyber-profilers just by covering their spending and demographic trails. Grim stuff.
Freakonomics was a phenominal read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to think differently about complex problems. I haven't read the sequal yet, but I was certainly looking forward to it.

State backing loan for Claremont newspaper

Further down in Kevin Landrigan's Sunday column is a note on a the Executive Council backing a loan for the new owners of the Claremont Eagle Times.
Sign of the Times

The council approved a state guarantee loan of up to $250,000 for the new publishers of the resurrected Claremont Eagle Times.

The loan is for working capital for Eagle Printing and Publishing, the company linked to the Pennsylvania media group that emerged as the suitor after its previous ownership sought bankruptcy protection four months ago.

The lenders will pay an interest rate of 5 percent for the first year and following that, the prime lending rate plus 1.25 percent.

For its part, the guarantee makes the state liable for up to 75 percent of any amount on which the group defaults.
Putting New Hampshire taxpayers on the hook for a private business is a fundamentally bad idea, especially since the loan is at the whim of elected officials rather than through an independant revolving loan fund. The implications of a newspaper existing because of the generosity of politicians is even more disturbing.

NH’s battle with feds over cash continues

Kevin Landrigan reports on New Hampshire ongoing battle with the federal government over Medicaid payments.
The feds’ decision against the state’s claim was made on several grounds, among them that the state’s tax on hospital revenues used to generate bonus state Medicaid payments is invalid.

Then, state Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen argued that the tax isn’t on income or profit, but on hospital revenues, and therefore, an appropriate expense to claim.

For years, the state’s argument has been that the federal government has changed the rules of the reimbursement game and tried to apply them retroactively to New Hampshire.

Meet the New Press Podcast

Grant Bosse joins Doug and Skip to talk about the Manchester Spending Cap, the latest Unemployment numbers, new media, and Health Care.

Part 1

Part 2

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Note to Washington: Stop Helping

Remember how the stimulus was supposed to keep unemployment under 8%?

Thanks to Innocent Bystanders, which updates this chart every month.

A Side Note on the Administration’s Defense of the Stimulus. The President and his economic team have claimed that the plan is working as intended, that they’re on track to save the original goal of 3.6 million jobs, but somehow, despite practically drowning in success, we’re going to have to live with high unemployment for years to come. Oh, and that everything is still Bush’s fault.

These claims have been debunked by a variety of sources, including the AP (and here), the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and blogs such as Political Math.

Federal Strings Trip New Hampshire Job Corps Center

Union Leader reporter Jim Fennell reports that the U.S Department of Labor has canceled the bid process for a Job Corps Center in Manchester, following a disputer over whether union work rules would have allowed any New Hampshire firms to build it.
Anagnost said he spent most ofAC yesterday trying to find out when or if the bid process would restart. He also said he called on the help of the state's four legislators in Washington, D.C.

The Labor Department's decision came a day short of one month after North Branch Construction of Concord filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. North Branch decried the Labor Department's requirement for a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that the contractor contends mandates following union rules and paying into union benefit funds as a condition for bidding on the project.
The rules virtually disqualified every construction company in New Hampshire from bidding on the project. The Labor Department canceled the bid a day before they were required to respond to the North Branch complaint.