Archive for June, 2011

The results are in: Virginia is the most business-friendly state in the union. New Hampshire is 17th.

The rankings come from CNBC, based on criteria such as the cost of doing business, infrastructure, education, access to capital, and quality of life, in a special report released June 28.

An article in the Union Leader two days later said “The Granite State easily outpaced four other New England states. Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island scored near the bottom of the list.”

But before you gloat about the “New Hampshire Advantage,” what about New England’s sixth state, Massachusetts?

The despised People’s Republic of Taxachusetts came in 11 spots ahead of the Granite State at number six. How could that be? Could CNBC’s methodology have a built-in leftist bias?

Not so much.

“We scored all 50 states on 43 measures of competitiveness developed with input from business groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness,” says a network statement.

For the record, neither the NAM or the Council are bastions of socialism, progressivism, liberalism, Obamaism, or any of those other conservative bugbears.

In fact, the NAM has a history of outright hostility to organized labor and New Deal policies.

The Council on Competitiveness, which includes academics as well as CEOs among its leaders, is perhaps less ideologically bound to the interest of big business. We note though, that its claims to include the “heads of national labor organizations” among its members is a bit of a stretch.  Only one of its eight Board members and one of its 31 Executive Committee members come from unions. No union officials are listed in its General Membership, which includes 90 corporate or academic leaders. None of its 27 National Affiliates are unions.

According to CNBC, “states received points based on their rankings in each metric. Then, we separated those metrics into 10 broad categories.”

The ten categories are: Cost of Doing Business, Workforce, Quality of Life, Economy, Infrastructure & Transportation, Technology & Innovation, Education, Business Friendliness, Access to Capital, and Cost of Living.

Union membership is a negative in the “workforce” category.

“While organized labor contends that a union workforce is a quality workforce, that argument, more often than not, doesn’t resonate with business,” says CNBC.  This is really no surprise.  That rankings reveal little correlation to the presence of “right to work” laws, which make it harder for unions to organize, is at least worthy of note. 

So how does Massachusetts, with its above average union density and its reputation for high taxes and burdensome regulation score so high?

Massachusetts ranks particularly well in education (4th), technology and innovation (3rd), and access to capital (2nd).

New Hampshire ranks in the top five in only one category, the much heralded and vague “quality of life,” in which the Granite State is number two.

Perhaps New Hampshire’s real advantage is its proximity to Massachusetts.

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Published June 20, 2011 in Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/263820/state-facing-compassion-deficit)

Budget fails the common-sense test

New Hampshire legislators may have produced a balanced budget, but they have left the state with deficits in other areas that will be harder to close than a fiscal gap.

Starting from Gov. John Lynch’s budget, which cut state spending by 5 percent, the House and Senate cut deeper. By the time they were done, state spending levels were cut by somewhere between 11 and 13 percent, depending on whose figures you are using.

Whatever the numbers, the damage includes:

• Elimination of the "Unemployed Parents" Program, which will end cash assistance and employment training to more than 250 two-parent families, more than one-third of them refugees;

• Changes in eligibility rules for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ending benefits to 1100 families in which a member is also receiving disability benefits;

• Changes in Aid for the Permanently and Totally Disabled that will affect more than 400 families a year.

These cuts take cash out of poor people’s empty pockets.

Then there are the cuts to programs, such as those provided by New Hampshire Legal Services, which help indigent people get access to benefits or stay in their homes. There are cuts to hospital reimbursements. Massive cuts to the university system will secure New Hampshire’s status as the state with the lowest level of support for higher education.

State funding will end for sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment and HIV counseling, testing and referral services. The funds now provide support for 20 clinics statewide, which together served 6,000 people last year and which up to this point have been able to provide services regardless of ability to pay.

Every cut is also a pink slip to a state worker or someone who works for an agency that provides services. More than 200 state workers will lose their jobs. The number of those who lose jobs at private agencies will be higher and harder to count.

The agreed-upon budget restores some funding to mental health, disability and elder services programs that were slashed by the House but still leave them with fewer resources than they have at present. The House language which would have effectively ended collective bargaining for public sector workers is gone, but a study committee on the topic has been created and more than 15 bills on this theme have already been filed for next year. Plans to ship up to 600 prisoners to for-profit institutions in other states have been put on hold, but the Department of Corrections has been ordered to study the idea and take bids from private firms.

The provision to weaken the historic responsibility of cities and towns to provide emergency assistance to their residents was deleted.

Yes, it could have been worse, but that is small consolation to workers losing their jobs, poor people losing benefits, students whose already high tuition will spike, and everyone who needs or might need help addressing illness or disability.

We may enter July without a fiscal deficit, but the budget has opened up a compassion deficit that is gaping wider than ever. Saying, as some legislators have, that aid for the needy should be the responsibility of private charities and religious congregations is a moral cop-out. As Dick Ober, president of the state’s largest philanthropic organization says of the possibility that churches and charities would pick up the slack, "This is simply not possible."

The state will also see a widening social justice deficit, with more people vulnerable to falling through the holes in the social safety net and turning to their local governments for emergency assistance.

We also face a huge common-sense deficit. According to a Census report for last November, New Hampshire tops the states in median household income.

It is simply foolish to say we do not have the resources to do better.

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The headline is today’s NH Union Leader is “Encouraging numbers in state’s unemployment rate.” 

For the second month in a row, New Hampshire Democratic and Republican leaders boasted that their policies were responsible for a drop in the unemployment rate, despite figures which show a lower number of jobs.

According to the report on May employment released yesterday by the Bureau of Economic and Labor Statistics, the number of employed residents dropped by 1460 from April to May, while the number counted as unemployed dropped by 520.  The net effect is a change in the “preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate” from 4.9% to 4.8%. 

“This is clear evidence that our economic strategy here in New Hampshire is working,” said Gov. John Lynch, to the news that the state had fewer jobs in May than it did in April.

“It is encouraging to see more New Hampshire residents going back to work,” said House GOP Leader D.J. Bettencourt, likewise ignoring the statistics while praising his party’s role in bringing them about.  “The New Hampshire Advantage is real and is tangible and we must continue to protect and preserve it.  Less government, lower taxes and less spending results in greater job growth.” 

To be fair, the statistics do show a 1% increase in jobs over the past 12 months.  But it’s the unemployment rate that’s getting the attention it doesn’t quite deserve.  

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gop debate 2011 06 13 at sullivan arena

Retirement Security is the Theme of Non-GOP Contingent

If the official kick-off of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary Campaign is any indication, the quadrennial circus will be less exciting than those in recent memory.

While ticket-holders strolled to the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College this eveninggop debate 2011 06 13 002 for the first New Hampshire debate of the campaign season, a crowd of perhaps 150 people waved signs and chanted in the designated “campaign visibility area.”  And a third of them were associated with Democratic and progressive activist groups.

MaryLou Beaver, who brought signs from her group, Every Child Matters, agreed with me that the turnout was a lot smaller than at the first St. Anselm debates four years ago.

Seven candidates are debating this evening:  Mitt Romney, the current front-runner, plus Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum.  Of the gang of seven, Santorum and Paul had the largest turnout of sign-wavers.  Romney supporters were surprisingly scarce. 

Gary Johnson, who was excluded from the debate by its media sponsors,gop debate 2011 06 13 001 had a few supporters with signs.  Jon Huntsman, who has not yet formally declared his intent to run and chose to stay out of tonight’s show, had no visible presence.

Vermin Supreme, a perennial prankster candidate, showed up in the parking lot (that’s another term for “campaign visibility area”) dressed as Uncle Sam in place of his usual boot-hat.   

Most members of the non-GOP contingent carried signs protesting Republican assaults on Medicare and Medicaid.  Printed signs, reading “Hands off My Medicare” and “Hands Off My Medicaid,” came from Americans United for Change, a group tied closely to the Democratic Party and to Organizing gop debate 2011 06 13 016for America, the Obama administration’s permanent “grassroots” campaign.  Their most animated chant was “Obamacare Romneycare,” the point of which escapes me. 

A smaller contingent with hand-made signs came from the Granite State Organizing Project’s “Strengthen Our Communities” campaign, also focused on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  After an hour in the penned in “free speech zone,” the ten activists ambled back to St. Anselm Drive, where they would be visible to motorists passing by or driving onto campus fgop debate 2011 06 13 015or the debate.  

There, a Goffstown police officer told them they did not have permission to stand on a public sidewalk and would have to return to the “campaign visibility area.”  Fortunately, campus security received a call from the Chief of Police affirming the right to assemble on public property before confrontation escalated beyond words.  

Eileen Brady, one of the GSOP members, recalled going to work in a Manchester hospital in 1966, when Medicare went into effect.  “Before then people just died,” she said.  “Now, they can actually get medical care.” 


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A friend who works for the State of New Hampshire writes:

“Legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said ‘all politics is local’ by which he meant that politics is about people, about relationships between neighbors and colleagues, discussions at work, in the board room, the bedroom, at coffee shops, and town meetings. Given recent New Hampshire politics, I think Tip was right on.

“Lately, AFSC has been providing detailed updates about the local politics of the NH State House and Senate, which I’ve been reading, as an insider. I am a state employee, painfully aware of the impact of budget cuts on state agencies, the programs they run, and the people they serve. I also am aware, while reading AFSC’s updates, of what can’t easily be communicated. The personalities of the politicians, the relationships between state and federal funding, the ‘Sophie’s choices’ that agency heads have had to make as they are forced to present ever-smaller budgets for legislative review.

“There’s also the posturing, the bullying, the backroom deals, the despair, and the layoffs and early retirements of talented and dedicated colleagues.

“None of these things are immediately obvious from the outside, but what’s happening in Concord adds up to the biggest and most dramatic attack on public services and deterioration in the legislative process since the mid-70s. Really, it’s that bad.

“The impact of these changes will be felt by people and communities around the state. Yes, times are tough and we must make difficult choices, but the legislature is making the wrong ones over and over again. Unless they hear from constituents – that means you, me, the local baker, the woman who cuts your hair, your Facebook friends – Republican legislators will continue to believe that they have a mandate to essentially dismantle the social institutions that rely on public funding.”

At this point I need to interject that there are, in fact, some stalwart Republicans who have been resisting their party’s majority and its leaders.  They are putting up a valiant fight for the rights of public sector workers and for the maintenance of a safety net.  They used to be called “moderates,” but the center has shifted so far to the right that I’m not sure that term still applies.

My friend continues:

“I’m talking about our public education system – there are literally proposals to eliminate the Department of Education, various social services for children, the handicapped, the elderly, and the mentally ill. They are decimating funding for the enforcement of rules relating to clean water, fisheries, and other environmental resources. Even prisons and police programs are not off limits. While you might think otherwise, the Republican leaders are actually very open about their intentions, which are aimed at shrinking the role of state government to a size that has not been seen in well over a century.

“And frankly, they’re not meeting enough resistance from the electorate to slow them down much.

“Politics is local because it’s at the local level that impact is ultimately felt, and where people get motivated to get speak up. You don’t have to be an expert in state politics to call your legislator and tell them that you support state programs, state employees, and a robust and effective state government that’s there for its residents, its businesses, and the communities they call home. Many Republicans are cowed by their leadership, and are falling in line because they don’t have much of a choice. An influx of calls from constituents respectfully expressing their opinion can actually give them the cover to vote a different way, but the calls they are getting are from tea party activists, by and large. They need to hear from the rest of us, and often. If you haven’t yet expressed your opinion to your legislator, now’s the time. Don’t wait for the next election, too much is at stake right now.”

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Early in 2011, when Governor John Lynch released his budget proposal for the two years that begin July 1, he cut the line item for NH Legal Services by 5%.  The agency, which provides crucial assistance in civil legal matters to poor residents of the state, would get just under $1.4 million in state funds. 

Then the House went at the governor’s budget with an axe.  By the time they were done,  the legal services appropriation was gone altogether.  Other programs benefiting poor, disabled, and mentally ill residents were deeply slashed.  Funding for higher education, cultural programs, and public television likewise saw deep cuts.  

Human service advocates, marching under the banner, “New Hampshire Can Do Better,” called on the Senate to throw out the House budget and start over.  The more c11-#1ompassionate Senate, to its credit, did give the budget a close re-examination.  When it came to legal services, they voted to restore $700,000, half the amount the House cut from the already reduced budget. 

That was just one of the differences between the House and Senate budgets that the two chambers appointed a Committee of Conference to resolve.   The five Representatives and three Senators are supposed to complete their work by Thursday, June 16, in order to meet legislative deadlines and get a budget to the Governor in time for him to sign and put into effect by July 1.   They are going through the budget, line by line. 

A friend told me today she will lose her job when the state closes all 14 clinics for people with sexually transmitted diseases on July 1.  Another friend says 1100 families will get kicked off TANF when the Department of Health and Human Services  changes eligibility rules to save money.  More than 250 two-parent families are likely to lose cash assistance for families in which both parents are unemployed or under-employed. 

Today, House members of the conference committee agreed to the Senate’s line item on legal services, i.e. a cut of more than 50% from current levels.  In this legislative session, supporters of New Hampshire’s shredded safety net will probably call that a victory. 

And that’s sad.   Maybe we’re all numbed or stunned, but the outrage at the House budget, expressed by the 5000 people who rallied on the State House lawn March 31, is not much in sight. 

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The first debate of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary season is Monday, June 13, at St. Anselm College, from 8 to 10 PM.   Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are expected to participate.  The debate’s sponsors are CNN, the NH Union Leader, and WMUR-TV, which together set the criteria for participation. 

The College has established guidelines for what they call the “Campaign Visibility Area” in the parking lot by Baroody Hall, across from the debate site at Sullivan Arena.  “It will include all groups and campaigns wishing to express their free speech rights. It’s the ONLY area where visibility and signs will be permitted on campus,” say the guidelines.

This is a curious use of the term “free speech.”  

Since the guidelines are not posted on the web-site of the college or the sponsors, I thought you might like to see them:   

Guidelines: Saint Anselm College has a strict NO SIGNS on Saint Anselm College property policy. This includes signs and banners on campus buildings. Anyone violating any of the rules below, or engaging in disruptive behavior, can and will be asked to leave the CVA and Saint Anselm property immediately. Any of the above rules can be altered at any point before or during the debate due to safety or other concerns.

· No bands (marching or other)

· No megaphones or amplified noise

· No noisemakers

· Balloons are permitted

· Homemade signs are permitted, as long as they meet above criteria

· T-shirts, stickers, sandwich boards are permitted

· No weapons, fireworks, animals

· No grills/cooking devices

· No alcohol

· No lights or candles

· No glass containers

· Please use available trash containers and leave the CVA as clean as when you entered it

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