Why I am voting against the 2018-2019 NH Budget

There are key elements in this year’s budget that make it impossible for me to support it. Regardless of what appears to be short term gains, the long term results are very serious deficiencies further down the road.

In particular:

The Republicans are very proud of their reductions of the Business Profit Tax and the Business Enterprise Tax. The total cost of lost revenue over years is estimated to be around $650 million. The problem is there is no plan to replace that money. The loss of that  money, which is used to support current programs, means the cost of those programs will be downshifted to local government and that means that property taxes will likely rise. That means that while business may get a reduction in their taxes, the rest of us will end up paying higher property taxes.

The proposed budget for the university system is flat funded, which realistically means that due to inflation, they are actually taking a cut in funding. That coupled with the fact that monies from the Governor’s Scholarship Fund can go to private colleges makes the reduced funding of the university system unacceptable.

For reasons only political, the budget includes the Hyde Amendment, which says that federal monies cannot go to pay for abortions. That is a federal requirement and including it in the state budget has no meaning except to further politicize the budget process and symbolically undermine women’s rights.

Development Disabilities services will be under funded to the tune of $36 million. After important work to reduce the number of people who are on a waiting list for services, this reduction will cause that wait list to grow by the hundreds.

Pay increases for those who work in the mental health field were eliminated.

Retired state employees under the age of 65  will see their health care benefit costs increase from 17.5% to 20% . Those over 65, who now pay nothing,  will have to pay 10%.  This is a broken promise the state made to those employees, who worked for the state for the duration of their careers, accepting lower salaries because they were guaranteed additional retirement benefits to compensate for the lower wages. This is just plain wrong.

There are other reasons, but these are the highlights, or the lowlights, of the proposed state budget and the reasons why I cannot in good conscience vote for it.

 

 

Posted on 20 Jun 2017, 18:33 - Category: Politics



Fisher and the Red Pill

A tisket a tasket and tit for tat.

Most people are aware of the controversy surrounding Representative Fisher and his connection  to the misogynistic website the Red Pill,  a demeaning site which  promotes violence against women. During a recent NH House session a motion was made to hold a hearing regarding Rep Fisher’s comments about women and his ties to this site. In a move that was a transparent, and shabby,  tit for tat, another representative put forth a motion to investigate Representative Sherry Frost at the same time because of some of Frost’s tweets. I assumed, as did a number of other representatives, that these tweets were made in response to The Red Pill and Frost’s condemnation of a site so vulgar and insulting to women. This was not the case. Instead the tweets were made months prior to the news about Rep. Fisher and completely unrelated.

The result was one motion, which passed,  to hold two hearings for two individuals on completely unrelated issues. I am not aware of any situation where two individuals would be lumped together unless the two offenses were somehow related. Because the two hearings were unrelated, we were instructed  not to make comparisons between the comments of the two representatives. However, since this was most obviously an eye for an eye, it seems that some comparison is appropriate at this point, to put in perspective the difference between the two.

Fisher’s comments promoted violence against women. He is quoted as saying "Rape isn't an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he'd say it's quite good, really.” Rep. Frost said after one of our more frustrating session days, she was feeling “homicidal.” This is hyperbole; Fisher’s comment condoned rape. Fisher said that in order to commit rape, one only needs “roofies” and “duct tape.”  Frost used the f-word. Fisher said women have “sub-par intelligence” which only demonstrates Fisher’s sub-par intelligence. Frost made the comment that terrorists are “mostly white, Christian men.” which is, in fact and sadly, true.

At the hearing for Frost, one element I found to be quite extraordinary was the vagueness of the allegations against her. Cilley asked Rep. Hinch, the chair of the Legislative Administration committee, if he could articulate exactly what the allegations were and on what information the final report on Frost would be based. Rep. Hinch seemed unable to do so and resorted to obfuscation, a device used when your goal is to confuse people even more.  He succeeded. He said that the report presented to the house would be “relative to the merits of the allegations made.” Pressed further as to what those allegations were, he said the allegations were “relative to the remarks we have seen on public websites.” Lot of relating going on here but not a lot of content.

This is not just about freedom of speech. Pretty much anyone can say anything in the world of the internet. These days, the wide open frontier of the internet requires us to show a little intelligence and proportion. Some people may have found Frost’s use of the word “homicidal” and bit extreme, but it was clearly used as a figure of speech and she was not actually homicidal. Fisher flat out has condoned rape. Frost may have shown impatience which could have been interpreted as unprofessional, but Fisher directly and indirectly incites violence towards women.  In my view, Frost’s tweets are quite tame compared to many others. Fisher’s are deliberately degrading towards women. A representative of the government who unswervingly promotes a culture of rape and misogyny should be at the very least censured.  Frost’s remarks, while perhaps a bit insensitive, do not rise to the level where attention is required, in my view. Instead, the two and a half hours of her hearing could have been better spent in silent contemplation of the meaning of justice and perspective. No sensible person would be unduly alarmed at Frost’s comments. Fisher’s however, present a real threat and one that has been trolling around on the internet for many years now, with Fisher's’ apparent full support and encouragement.

In the end the Legislative Administration office chose to take no action against Fisher or Frost. The most bizarre event was reported in a press release from the House Democratic Office.  Although during the Frost hearing people were cautioned that they could not refer to anything that was said during the hearing for Fisher,  “Before the final vote, Chairman Hinch ruled that the two members must be considered together under a single recommendation and that the minority would not be allowed publish a minority report.” These procedural shenanigans are a transparent, high-handed attempt to control the outcome, and they seriously undermine the credibility of the committee. The final vote on Fisher is a whitewash of his egregious positions toward women. And, in a hearing about free speech, which deliberately limited free speech, free speech was further hogtied because the minority was prevented from presenting their report. The final irony is that after all this, Fisher did have the good sense to resign his seat.

 

Posted on 17 May 2017, 20:38 - Category: NH Legislature



Right To Work

It is hard to find information that is not slanted one way or the other. Sometimes it is misleading while other times, it is just plain untrue, if not deliberately false. It is human nature to seek out information that supports our views but it is important to suppress that tendency in the search fact. Where all fashion of information and mis-information is available, it becomes our responsibility to use our abilities and intelligence to discern what is accurate and what is not. It is also important that we consider consequences of particular proposals and arguments. I found this especially confounding with regard to Right to Work laws.

The New Hampshire Senate recently supported passage of Right to Work in New Hampshire.  This was done in the face of significant and united opposition from the workers who would be negatively impacted by this legislation.

I attended several hours of the committee hearing. Some of the arguments for Right to Work bordered on the comical, likening unions to kidnappers and rogue taxi drivers. Other arguments, which sounded reasonable, had nothing to do with the proposed legislation. Arguments against Right to Work were often a little vague for my taste. So I set out to educate myself.

By and large, arguments for Right to Work claim that, because NH is not a Right to Work state, businesses are not moving here and NH businesses are not growing. However, when one examines what businesses actually say are the barriers to relocation or growth, high utility costs and the lack of a trained workforce lead the list, not RTW (Right to Work). Also on the list of concerns is lack of access to transportation, lack of affordable housing, and quality of education. This is according to articles in the Boston Globe, Seacoast online, and NH Business Review. Most business owners surveyed in NH do not list Right to Work as a barrier to growth.

I looked for articles that support Right to Work. When reading one article, I felt as if I was part of a verbal shell game. This article by James Sherk (Heritage.org) listed “myths” of RTW as reasons why unions are opposed to it. In debunking such “myths” the author put forth arguments that have nothing to do with the so-called myths, but sounded like they did.

For instance, the article says the claim that RTW legislation would prohibit unions is not true. Right, technically, RTW does not prohibit unions. RTW weakens them. The article goes on to say that RTW makes paying dues voluntary. But, RTW does not make paying dues voluntary because they already are voluntary. The author gives credit to RTW for the status quo which is ludicrous. It is like giving credit to birds for the sky being blue. Joining a union is not required for employment in any field. Dues are voluntary.

Further the author talks about the “myth”that RTW lowers wages and answers that by saying that, while wages are indeed lower in RTW states, that does not matter because buying power is the same or higher in RTW states. That is not the same thing. According to Jared Bernstein, buying power is tied to falling prices and working longer hours. Lower wages are still lower wages, and when wages are lower than they used to be, buying power is also decreased. Having to work longer hours in order to maintain buying power is not a benefit.

The claim that the majority of Americans support RTW legislation is also misleading, because that was not the question asked. The Gallup poll cited by Sherk asked whether or not Americans felt that workers should be forced to join a union, which does not translate into support of RTW. Union membership is not only not required but it is illegal to attempt to force any person to join a union.

The essential question to be asked is whether or not non-union workers should be charged for benefits they receive that the union negotiates for on their behalf. Unions are required to represent all workers, regardless of whether or not that worker is a union member. However, as non-union members benefit to the same extent as union members, unions charge what amounts to a “service fee” for negotiating those benefits. These benefits include wage increases, vacation, health benefits, and workplace safety. As part of the contract, the union and the employer negotiate an amount that will be charged to all workers to pay for the cost of that representation. This is referred to as a union security clause. These fees allow the union to pay for the costs of collective bargaining. In the end, whatever fees are charged are much lower than the benefits these workers receive through collective bargaining in the way of higher wages. Without this mechanism in place, wages for all workers across the state would be lower, union shop or not. For each individual worker, this service charge pays for itself many times over.

The effect of Right to Work is that it allows workers who are not union members to avoid paying for this service, a practice referred to as “free loading.” The result is that unions are weakened as the amount of money they can collect to pay for their work is reduced and at some point, maintaining the union becomes untenable. And what happens when there is no union representation? Wages are lower and workers have little recourse to protest.

It is also worth noting that it appears to be the business owners who are the ones leading the charge and not the workers themselves. Business owners have always disliked unions and have continually looked for ways to diminish their ability to broker for higher wages and better working conditions. RTW is merely another attempt to undermine the good work that unions do on the behalf of every worker, union members or not. RTW is not really about these service   charges, but an attempt to weaken union’s ability to collective bargain for better wages and a safer work environment for everyone.

One article I read likened this situation to that of paying taxes. If paying taxes were a voluntary activity, most people would opt out.  What, then, would happen to the services that we all use, paid for by taxes, such as police and fire protection, or roads? With a smaller pool pitching in to help defray these costs, we would soon not have much in the way of a police force.  A diminished fire department would not be able to respond to fires in the way that we have come to expect. Roads would eventually become unusable. As we all benefit, we do not consider it unreasonable that we all pitch in and we can appreciate what would happen if this was not the case.

If taxpayers are not happy with how taxes are used, they have the opportunity to elect new representatives. If workers do not think union leadership is achieving satisfactory results on their behalf, new leadership is elected.

It is not exactly the same thing as unions, but there are parallels. If a union cannot pay for what it costs the union to collective bargain on the behalf of everyone, as stated by law, then all workers would suffer with the same lower wages and reduced benefits. This is exactly what has happened in RTW states. Wages are lower for all workers in those states.

The most comprehensive study I found on the effects of RTW was from the Economic Policy Institute, in an article called “Right-to-Work States Still Have Lower Wages,” written by Elise Gould and Will Kimball, April 22, 2015. These researchers concluded that, “No matter how you slice the data, wages in RTW states are lower, on average, than wages in non-RTW states.”

They go on to say that “these results do not just apply to union members, but to all employees in a state. Where unions are strong, compensation increases even for workers not covered by any union contract, as nonunion employers face competitive pressure to match union standards. Likewise, when unions are weakened by RTW laws, all of a state’s workers feel the impact.”

In the end, according to Brad Plummer from the Washington Post, however you look at it, the bottomline is “business owners gain, and workers lose.”

Posted on 23 Jan 2017, 16:35 - Category: Politics



Human Trafficking

There is a bill before the legislature to study decriminalization of prostitution. The bill is broadly written to address many concerns. My concern is specifically focused on the protection of victims of human trafficking. Currently victims are often treated as the criminals. A study is in order to examine the negative consequences to victims of current laws. I strongly believe that making prostitution legal is not the answer, but we must consider how we can protect victims of trafficking. States vary in the ways they address this issue from having no protection for victims to having Safe Harbor laws which try but do not always succeed in their efforts to protect. In the end my primary concern is protection and justice for victims.

I will have an update after the initial hearing. My hope is that a study would promote discussion of the heinous act of human trafficking that most of us wish we could ignore.

Posted on 15 Jan 2017, 10:25 - Category: NH Legislature



Value of Truth

A serious and tragic casualty of the 2016 election is the possible death of Fact, as well as her close companion, Truth. Trump has no regard for facts and wants no one around him who does. He has no qualms about tweeting anything that pops into his head regardless of impact or veracity. He says whatever is expedient for him at the time, or worse, what amuses him or what he thinks will amuse and capture the attention of those who are taken in by his persona, regardless of accuracy or truth.

He surrounds himself with toadies who back him up. In a recent interview with Diane Rehm, Scottie Nell Hughes, a political correspondent and Trump supporter, drove a stake through the heart of truth. She announced to the entire listening audience that “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, as facts.”

What matters now, Hughes suggested, is not whether something is true but instead how many people believe it to be true. Trump followers are happy to accept anything he tweets, but anyone who points out the falseness of what he says is accused of not telling the truth. In their upside down world, those who speak the truth are the liars, as opposed to those who are in fact telling the lies.

Here is a fact. Hughes is wrong. There is such a thing as fact, and fact is, Donald Trump lies, as when he put forward the absurd notion that President Obama was not born in the United States. Or when he claimed there was voter fraud in Virginia and New Hampshire when there is not a shred of evidence to support such a claim.  He takes the position that if he wins, there is no fraud, but when he loses, then there is fraud. He is not only a poor loser but also a poor winner.

Kellyanne Conway put it this way in an interview with  Mika Brzezinski, on "Morning Joe,” saying it is not really a lie when Trump says something untrue because he does not really know that what he is saying is not the truth. Perhaps he should find out before he starts tweeting in the middle of the night. It is an understatement to say that the press has been kind to Trump regarding some of the outrageous things he has said, but I think they finally realize they cannot continue doing that. When Trump says something that is patently untrue, it is the job of the press to call it out. Perhaps this is one reason Trump said he would like to limit freedom of the press. He has taken the position that journalists can say whatever they want and “get away with it” although this also is simply not true and why some people fear that we might well turn into a fascist state.

This begs the question of whether or not truth matters. The answer is of course it does. Lies and this fake news have serious consequences. How is it possible that citizens in the United States, who have presumably benefitted by our educational system, are unable to discriminate between real news and fake news.

Case in point is the person who recently stormed a pizza place after reading a false news report that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring from a pizza parlor. Who in the world with anything that even resembles a brain would think such a ridiculous proposition could be true. And beyond that, what kind of  person takes it upon himself to go and investigate such nonsense and brings a gun to boot? It is not only staggering to imagine such idiocy in the American populace but also downright frightening that people are acting on false news.

It is not just the truth that has been compromised. Civilized behavior and respect for others have been kicked to the side of the road as well. Kellyanne Conway says that since Trump is the president-elect whatever he does is presidential behavior. I don’t recall her saying anything like that when Mr. Clinton was president. She goes even further when she says that, “When the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”

Lewandowski, the quintessential yes-man, blames the press for making his boss look bad. He said “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally.” I remember a past student who in a moment of frustration said “Don’t listen to what I say, listen to what I mean.” It really does not work that way. You had better mean what you say and be clear about it especially when speaking to the press. Their job is to report what you say, not to try to figure out what you might have meant.

This is a call to action. When you hear a false statement, say so and back it up. Truth is not something achieved through popular opinion. Truth is supported by reality. Facts are in fact verifiable. One cannot toss out a statement without evidence to back it up and expect that people will accept it as truth. It is imperative that we name this and stand up for truth, for facts, for the essential value of knowledge. This is our civic duty as citizens.  We must do this because if this nonsense persists, we will most surely fall into a period of dark ages where lies, ignorance and superstition become reality.

Truth will need our support over the next couple of years. Truth needs us to counter false statements, and false news put out by those who seek to plant poisonous seeds which will grow into movements that will undermine the very values that make the United States the country that it is, the country our forefathers intended. Those who deny truth under the guise of patriotism are those seeking to destroy it. Without our courage to stand up to this assault, we will not be able to blame only Trump and his cabinet of incompetents but also ourselves for not speaking out should things go sideways. The only way to maintain our essential humanity and the integrity of our souls is to speak truth, based in fact. This takes courage and effort but this country is worth it. We cannot let Truth down.

Posted on 16 Dec 2016, 12:04 - Category: Politics



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