- Associated Press - Friday, June 2, 2017

MAINE

Portland Press Herald, June 2

Man’s use of fossil fuels is warming the planet, and the warming is happening faster in the Gulf of Maine than in almost any other spot.

We have already seen the results with the disappearance of the shrimp fishery and the failure of cod stocks to rebound, despite years of strict conservation measures.

Lobstermen are praying that the shell diseases that have wiped out their competition in the warmer waters of Long Island Sound don’t make their way up the coast. Far from shore, milder winters have caused tick populations to explode, devastating the moose population.

And cities and towns are grappling with the planning implications of sea level rise that could reach 4 feet by the end of the century.

So when President Donald Trump says that he’s putting America first by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, we’re not buying it.

He’s certainly not putting Maine first, because the people here are already dealing with the impacts of climate change and are going to be among the first to suffer the consequences when his failure to grasp the nature of this issue has calamitous results.

There are no coal mines in Maine, but even if there were, Maine people have a lot more to gain from a thriving renewable energy industry, where private businesses develop efficient and clean technologies, than they would from the survival of the Rust Belt coal plants that Trump wants to prop up.

A healthy Maine depends on a healthy natural environment to support core industries such as fishing, forestry and tourism. Maine cannot be better off in a world where the United States eschews its leadership role in protecting the environment, giving developing nations license to do the same.

And that’s why it is foolish for Trump to try to go it alone on climate change. It’s not just tailpipe emissions on the Maine Turnpike that are heating up the Gulf of Maine - it’s power plants in China and factories in India. Blunting the trend requires a global effort, and without America, it will not succeed. We have too much at stake to stay out of it.

There is no way to put “Pittsburgh before Paris” when it comes to global warming, as the president promised Thursday. There is only one planet, and its health demands that we put all reasonable effort into reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing global warming.

Climate change is not in Maine’s future - it’s happening right now. We don’t have time to wait.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2sn7LDE

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Portsmouth Herald, June 2

City Manager John Bohenko on Wednesday made clear that Portsmouth taxpayers are not paying for the new Foundry Place garage. Instead, it will be paid by users of it, the city’s other garage and metered spaces.

Parking revenue also pays for other things that keep down residents’ tax bills including a downtown police officer, crossing guards, Percent for Art and downtown snow removal.

“No matter how many times I say it’s coming out of the parking revenue, people still say it’s coming off the tax base,” Bohenko said to the Seacoast Media Group editorial board.

While some may believe they’re paying for the garage that’s not the major issue with Foundry Place. Cost overruns before work begins seem to be.

The New Parking Garage Building Committee met Thursday but did not have final construction bids for the substructure work and it remains unclear how over-budget the project is. The city estimated an overrun of $4 million to $6 million. Garage Project Manager David Allen believes it will be less, but didn’t provide a new estimate. Savings in that area could be whittled away as the city has not yet begun bidding out work on the garage itself and construction costs continue to rise.

Allen, who attended the editorial board meeting, said the garage will open in September or October 2018. That may be optimistic as site work is not even contracted.

When the City Council approved a then-$23.2 million project in May 2015 it did so amid a major downtown parking shortage. More than two years later the city is still awaiting bids for what could be a $27 million project.

Some issues are real while others are a stretch. The Deer Street location serves a developing part of the city and critics overstate its distance from Market Square, contradicting the notion of Portsmouth being a walkable city. Sidewalks may have to be installed and improved to connect the garage to its surroundings, but they should be anyway as the North End is finally developed 50 years after city officials leveled it through urban renewal.

While Bohenko was clear that parkers will pay for the new garage he and other city officials were unclear on the second most important issue. That is whether spaces at Foundry Place will be quickly absorbed by the 305,000 square feet of new mixed-used development planned by Deer Street Associates directly around it. There also wasn’t a clear answer as to what happened to the micro-unit apartments that were part of the proposal that helped build support for the garage. And there are no liner buildings attached to the garage either.

These are real concerns and there shouldn’t be any more surprises with this project.

The second garage remains a sound investment, so long as cost overruns do not get worse. As long as city zoning only requires a development like DSA’s to provide just 168 spaces the city will have to provide them through another way like a parking garage.

Providing and charging for parking makes fiscal sense. As Bohenko pointed out, in the last 10 years, $20.5 million in parking fund revenues have been sent to the general fund and another $6.69 million paid for other city services. You don’t make that in property taxes even on a development like DSA’s or North End Portsmouth.

The city building the parking garage allows it to be separated from the DSA project, which helps break the development into smaller, detached buildings in a way not possible with North End Portsmouth, which includes its own 500-plus space garage.

Foundry Place will not be full the day it opens, but the city needs a practical, actionable plan to increase the supply of parking long-term and it must be careful not to make the cost of parking a deterrent to visiting the downtown.

Online:

https://bit.ly/2qP5PSj

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VERMONT

The Burlington Free Press, May 26

Lawmakers are right to slow down Gov. Phil Scott’s push to force a statewide health insurance plan on public school teachers, a move that raises too many questions about collective bargaining rights and local control to be rushed.

Vermont teachers are switching to a new insurance plan that promises lower costs. Scott wants to make sure some of those savings go toward property tax relief.

The governor wants all teachers to sign on to a statewide insurance plan, something that is currently a part of benefits negotiated between the union and individual districts.

The powers the governor seeks signals altering the basic relationship between educators and local school districts that go far beyond health insurance. Such a big change deserves ample time for consideration.

Scott waited until nearly scheduled end of the legislative session to begin a serious push for his statewide health insurance contract. In the end, the governor chose to hold hostage the state budget - which had near unanimous support in the House and Senate.

The union argues Scott’s proposal would erode local power in contract talks. Who pays how much for health insurance is often a major issue in labor negotiations.

The Scott plan also would put teachers in an odd position of having to negotiate benefits with the state even though they work for local school districts.

No one should be surprised that the Vermont-NEA, the teachers union, sees Scott’s move as a step toward a statewide teachers contract. The governor has said that the statewide property tax system that gives Montpelier control over school funding has largely ended local control.

A compromise plan worked out by the Senate - and rejected by the governor - has the backing of the teachers union, because it keeps health insurance within the collective bargaining structure.

The governor remains intransigent about the state taking control of health care benefits for teachers. That means the issue is mostly about who ends up with the power to negotiate with teachers.

A statewide health insurance plan for public school employees makes sense in the context of rising costs and shrinking student populations. But the governor’s execution made conflict a near certainty.

The idea of reducing taxes idea has broad support. The governor has only his own clumsy execution to blame for the standoff with the Legislature over the initiative.

Online: https://bfpne.ws/2rk9cnO

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CONNECTICUT

The Hartford Courant, June 1

Once again, the siren sounded across Connecticut with news late Tuesday that insurance giant Aetna - a cornerstone of Hartford’s economy and identity for more than 150 years - is considering moving its corporate headquarters and hundreds of high-paying jobs out of state.

Leaders who claim they were deaf to the many warnings that came before this need to drop the facade. The state’s persistent financial woes and refusal to recalibrate to 21st-century realities have been pushing out people and businesses for years. If anyone is still dreaming that all of the state’s problems will be solved with a drive-by casino, legalized marijuana and a few highway toll cameras, they need to wake up.

It’s time for civic leaders to focus on what the state desperately needs: a visionary plan for a thriving future.

The prospect of iconic Aetna moving its headquarters out, like General Electric did more than a year ago, would be a blow to the region’s reputation even if most of Aetna’s nearly 6,000 Connecticut employees remain. It sends a message that Greater Hartford is not a desirable place to work or live.

That message is wrong. Connecticut is still a great place to live. The schools and universities are top-notch, the towns are quaint and quiet, the leaves still change in the fall and the rolling hills are no less lovely. Boston and New York are still just two hours away.

But at the moment, the city of Hartford, a once-proud hub of art, culture and urban amenities, is staring down bankruptcy and struggling to become a destination for young, bright minds.

Hartford can’t compete with major metropolitan centers like Boston or New York in many ways, and nobody is pretending it can. Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said as much in separate statements on Wednesday. But many mid-sized cities are thriving, and Hartford must be a leader among them again.

Before that happens, the state needs to realize the importance of investing in Hartford and ensuring that its financial footing is solid. Hartford needs to be a destination, not a point of departure, for young and old alike.

Mr. Bronin put it well: “We have to recognize that strong, fiscally sound, culturally vibrant metropolitan areas are key to economic growth.”

The seeds of growth are planted. New apartments downtown are filling up, stores are opening, and the University of Connecticut’s Hartford branch is set to open in the fall. Now, legislators have to stop dickering over relatively minor matters and focus on making a real investment in the future. That means not just saving Hartford from bankruptcy but giving it the tools it needs to become a destination, including tax abatements for young workers, incentives for businesses, investment in infrastructure including the XL Center and more.

Creating a path to the future also means solving a problem that has us stuck in the past. For decades, elected officials jeopardized the region’s future by spending too much money on things that haven’t translated into growth, then delaying payments. The tidal wave of bills now rolling in - particularly underfunded pension obligations - is making the state an inhospitable swamp of debt. Mr. Malloy has lately worked to make the burden more manageable, but a proposed deal with state unions that extends their contracts for years is just more of the same. The money simply isn’t there, and the state has greater priorities than providing overly generous benefits for a lucky few.

It’s hard to blame any company, including Aetna, for wanting to be part of a humming metropolis. So it’s time to make one here. The problems of Greater Hartford need to be solved and a clear direction forward identified before other companies decide to move out.

Instead of giving companies reasons to go, let’s give them reasons to stay.

Online: https://cour.at/2rkuvW8

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican of Springfield, June 1

Above all else, and for all the challenges they face, teachers should be expected to be for the kids.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association claims such lofty ideals, but its snub of Sydney Chaffee reveals a much different agenda, and one that should embarrass the state’s largest union of educators.

Chaffee teaches ninth grade English and social studies at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, where she also lives. She is the first national teacher of the year from Massachusetts in 65 years of existence for the award, which is administered by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

That wasn’t enough for Chaffee to merit even a cordial shout-out from the MTA, whose delegates voted against formally congratulating and recognizing her work. This was not an oversight, it was a snub and a selfish, self-serving one at that.

The CCSSO is a nationwide and a non-partisan organization of public officials. That’s more than the MTA can claim.

Chaffee’s egregious flaws apparently begin and end with the fact she teaches in a charter school. Such schools are non-union and Chaffee does not belong to the MTA.

The MTA’s decision was small-minded and political, and exhibits an insecurity that is not in keeping with its status as a voice for children. The union lobbied successfully against the expansion of charter schools in a 2016 referendum voted, but regardless of anyone’s opinions on that issue, Chaffee’s decade of work indicates a dedication to teaching and success in this crucial field.

To recognize that would have cost nothing and not changed the charter debate. The MTA instead chose the low road.

When did dedication to teaching stop being enough for the Massachusetts Teachers Association? The union’s obsessive campaign against charter schools indicates its desire for a monopoly on education - and even if the MTA is justified in this debatable stance, that does not explain or excuse purposely snubbing a talented educator.

The MTA can serve as both a representative for its union members and a voice for education. Its leaders say it does both. The reaction to Chaffee’s award, which should be a source of pride to anyone in Massachusetts who values education, tells a different message.

This was not about the Trump Administration’s avowed support of charter schools. It was not about whether Massachusetts needs more of them. It was not about union versus non-union.

It was a simple recognition of dedicated teaching service over a period of years in a city school. When that stops being good enough for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, it’s time ask who the organization really puts first, and whether its viewpoints should be viewed through a purely political and not an educational lens.

Online: https://bit.ly/2syk6UQ

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal, May 31

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has finally unveiled his plan to phase out Rhode Island’s oppressive and much-hated car tax. Cities and towns would be reimbursed for the lost revenue through state aid. But just where the state is going to find another $221 million by 2024 to replace the lost revenue - especially if the economy goes into a tailspin - is still a matter of guesswork.

That has to be the key to vetting this idea.

If the legislature wants less government, its leaders should map out a means to get there. Or, if it chooses to replace this revenue with new taxes, it should explain to taxpayers which ones, and how.

Simply throwing this out without a full discussion of how to sustain it carries the aroma of political cynicism. The state took this approach before, only to see Gov. Donald Carcieri and the legislature abandon a car tax phaseout when the economy tanked and the cupboard was bare. There are no guarantees such tax cuts go on forever.

The politics are obvious. Speaker Mattiello barely won re-election last November, and to get to the finish line he needed to promise to eliminate the hated tax. He is keeping his pledge.

But, of course, giving the people what they want is a complicated matter.

This involves a judgment by the legislature that a $26 million tax break next year, gradually rising to $221 million a year in 2024 and beyond, would benefit citizens more than maintaining the tax and using that money in a different way - for Medicaid, school repairs, infrastructure, economic development, aid for the needy or a thousand other demands on the public dollar.

A tax cut puts money back in people’s pockets. That undeniably stimulates economic activity, since people have more to spend on goods and services, or to invest in the future. The state needs a stronger economy. But is this the best possible use of those dollars, in terms of improving the Rhode Island economy and its citizens’ lives?

There can be no scientific certitude about the answer. It’s a political question. Still, the debate about Rhode Island’s priorities is an important one, and we encourage the public to weigh in and representatives to consider these matters thoughtfully.

The questions of sustainability and best use of money aside, Mr. Mattiello’s proposal seems a well-constructed one, with a gradual phaseout of the tax through rising minimum exemptions, adjusting car values, and dropping the least valuable and oldest cars off the rolls. That would have the effect of helping the poorest people with the least expensive cars first, notably in the urban core.

The plan calls for reimbursing cities and towns for lost revenue through state aid, using a dedicated percentage of the sales tax. The state does have unusually heavy local taxes, and shifting the burden more toward the state level makes some sense.

But the bottom line for all this must be: Is this the best use of $221 million a year? Is it sustainable? Let the vetting proceed.

Online: https://bit.ly/2qPhiRZ

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