- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017


The Day, May 25

You have to hand it to President Trump. He has delivered a federal budget proposal true to much of his campaign rhetoric and to the ideals voiced by the Republican Party for years.

It would dramatically boost military spending, increase funding for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, largely for border protection and Trump’s wall. It would leave Medicare and Social Security pension benefits alone.

It cuts much of everything else. As noted by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “these cuts fall disproportionately on programs that benefit children, low-income individuals, and promote investment (by the private sector).”

And, concludes the CRFB, it doesn’t address deficit spending or the nation’s growing debt. If you factor in the administration’s massive tax cuts, skewed toward corporations and the wealthy - calculus not factored into the budget proposal - it would drive the nation much deeper into debt.

Republicans may successfully campaign against the slackers on welfare and the community development funding that flows to cities, but they have had the political shrewdness not to actually cut too deep in these areas, knowing much of the funding goes to truly needy people and the development funds flow to cities they represent.

Then along came the Republican Congress produced by the tea party movement and now arrives Trump.

So the nation gets a House health care bill that would leave 23 million more Americans without insurance and would cut Medicaid, which provides coverage to the poor and disabled, by $834 billion over 10 years.

And the nation gets this Trump budget.

The budget would eliminate the Home Energy Assistance Program intended to keep the poor in northern states from freezing in winter. Gone too would be the Community Development Block Grant program and the National Housing Trust Fund, which works with the private sector in providing housing for the poor. The food stamp program would face big cutbacks as well.

The list goes on. If the intent of a program is to help someone down on his or her luck, Trump cuts it.

“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off those programs,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, by way of explanation.

“Helping” them get off those programs apparently means providing an incentive - find a job, or a second job, or perhaps a third job, or starve (or maybe freeze).

What Washington should be debating, and what Trump should be offering, said the CRFB, are reforms to control the sharply rising costs of Social Security and Medicare, the primary drivers of the federal deficit.

At least all that pain the Trump administration proposes inflicting on the needy - not to mention the deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, global health programs, the State Department - will drive down the deficit, right?

Well, no.

The administration claims its spending plan would balance the budget by 2027 (down from the current deficit of $603 billion, 3.1 percent of Gross Domestic Product) and reduce the federal debt from 77 percent of GDP to 60 percent ($18.6 trillion) by 2027.

It’s a lie.

“The estimates in the President’s budget are based on overly optimistic economic projections . extremely unlikely to materialize in reality,” writes the budget watchdog group. “(It) also relies on a number of unrealistic policy assumptions by assumed deep, unspecified non-defense discretionary spending cuts and omitting any details on the President’s potentially costly tax plan . that could end up adding trillions of dollars to the overall debt.”

“These policies are not enough to truly repair our nation’s unsustainable fiscal situation and the budget does a huge disservice by relying on unrealistic assumptions,” it concludes.

We are far from the proposed “Grand Bargain,” the last serious bipartisan attempt to curb the nation’s growing deficit. In 2011 President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner negotiated a plan for $1.2 trillion in agency cuts and steps to curb Medicare and Social Security costs, along with $800 billion in new taxes.

Boehner could not sell the deal to his caucus, which later drove him from the Speaker’s position and office. Obama gave up trying to find common ground.

Now we have a president elected on the promise of easy fixes who has presented his fellow Republicans with a budget proposal that damages much, but repairs nothing.




Lowell Sun, May 26

Once again some on Beacon Hill want to leave a portion of the state’s film tax credit on the cutting-room floor. The latest effort comes out of the Senate, which voted 23-9 Tuesday to incorporate more demanding requirements to qualify into its budget bill. It still must be reconciled with the House version before it’s sent to the governor.

Currently film companies can earn a 25 percent tax credit if either half their production expenditures or principal photography days are spent in Massachusetts. The proposed change sponsored by Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, would require those companies to either spend 75 percent or shoot 75 percent in the state to qualify. Raising that bar, according to Rodrigues, would save the state about $15 million annually from the $80 million it now extends in credits.

However, Sen. Rodrigues fails to mention the benefits that come from those credits, or to what degree those economic byproducts would disappear by imposing a requirement the state’s film industry isn’t equipped to handle.

We agree with House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, who told the State House News Service after the Senate vote: “I think it’s been a great economic stimulus. It would be a shame to lose it.”

And while both Rodrigues and Mariano agree Massachusetts remains a coveted Hollywood location, moves like this Senate vote create an air of uncertainty that clouds prospects for future productions.

And to someone like Chris Byers, the founder and head of New England Studios in Devens, that point hits home. After the film credit remained intact in the fiscal 2017 state budget, Byers said talk of tinkering with it influenced some film companies to look elsewhere for more welcoming locations. Byers also mentioned that tax credits create incentives necessary in obtaining long-term projects, like feature films and TV shows.

According to MassDevelopment, which manages the New England Studio’s Devens property, economic activity there in 2016 generated $198,105 in taxes, about 3.5 percent of Devens’ total tax revenue.

We hope Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr can convince his House colleagues to reject the Senate’s tax-credit amendment. Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, who spoke out against Rodrigues’ measure, knows firsthand the economic benefits derived from hosting a film production. That occurred in 2015 with the critically acclaimed movie “Manchester by the Sea,” which was not only filmed in the North Shore town by the same name, but also in his hometown of Gloucester, as well as Beverly, Lynn, Swampscott, and Salem.

We urge lawmakers to make sure the Senate’s ill-advised bid to erode the film tax credit lands on the cutting-room floor.





Providence Journal, May 25

Most of us give little thought to the hundreds of miles of natural gas lines that run beneath our roads and crisscross our communities, bringing this vital fuel right to homes and businesses. But in Rhode Island, there’s reason for some concern: The state has one of the oldest distribution systems for natural gas in the nation, and the scheduled completion of needed upgrades is years away.

In his May 7 report (“Danger below”), part of a series of detailed articles on the issue, Providence Journal Staff Writer Alex Kuffner revealed that Rhode Island has the country’s second-highest percentage of pipes installed before 1970, its second-highest percentage of cast- or wrought-iron pipes (which are subject to corrosion and cracking), and its seventh-highest percentage of bare steel pipes (which also are subject to corrosion and cracking).

That is cause for concern because cracking and corrosion can lead to leaks. In most cases, minor leaks in gas lines pose little threat, but in rare cases they can be dangerous, and in still-rarer cases they can lead to explosions. And leaks are far more common when the old iron and steel pipes are still in use.

The good news is that National Grid, which purchased Rhode Island’s natural gas network a decade ago, is steadily making upgrades, replacing the old lines with plastic pipes. As Mr. Kuffner reported, the company has spent $450 million over the past six years to replace 330 miles of pipes, focusing on the oldest lines in communities such as Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Newport. Along the way, the company has replaced many leaky pipes it identified during regular surveys.

As a result, the number of known leaks being monitored has dropped, as has the rate of leaks per 100 miles in National Grid’s system of pipelines (from 46 in 2010 to 24 last year). At the same time, the number of minor leaks, which represent a lower priority in terms of repairs, has nearly doubled over the past decade.

Even after six years of upgrades, however, there is a long way to go. Replacing all the state’s older pipes is expected to take another 18 years. National Grid insists that the older pipes can be used safely, but the length of time involved, and the age of the pipes, suggests that continued vigilance is in order to ensure that people are safe.

For instance, while National Grid makes walking surveys of the state’s gas distribution network, walking about a third of that network each year, the state is working with the company to see if the walking survey can be done more quickly, and if areas more prone to problems can be checked more often. Also under consideration is greater use of remotely controlled shut-off valves, which can stop the flow of gas to a problem area.

Given that Rhode Island still has some of the oldest gas lines in the nation, these seem like worthwhile and not unduly costly steps. While there is a low likelihood of serious problems, added safety precautions make sense given that the replacement of Rhode Island’s many older lines will take years to complete.





Brattleboro Reformer, May 24

Governor Phil Scott held off on ending some of Vermont’s failed marijuana prohibition laws Wednesday, but said if the Legislature can make a few tweaks to S. 22 there may be a “path forward” in June during the veto session.

The legalization would have decriminalized marijuana possession in small amounts for adults and allowed them to grow a few plants in their homes. It also called for lawmakers to study the creation of a regulated market.

It was a reasonable bill that would have been a step in the right direction and it’s a shame Scott will be sending it once more through the wringer where it’s anyone’s guess how the Legislature will handle it.

Scott claims S.22 “… appears to weaken penalties for the dispensing and sale of marijuana to minors.” He’d like the bill rewritten to clarify that it’s still super illegal to give or sell marijuana to children.

Fair enough.

Scott would also like to, “… more aggressively penalize consumption while driving, and usage in the presence of minors. For example, this bill states that one cannot use marijuana in a vehicle. But, if an adult is smoking with a child in the car, there is only a small fine equal to the penalty for an adult having an open container of alcohol,” he wrote in a statement. According to science, “… secondhand marijuana smoke can negatively impact a child’s brain development. Therefore, if an adult is smoking marijuana in a car with a child - in my view - that should include a more severe punishment.”

We agree. Driving under the influence of a substance is a serious offense, doing it with a child in tow even more so.

Scott also wants the Marijuana Regulatory Commission created by the bill to be strengthened and given a more specific set of tasks. “The Commission must be charged with determining outcomes, such as an impairment threshold for operating a motor vehicle; an impairment testing mechanism; an education and prevention strategy to address use by minors; and a plan for continued monitoring and reporting on impacts to public health.”

He also wants the commission to study the impacts on the General Fund.

Finally, the commission would have at least a year to look at all of this before putting forward its recommendations.

It’s tempting to blame Scott for the latest holdup, but fault lies with the Legislature, specifically the House.

Last year the Senate passed a reasonable marijuana bill that included the means to develop a regulated market. With some tweaking it could have been passed and been signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, but the House voted it down.

This year the House came out with a bill any outside observer would say stood even less chance of passing. After sitting on it for most of the session and nearly burying it in committee, the House narrowly passed the thing, doing so at such a later hour that the Senate had to attach its version as an amendment to another bill.

Marijuana legalization has been on Vermont’s table for a while now. Two years ago Vermont sent a team to Colorado to study how it was handling it having recently legalized. There have been plenty of conversations since then, during which Massachusetts and Maine have both seen the light.

We won’t fault anyone for wanting to take their time and do this right, but while we await the “Perfect Pot Bill” we’re still living with a failed prohibition system.





(Lewiston) Sun Journal, May 21

When the Legislature’s various standing committees hold formal meetings, like public hearings and work sessions on proposed legislation, audio of those meetings is recorded and streamed live.

This feature allows the public, many who cannot travel to the State House from great distances on weekdays, to listen in while lawmakers consider and amend the bills that may become law. And, if they miss the livestream, members of the public can request access to the recordings.

On Tuesday, for the second time in just over a year, the State House Facilities Committee will hear a proposal to delete these audio recordings as a matter of routine. In other words, destroy valuable public records.

This is not just a bad idea, it’s bad policy.

And, it’s not just bad policy, it’s an expensive option for taxpayers.

Maine permanently archives recordings of discussions held on the floor of the House and Senate chambers, but the real work of drafting bills isn’t done on these floors. It is done in committee rooms, with public testimony and then wide-ranging debate to accept, amend or defeat thousands of bills. This is the forum where opponents and proponents argue proposed law, and where lawmakers can then spend hours discussing statutory language, often sentence by sentence, to consider the anticipated benefits or possible complications of each proposal.

It is, in more general terms, where the real work of the Legislature is done.

We’re currently able to access audio because the state contracts with Sliq Media to record committee meetings, from which the audio is immediately streamed. Once broadcast, the audio is archived for public access.

Here’s the expensive part: If these recordings are to be deleted, Maine will have to renegotiate its contract with Sliq Media - and pay an additional charge to delete records. So, it will cost taxpayers more to delete these recordings than to simply leave them be.

The push to delete these records is purportedly to protect the privacy of people who offer testimony at public hearings and who may not realize they’re being recorded. That’s a thin argument because testimony is offered to be heard, to change minds and affect outcomes.

It’s intended to be public.

But the real motivation behind this proposal, which is being propelled by Lisbon state Sen. Garrett Mason, is much simpler.

It’s to protect lawmakers who may say something during a committee meeting that they didn’t intend, or something inappropriate, that could come back to haunt them. Maybe future public scrutiny. Or an opponent using a misstatement as a political weapon.

Last year, when this proposal came forward, the suggested solution was to post signs in committee rooms informing the public that meetings are recorded. It’s a simple, very workable solution.

As for lawmakers’ concerns that what they say becomes a permanent record and may be used to remind voters of stands they’ve taken, what of it? What lawmakers say in committee is the first step in transforming a bill into statute, and the discussion that leads to - or defeats - a new law is of keen public interest.

So is a lawmaker’s veracity, character and willingness to stand for what they’ve said in public.

The most troublesome aspect of this move is that the proposal is not in the form of a bill. It will never come up for public hearing. The public does not get a chance to weigh in.

The Facilities Committee will simply pass its recommendation along to the full Legislative Council - which is scheduled to meet Thursday - for consideration.

Last year when this came up, the Legislative Council rejected the idea 9-0. If it emerges from Facilities and rises to the Council level again, we urge the Council to reject it - again.

And again and again as many times as necessary.

The real work of the Legislature happens in committee rooms, and right now Maine, like most states, makes an audio recording of that work. Deleting that record is no different than erasing history.

Bad idea.

Bad policy.

Bad for Maine.





Foster’s Daily Democrat, May 22

The New Hampshire House Legislative Administration Committee sent the wrong message last week when it failed to hand down any punishment to (now former) Rep. Robert Fisher for his despicable statements on social media.

The House’s failure to censure and condemn Fisher is reprehensible and leaves rape culture unchecked in New Hampshire.

Fisher, a Republican from Laconia, was called before the committee by a wide margin of House members after news surfaced that he’d made misogynistic posts on the Reddit forum “The Red Pill,” which bills itself as a men’s rights online forum. One of the quotes Fisher is accused of posting includes, “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.”

He has also defended some of his sickening statements. In one past comment, he said videotaping sexual encounters with women may be the only way for men to defend themselves against fake rape allegations.”

Fisher has also said women have “sub-par intelligence.”

Sherry Frost, a Democratic representative from Dover, was also in front of the committee for controversial social media posts. We didn’t love what she said, but to equate her comments with Fisher’s is beyond the pale. Her comments were far, far less severe. She had used profanity on her Twitter account and characterized terrorists as “usually white, Christian men.” She also said that men “telling me to ‘calm down’ and ‘not take it hard’ are making me homicidal.”

Frost said that “hyperbole is not the same as vicious misogyny.” We agree with her, and thought the committee should not take any action against Frost. Her being in front of the committee to begin with was clearly a political move - a tit-for-tat, if you will, after the Republican Fisher was voted to go before the committee.

Not only were both representatives in front of the committee, the committee would vote on the actions of both in one motion; an absurd move that basically said their misdeeds were of equal weight.

The committee ended up taking no action against both representatives - such a travesty when you consider what Fisher said and the rape culture he encourages. We agree with the committee taking no action against Frost, but Fisher should have been reprimanded and asked to resign.

Thankfully, Fisher resigned soon after the vote and did so without apology. “Unfortunately, the falsehoods, lies and comments of an overzealous blogger and some of my colleagues have created a situation where I must genuinely consider the safety and well-being of my girlfriend, my family, and myself. It is with a heavy heart I will be unable to complete my term.”

Despite Fisher’s resignation, the damage has been done. By lumping Fisher and Frost together, the Legislative Administration Committee basically says the promotion of rape culture is OK.

There’s way too much demeaning and belittling of women going on all over the country; we don’t need to see it coming from our state legislators, too. Failure to condemn Fisher sets a dangerous and disturbing precedent and equating his remarks with Frost’s is nothing but political games.

That said, there’s a lesson for all legislators in this ugly episode - stop spouting off. Though lawmakers have the same free speech rights as anyone else, their words carry more weight because they have been elected to leadership positions.

While we say Frost should not have been in front of the committee to begin with, that doesn’t mean we agree with her rant, even if it was hyperbole. Elected officials, all the way up to President Trump, must set a strong example and show restraint, rather than resorting to over-the top social media posts.

Lawmakers need to understand that they represent everyone in their district, whether or not they earned their vote.



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