- Associated Press - Friday, August 10, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Record-Journal

Aug. 2

The sleepy town of Haddam - with a population in the range of just 8,000 - has been swept up in the heated national anthem protest debate, as Selectman Melissa Schlag continues to take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Board of Selectmen meetings.

Schlag’s act of civil disobedience, which began in July, is meant to show her disapproval of President Donald Trump’s policies.

Not surprisingly, Schlag has received a great deal of blowback.

Some have called on her to resign, and the Democrat said she has received threats.

At Monday’s selectmen meeting, Schlag faced jeers while she kneeled during the pledge.

Before the meeting, about 100 people rallied in town to decry the protest. Meanwhile, a crowd of about 75 gathered in support of Schlag.

Haddam resident Pablo Arroyo, a Marine, said the selectman should protest on her own time.

But Vietnam veteran and town resident Bob Wallin sees it differently. He said no one has a right to tell her how and when to exercise free speech.

Americans have been debating these types of protests in much this way since 2016, when Colin Kaepernick, then a backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began taking a knee to draw attention to social injustice in the U.S.

Other NFL players have followed his lead, and it appears likely that the protests will continue this season.

While many Americans are OK with the silent protests, viewing them as a First Amendment issue, others find them to be disrespectful, President Donald Trump among them.

Many Haddam residents feel the same.

But Schlag says she is not backing down. In a letter posted on social media, she states, “As long as Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States, I will kneel.”

Whether such protests are a good way to send a message is certainly debatable. But we could all agree that citizens have the right to make a peaceful political statement.

This is America, after all.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Or96Dr

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MASSACHUSETTS

Cape Cod Times

Aug. 5

On July 30, the state Legislature passed a landmark bill that would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to create a taxing mechanism for short-term rentals. The move has substantial ramifications for renters, visitors, the state and towns across the Cape, and although it adds another layer of taxation and bureaucracy, it also levels the rental playing field and provides the region with desperately needed funds for wastewater programs.

All it needed was the signature of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to make it law. Baker, however, has proposed a handful of changes to the legislation that could very well scuttle it.

Spearheaded by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, the bill starts by imposing a statewide tax of 5.7 percent on all rentals of fewer than 30 days. This means that regardless of whether you book a room at a local hotel or through Airbnb or any one of a number of other online rental services, you will have to pay the same tax.

As one might imagine, this pleases the Massachusetts Lodging Association as well as the owners of motels and hotels throughout the area, many of whom have decried the fact that they have been saddled with a tax that individual property owners have until now been able to skirt.

But the bill contains additional provisions as well. For example, towns and cities now have the option of collecting a local tax of 6 percent for short-term rentals within their borders, and that number climbs to 8 percent if the person doing the renting owns more than one rental unit in the community. Lawmakers, cognizant that this money should do a bit more than help offset the general fund, have written language into the law that would require that 35 percent of the money raised through the local tax go to affordable housing or town infrastructure projects.

In addition, all short-term rentals across the Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard will be subject to an additional tax of 2.75 percent, the proceeds from which will go toward the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund. This dedicated account will help defray the costs associated with what is expected to be a multibillion-dollar plan for wastewater treatment infrastructure throughout the region.

Finally, the bill requires that individuals offering short-term rentals have their properties inspected by local permitting authorities and that they carry a minimum of $1 million in insurance. This last provision is particularly important for renters, as it provides for safeguards that are sometimes absent when rentals are handled by individuals who have skirted the proper safety considerations.

All told, those offering short-term rentals across the Cape and Islands will face an additional tax of between 14.45 percent and 16.45 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2019, assuming that Baker signs off on the measure. If approved, it would authorize the state to develop a database of all short-term rentals throughout the commonwealth.

Unfortunately, the Legislature waited until the last minute to pass this particular piece of legislation, so when Baker proposed changes last week, it left the fate of the bill in doubt. Baker wants to see an exemption for homeowners who rent their properties for fewer than 14 days a year. He also wants to reduce the amount of information available through the state’s short-term rental database. But because the Legislature is no longer in formal session, lawmakers will have to wait until the informal session starts up later this summer to see if they can again come to a consensus.

Hopefully, they will, as Baker’s proposed changes represent common-sense improvements and would help alleviate a burdensome requirement for those who are deriving a relatively small benefit from occasionally renting their home.

Undoubtedly, many who have taken advantage of the Airbnb boom will cry foul, arguing that the fiscal pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, and they may have something of a point in that regard. After all, hotels and motels are not subject to this additional wastewater tax. Still, those establishments have made long-term infrastructure investments and are subject to additional regulatory scrutiny.

If the bill finally becomes law, as it should, those who offer short-term rentals will make a calculated decision based on profitability as to whether it behooves them to continue to offer up their houses to transient visitors. As with any business, they will weigh whether to pass along their additional expenses to those who would take advantage of their offerings. The nice thing now is that those of us who live here for the long term will begin to benefit from their visits as well.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Aug. 8

Almost two years removed from its launch, Rhode Island’s UHIP computer system remains a work in process, and an exorbitantly costly one.

Touted as a means to greater efficiency and tens of millions of dollars in savings, the badly flawed system may still be years away from meeting all the minimum expectations state officials had for it - and it’s another question entirely as to whether it will ever perform as envisioned.

The latest numbers are sobering. According to a document that the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services has sent to the federal government, the system’s costs could rise by $156 million over the next two years, to a mind-blowing total of $647 million - most of it coming from federal taxpayers.

According to state figures, $24.8 million of the new money would go toward the more routine category of maintenance and operational expenses, while another $131.5 million would go to design, development and implementation efforts. The actual costs may be lower, because the system’s contractor, Deloitte, is not charging for the corrective work it is now providing.

On top of the federal and state dollars already spent, these numbers are staggering. And because of them, the UHIP story remains a sobering one. In terms of technical expertise, state officials were way over their heads as this integrated public services platform was being developed under Gov. Lincoln Chafee and later, Gov. Gina Raimondo. They were still over their heads when the Raimondo administration chose to launch the system in September 2016, over the objections of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Several months later, with technical glitches leaving some people without their benefits, and with many people waiting in lines for hours to sign up for benefits or address problems, Governor Raimondo asked for the resignations of the state’s chief digital officer, Thom Guertin, and its Department of Human Services director, Melba Depena Affigne. She also accepted the resignation of Elizabeth Roberts, a former Democratic state senator and lieutenant governor who was then secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The team Ms. Raimondo has since put in place deserves credit for taking control of this fiasco and chipping away at the problems. As Courtney Hawkins, who replaced Ms. Affigne at the Department of Human Services, told a group of Providence Journal editors and reporters this week, the state has made great strides in reducing wait times, in hiring and training employees to work with the new system, and in addressing many of the system’s shortcomings, to the point that the state is getting close to meeting all of the federal regulations tied to these programs. That is work well done.

Ms. Hawkins noted, however, that the current contract with Deloitte expires early next year, and she does not expect all the technical issues to be resolved by then. It is therefore critical that the administration continue to fix the system’s technical problems and make sure that the people who depend on public benefits for food and other needs are being served, as Ms. Hawkins put it, in a professional manner.

That kind of response would also send a message to Rhode Islanders that the project is on track, and the hemorrhaging of money may stop at some point.

Online: https://bit.ly/2B5OzCy

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VERMONT

The Caledonian-Record

Aug. 9

Yesterday was our 181st birthday. Thanks to you, our readers, our advertisers, and thousands of dedicated professionals, we haven’t missed a single edition since 1837.

That’s a decent run, but the nature of our perpetual, 24x7x365 publishing cycle is such that the only edition that really matters is the next one. There isn’t time for self-adulation even if all the dedicated people behind our publications were inclined to seek it - which they aren’t.

But without the capable, dedicated hands that have gone into the creation and distribution of millions of news pages, we wouldn’t have our 181st birthday. In fact, writ large, we’d have significantly lesser versions of our community and democracy.

That’s because ours is a daily struggle for accountability and transparency - waged by thousands of journalists, editors, photographers, designers, distributors, carriers, managers, sales professionals, accountants, lawyers, publishers, etc. - that’s been going on for almost 200 years.

For the past two days, for instance, we used this space to publish our responses to public agents improperly citing statute to prevent the public from their right to know.

Each instance shares a single commonality - public officials seeking ways to limit public access to information. That behavior flies flagrantly in the face of the Vermont Constitution (That all power being originally inherent in and consequently derived from the people, therefore, all officers of government, whether legislative or executive, are their trustees and servants; and at all times, in a legal way, accountable to them), and Vermont open record law (that insists public officials overwhelmingly favor disclosure).

We’ll get the stories, of course, because it’s your right to know, because keeping arrogant public officials in check is among our core competencies, and because it’s our most existential reason to exist.

But it’s getting more difficult to sustain operations amidst the maladies afflicting newspapers everywhere: Anachronistic distribution methods; a deeply fractured advertising landscape; and shifting consumer habits. Perhaps bigger than these challenges are social media platforms and hand-held devices that make everyone a publisher - flooding the world’s supply of cheap content, driving down the demand for legacy media content, and obfuscating lines between truth and fake news.

There’s a lot at stake because newspapers singularly do a lot of things for the public benefit. As David Mindich, professor of media studies at St. Michael’s College, explained last year to the Burlington Free Press: “We as citizens need journalism to hold leaders accountable. We need journalists to introduce us to other members of society we might not necessarily meet. We need journalists to verify information and understand the difference between fact and rumor. When these papers aren’t there to cover the courthouse, the city hall, then politicians begin to do bad things.”

With your support, we’ve done those things reliably for 181 years; we’ve employed professionals to show up, verify, and speak truth to power; we’ve provided a forum for public discourse and criticism; we’ve provided the lone, daily first-draft of local history; we’ve informed, documented, educated and entertained; and we’ve readily accepted blame and criticism when we’ve fallen short of our standards and goals - because we are accountable to you.

By lending your attention to us, you’ve empowered yourself to keep abuses in check. As legendary Washington Post editor J.R. Wiggins once explained - “the collective disapprobation of society can be more important than the punishments meted out by courts.” That’s why nobody is rooting for the demise of newspapers more than corrupt public officials and leaders.

On our 181st birthday, we wholeheartedly thank you for the sacred privilege of allowing us to serve as your loyal watchdog. With your continued support, we look forward to the next 181.

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

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MAINE

The Portland Press Herald

Aug. 8

A housing crisis has been building in this country for years. The Trump administration wants to make it worse.

The crisis is being fueled by rising rents and stagnant wages. As the economy has become centered on low-wage service jobs, there has been little to no attention paid to low-income housing. As a result, people are being forced into unaffordable housing, if not shoved toward eviction and intermittent homelessness.

From 2001 to 2013, the number of high-end apartments built increased 36 percent, while units for the poor shrank by 10 percent. At the same time, median rents rose significantly, 32 percent from 2001 to 2015, but wages stayed flat.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, workers earning minimum wage - a growing section of the workforce - can afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in only 22 of the country’s 3,000 counties. Nowhere can a minimum-wage worker afford a two-bedroom apartment, with affordability defined as 30 percent of less of one’s income.

Nationwide, more than 12 million households spend more than half of their income on housing. Major cities, where the housing shortage is most acute, are seeing a marked increase in the number of working people who are living out of their cars.

In Maine, a 2015 report found 38,800 very low-income families that spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, a 47 percent increase from 2007, before the Great Recession.

It takes a wage of $18.73 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, but the average wage is just $11.44 an hour, the ninth-highest gap in the nation.

Amid all this, federal housing vouchers only go to about 1 in 5 eligible Americans.

As a result, many Americans live on the verge of homelessness. In the best of cases, frequent moves caused by unstable housing are disruptive, causing adults to lose employment and kids to miss school. Eviction is a fact of life, often only for a few hundred dollars. And once someone becomes homeless, it becomes difficult - and costly - to reverse.

Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, says this is a local problem. Besides, he says, allowing poor people a comfortable place to live will only make it more likely that they’ll stay poor.

Rather than encourage the creation of more affordable housing, Carson wants to triple the rents for about 712,000 of the poorest Americans who receive federal housing aid. He wants to make sure all low-income tenants pay more of their income on rent.

These proposals may or may not succeed - Congress has already shot down some of Carson’s other awful ideas. But it is clear that Americans struggling to find affordable housing won’t get any help from the White House.

Of course, this is not just a housing crisis. An economy tilted toward the very rich has winnowed away the middle class, making what were once moderate housing costs unaffordable.

But the numbers don’t lie. There is just not enough housing for the average American, and the gap between wages and housing costs is only going to grow.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Nashua Telegraph

Aug. 9

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on foreign sources of metal seem to be helping the steel industry in the Midwest, but the retaliatory actions China, Canada and the European Union are taking against the U.S. seem to be hurting New Hampshire businesses.

In fact, according to estimates provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, lobsters valued at about $14 million may not be exported from New Hampshire to China because of the “trade war.”

That’s a lot of lobster.

Other threatened New Hampshire exports, chamber officials said, include $1.7 million worth of sugar confection destined for Canada, $1.9 million worth of T-shirts to Europe and $600,000 worth of fans to Mexico.

“We slap a tariff on them, they turn around and slap a tariff on that, and who gets hurt in this? My feeling is, small businesses,” said Steve Carter, who serves as president and CEO of Amherst-based Williams and Hussey Machine Co. Inc., which produces knives for woodworking professionals. The firm purchases steel to craft the knives.

Meanwhile, Nashua-based W.H. Bagshaw Co. Inc. buys approximately 50,000 pounds of steel per year, turning the raw material into pins, needles and other machined parts.

“We had to have a lot of meetings, and correspondence with our vendors and our customers, and we also had to work internally on how we’re going to account for all of this,” company Vice President Adria Bagshaw said.

In all, according to the chamber, $29 million worth of New Hampshire exports are threatened by the metal tariffs. Furthermore, officials said 184,000 jobs in New Hampshire are supported by “global trade.”

We support Trump’s stated goals for the tariffs. There are obvious benefits, including enhanced national security, to having strong domestic steel and aluminum industries.

Still, the administration should work to mitigate the harm done to states such as New Hampshire as much as possible. The viability of small Granite State businesses may hang in the balance.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MzG1VQ

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