- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

Editorials from around New England:



The Bennington Banner

Feb. 22

Like every state government, Vermont does some things well, and can stand to improve in some areas.

And then there’s the Green Mountain State’s chronic underfunding of its state college system - its most short-sighted and least defensible public policy.

Aside from the University of Vermont, the state has four state colleges: Castleton University; Northern Vermont University (formed by the mergers of Lyndon State and Johnson State colleges), Vermont Technical College, and Community College of Vermont.

Most states in the region, on average, provide about 30 percent of their state colleges’ budgets. Vermont contributes an underwhelming 17 percent, meaning that the campuses must charge higher tuition to meet their program costs.

That decision has serious consequences, and not just for the young adults who face the choice between going into thousands of dollars of debt or not pursuing college or job training at all.

Only two out of every five Vermont high school graduates attend college - and that ratio drops to one in three among students from low-income families. Enrollment at the state colleges is down by 2,000 students from 2010 levels.

So is it any surprise Vermont has a critical shortage of trained workers ready to fill existing jobs?

You get what you pay for. And if you invest next to nothing in growing the next generation of workers and citizens, that’s what you get back.

In December, the state college presidents called upon the Scott administration and the Legislature to commit an additional $25 million over five years, to the tune of $5 million extra per year. That would raise the state’s budgetary commitment to its state colleges to a reasonable benchmark of 30 percent, and allow the colleges to make degree programs and technical training more affordable.

Scott’s budget proposes an additional $3 million to the state college system, which would allow the schools to forgo a planned 3-percent tuition increase.

But those aren’t the only plans on the table. State Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, has introduced S. 38, a bill proposing to cover four years of tuition at the Vermont State Colleges for in-state students. Already, it’s facing opposition: VTDigger.org reported that Senate Education committee chair Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, told committee members Thursday that leadership could be interested in a downsized version of Pollina’s proposal.

But here’s the problem with Scott’s approach and with legislative leadership pondering a more limited alternative to Pollina’s plan: They’re timid, piecemeal solutions to significant problems that demand bold, decisive action.

If the state is going to tackle workforce development and reverse the demographic trends that are hindering economic growth, it can’t nickel and dime its way to success. Maybe Vermont can get away with spending $3 million per year to market tourism, its single largest economic engine, but it can’t create the trade workers and leaders of tomorrow without making a significant investment in education and training.

We’re not alone in that assessment. Consider this statement from Cathy Tempesta, the vice president of human resources for GW Plastics in Bethel, from an op-ed that recently ran in the Brattleboro Reformer:

“It is good public policy to make college affordable to Vermont students. For companies like ours, it can make the difference between growing in Vermont or growing in another location with a larger pool of qualified candidates,” Tempesta wrote.

“As a small state, Vermont faces a number of challenges, some of which are largely out of the control of decision makers. College affordability is not one of those challenges. It can and must be a critical piece in the state’s economic development strategy. As lawmakers return to Montpelier for the 2019 session, they should prioritize adequate funding for the Vermont State College System.”

Pollina’s tuition proposal and the state college presidents’ request for $25 million over five years are a good place to start. Both ought to be approved.

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



The Concord Monitor

Feb. 28

Call it positive peer pressure or, less kindly, call it vote shaming, but telling people who might otherwise be disinclined to go to the polls that their friends and neighbors voted drives turnout up considerably.

Entrepreneurs have created ingenious computer applications to let people see whether their friends, whatever city they might live in, vote. The information gives people a powerful incentive to perform their civic duty.

Social scientists and political operatives have known about the peer pressure effect for years. “It proved to be the most effective intervention ever uncovered by an order of magnitude,” Harvard public policy professor Todd Rogers told New York Times writer Amy Chozick. Chozick’s recent article about the tactic explained that political campaigns have been reluctant to deploy the guilt-bombing weapon because, well, it makes people angry. But so does Donald Trump.

Entrepreneurs have products ready, applications that match voting records with email and Facebook friends lists. We’re betting they’ll be put to work before the 2020 presidential election. Your friends won’t know who you voted for, but they will know whether you did your democratic duty.

Political campaigns know that getting supporters to email or text friends is far more effective than knocking on the doors of people on a political party’s checklist. It’s more effective than generic get-out-the-vote drives, too. Peer pressure, or social validation, as proponents prefer to call it, is particularly effective on millennials, only half of whom voted in the last presidential election, according to Pew Research Center statistics cited by Chozick.

VoterCircle, one of the companies offering a voter outreach app, claims that using it drives up the turnout of likely voters by 15 percent and unlikely voters by 10 to 30 percent.

A single text from a friend, the CEO of one relational outreach application firm told Chozick, makes the recipient 10.2 percent more likely to vote. Other claims are more modest, but the expected increase should be enough to make the difference in many elections.

It’s tempting to say that in New Hampshire, home to the nation’s first presidential primary, we don’t need no stinkin’ app to tell us to vote. We wish that that were so. Though New Hampshire placed second behind Minnesota for turnout of eligible voters in the 2016 presidential election at 70.31 percent, according to the website Statista.com, it fell to 16th in the critical 2018 midterm election, when just 54.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. We’ll be curious to see, assuming one or more of the campaigns use the voter relationship software, what the November 2020 turnout will be.

As effective as they are, the new voter turnout tools may not reach people whose network of friends and acquaintances don’t have a history of voting, statistically that means the poor and underprivileged. To increase their participation, and others as well, we urge the nation’s fast-food chains, as the election approaches, to use their packaging to urge their customers to register and vote.

To do, as film director Spike Lee would say, “the right thing.”

Online: https://bit.ly/2EGGgx1



The Portland Press Herald

Feb. 28

Most people laughed in 1954 when the editor of a trade journal called Modern Plastics told an industry conference that the future of their business “is in the trash can.”

But they weren’t laughing nine years later, when Lloyd Stouffer addressed the same conference and congratulated the attendees on fulfilling his vision.

“You are filling the trash cans, the rubbish dumps and the incinerators with literally billions of plastics bottles, plastics jugs, plastics tubes, blisters and skin packs, plastics bags and films and sheet packages,” he crowed. “The happy day has arrived when nobody any longer considers the plastic package too good to throw away.”

We are now paying the price for that success. Single-use plastics are not only filling the trash cans and landfills but also are blowing around the landscape and into the oceans, where they break into small particles, but they never go away. Plastic particles are in coral reefs, in the digestive systems of aquatic life and forming islands of trash in some of the most remote parts of the world.

Unlike paper, metal and glass, which can be recycled into high-quality new products, plastics are not so easily broken down and are of limited utility. Plastic bags and other packaging are one of the most common contaminants in the recycling stream for the Portland-area waste-to-energy plant ecomaine, which has had to increase its tipping fees to municipalities as a result.

So while the trash can may be good news for the industry, it’s not for the environment or for tax payers. These problems are just going to get worse: Researchers have determined that more plastics were produced in the last 20 years than in the previous 70. And the industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent in the next decade.

Since the plastics industry won’t slow itself down, it’s up to government to step up. So we are happy to see the Maine Legislature considering several bills to ban or restrict the use of single-use plastic shopping bags.

Twenty towns and cities across Maine have enacted either outright bans or fees on plastic shopping bags, and at least a half-dozen more are considering local ordinances. Many of those policies were approved in the two years since state lawmakers last considered a bill to ban plastic bags.

It was defeated, but since then there has been a global collapse in the market for plastic for recycling, and grocery chains and other retailers that operate in more than one community may be open to a single statewide standard instead of a hodgepodge of local ordinances.

There is also a growing understanding among consumers about the costs of a product that’s not too good to throw away.

Don’t expect the industry to give up without a fight. Litter will be blamed on individual bad behavior, not on the maker of the material that’s being thrown away. And they will argue that consumers will find it inconvenient to switch from single-use plastic shopping bags to durable reusable ones.

But an industry built on a promise to fill “trash cans, the rubbish dumps and the incinerators” can’t be trusted to look out for the public good.

Consumers will be able to adjust to a world with limited single-use plastics more easily than they will adjust to higher waste disposal costs and poisoned oceans. Maine should lead the way on this issue.

Online: https://bit.ly/2T8jlU7



The Hartford Courant

Feb. 24

Gov. Ned Lamont made a mistake when he suggested, as a candidate, that Connecticut might get by with tolling only the big rigs that travel the state’s highways. It was an example of mismanaging expectations.

But in the end, he’s come to the correct conclusion: Connecticut needs to establish a fair tolling system on its highways, and that means cars and trucks.

Nobody disputes that the state needs the money, or that its roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair. The only question is where the money is going to come from.

Republicans have proposed that the state’s infrastructure needs can be paid for with bonding - borrowing the money now and paying for it over the years. The Republican bonding plan would guarantee $1 billion a year in revenue, they claim, and would slash bonding for other projects. The current statutory limit on bonding is $1.9 billion a year, and since 2012, an average of nearly $1.6 billion in bonds have been issued each year. The Republican plan would leave little for anything else.

There’s one key difference between borrowing to pay for the state’s transportation needs and using tolls: If the state borrows the money, Connecticut residents would still be paying for all of the road maintenance, for all of the wear and tear done by drivers from other states, for decades to come.

With tolls, out-of-state drivers would pay for 40 to 50 percent of it, and the state wouldn’t have to borrow money to pay for its roads.

The legislature should take care to ensure that Connecticut residents receive substantial discounts, that there are statutory limits to how often toll rates can be increased, and that toll gantries are only on the roads with the highest volumes of out-of-state traffic.

If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.

Online: https://bit.ly/2T6SeZE



The Newburyport Daily News

Feb. 28

Head injuries to young athletes are deeply serious. The recovery is slow and sometimes painful, and we don’t know nearly enough about the long-term effects on kids who’ve suffered them.

We do know the chance of injury isn’t reason enough to shut down youth sports altogether, given their myriad benefits. Instead, we should be looking for ways to make them safer. Talk to coaches, parents and league officials, and you’ll find that’s exactly what the adults in charge of youth football have done and continue to do.

Unfortunately, some on Beacon Hill, apparently unaware of what’s happening on the youth football field, can’t resist the temptation to wield a sledgehammer. They want to ban organized tackle football for kids in the seventh grade and younger, with the stated goal of preventing head injuries. Flag football is fine - not so much town leagues or Pop Warner.

While maybe well-intentioned, they’ve botched this particular play for a number of reasons, including the potential that it leads to more injuries, not fewer. The real problem here is this isn’t the purview of the Legislature. Rhetoric aside, there is no public health emergency. Head injuries in youth sports can and should be avoided. A more productive use of our lawmakers’ time would be learning more about them and their prevention, and finding ways to support those efforts. Outside of that, they should let parents decide what’s best for their children.

Instead, the lawmakers who brought this bill - House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, and Rep. Paul Schmid, D-Westport - called a full-on blitz. No more tackling for those players below the eighth-grade level. Schools and sports leagues violating the ban could see fines of $2,000 and up to $10,000 if someone gets seriously injured. Theirs is an extreme approach almost guaranteed to polarize debate with no productive result.

In fact, it could just make things worse, giving kids less opportunity to learn how to block, tackle or be tackled before they put on the pads to play in late middle school and high school.

“It’s very dangerous to think of young boys who wind up wanting to play football, and they have no background in the proper way of tackling. In an effort to make it safer, I think they’re making it more dangerous by implementing things like this,” St. John’s Prep coach Brian St. Pierre told reporter Paul Leighton. He speaks with authority. St. Pierre, who grew up in Salem, played at the Prep and Boston College, then had an eight-year career in the National Football League.

His reaction echoed those of other coaches, parents and players on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley who are frustrated, if not downright angry, by this bill. Most will sympathize with concerns about head injuries, particularly multiple head injuries. But what this legislation doesn’t consider are the layers upon layers of training for players and coaches in injury prevention and recognition. Equipment is evolving to be made more protective. Players are trained to tackle without hitting their heads.

“Ten years ago, you were banging all the time, doing all sorts of drills, hitting, hitting, hitting,” Fred Campatelli, president of Beverly Youth Football, told Leighton. “You don’t do any of that stuff anymore.”

For school sports, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has implemented training and reporting protocols for head injury awareness and prevention - none of which involve banning tackling in football.

Maybe the 17 lawmakers who put their names to this bill can look into how youth sports would benefit from those procedures, and draw upon a vast well of people living in our state who specialize in this topic, before making some reasonable suggestions.

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



The Providence Journal

Feb. 26

One of the big tasks for Rhode Island’s incoming state police superintendent and director of the Department of Public Safety, James Manni, will be to clean up the mess involving state sheriffs. Sheriffs guard courthouses and transport prisoners, among other tasks.

Tim White, of WPRI-TV, laid out some of the issues in a Target 12 investigation last fall (“Large number of sheriffs out for years collecting full salary,” Nov. 12). Though the public’s money was being spent, Mr. White had to press the state repeatedly before it would release the names of those involved.

He found that a staggering 23 of the 179 sheriffs were on injured duty status - meaning they were collecting full-time salaries tax-free. The annual cost to taxpayers was more than $2 million. While out, they were rolling up vacation credits and obtaining longevity bumps in pay.

Seven of them had been out for more than four years. Four of them had been out for more than eight years. One had been out for more than 11 years and three months.

Because of all these absences, state courts have felt compelled to delay sessions because there were not enough sheriffs on hand to guard the judges. That adds to the burden of people paying for lawyers while everyone waits around for the sessions to begin.

Note, state sheriffs are not firefighters going into burning and collapsing buildings. They are not state troopers out on the highway in bad weather late at night. These are not beat cops dealing with troublemakers or forced to break up dangerous disputes.

It is instructive to consider the dramatically different numbers for state police.

As Mr. White revealed last fall, only three out of 226 state troopers were out on injured duty. Some state troopers have retired, believe it or not, without ever claiming a single sick day during their careers.

What gives?

Clearly, different cultures evolved in the two agencies. The Division of Sheriffs years ago served as a dumping ground for political cronies. Its ranks were swelled by some who could not cut it as police officers or state troopers. In recent years, higher standards have been imposed.

In the state police, troopers put pressure on each other to maintain the high professional standards of the agency. Those who seek to “game the system” for pay without duty do not remain for long.

Mr. Manni took only a handful of sick days during his 25 years with the state police. Given that record, we hope he will take a hard look at what is going on with the sheriffs and institute new practices to better protect the public.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has also proposed, in this year’s budget, reforms of the injured on duty system, requiring those out for longer than 18 months to apply for an accidental disability pension within 90 days. That change would save taxpayers $1.7 million a year, she estimates. She has also contracted with Beacon Mutual insurance to provide management of workers’ compensation for state employees, which she expects to be a cost savings.

Let us hope some serious steps are taken, and soon, to create higher standards for state sheriffs and reduce the scandalously large number of those who cannot or will not work.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ToS4vP

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