Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
Where’s the talk about cutting spending?
The Hartford Courant, May 24
For all the talk about where and how to raise taxes, legislators have actively avoided any talk about cutting spending in state government.
That conversation needs to start.
Some claim there’s nowhere left to cut. Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposed finding less than $100 million in “efficiencies” over two years. Even Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano told the Connecticut Post in February: “I think it’s difficult to cut spending for a lot of different reasons.”
There’s no question cutting spending is a complicated task. Under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the executive branch agencies shed about 3,000 jobs, some 10 percent of the workforce, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Some departments are as lean as they can be. The Department of Transportation went so far as to close highway rest areas to save a few dollars. There are also “LEAN Coordinators” at more than 40 state agencies who are supposed to keep an eye out for efficiencies.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nowhere left to cut, or no efficiencies left to be found. Legislators have a responsibility to the people of Connecticut to aggressively seek out spending cuts, even if that means cutting back on some programs.
They have shirked that responsibility.
The former Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth suggested the state hire a consultant to find $1 billion in savings. It was a great idea, and it almost happened. But stunning bureaucracy shut it down.
In the 2018-19 session, the legislature required that the state Office of Policy and Management — the budget office — hire a consultant who would be tasked with finding $500 million in savings, without disrupting social service program benefits.
But the budget didn’t provide any money to OPM to pay for the consultant.
The OPM dutifully solicited bids nonetheless, said spokesman Chris McClure. They received a number of bids, ranging from about $300,000 to over $1 million, to do the work. But with no money to pay for it, the offers weren’t acted on.
It’s time to get serious. There is still time for the legislature to fund the study, and they shouldn’t hesitate.
Let’s remember that the state’s fiscal problems were caused by spending too much on state government over many decades and not paying for it along the way. Wouldn’t it make sense to at least make a show of turning our attention to that?
It’s true that cutting spending alone cannot solve the state’s financial problems. Too much of the annual budget is fixed costs — paying debt, funding pensions and so forth take up about a third of the budget. There’s not enough room to cut our way to prosperity.
But the lack of effort in at least addressing spending is inexcusable.
Feds follow right course on merger of T-Mobile, Sprint
The Republican of Springfield, May 22
A green light doesn’t mean so much when there’s also a traffic cop on the scene holding up a stop sign. Someone itching to move on may well find that he’s got to continue to wait. He could even be told that the road has been closed, and that he’ll thus need to find another route forward.
And so it is with T-Mobile’s plan to acquire rival cellular carrier Sprint. On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission signaled that it would now be willing to give the green light to the proposed $26 billion hook-up of the third- and fourth-largest cell companies. But soon thereafter, the Justice Department wisely said to hold the phone.
Though changes the two companies had made to their plans had been sufficient to win over a majority of members on the FCC, regulators at the Justice Department continued to have their concerns. Specifically, they said, the merger may never pass muster because it would decrease competition by reducing from four to three the number of national carriers. And if you think that will encourage innovation and help to cut prices, you are doing some economic theorizing that is way outside the box.
Historically, the two government agencies have moved together on such deals. In fact, they’ve not diverged on a major merger or acquisition in at least four decades. But they’ve got separate and distinct mandates, with antitrust regulators at Justice directed to focus on competition.
Looked at from that standpoint, having four carriers has been working, and working pretty well. We didn’t get here easily, and if we go from four to three, there’ll be no turning back.
T-Mobile US currently has a bit more than 80 million subscribers, while Sprint Corp. has roughly 55 million. The nation’s two largest cellular companies, AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, each have slightly more than 150 million subscribers.
As things stand now, customers have options. Unhappy with one carrier’s offerings? Shop around for a deal that is more to your liking. Because of that fact, the companies can’t sit still, but instead need to compete, to innovate, to try to offer more than the other guy.
That’s why T-Mobile’s longstanding efforts to link up with another carrier have continued to face opposition from the feds, and why the Justice Department is right not to follow the FCC’s lead this time around.
Climate council would guide necessary changes
If you listened to some of the debate last week, you might have gotten the impression that Maine is in danger of doing too much about climate change.
Opponents of a bill that would create a 30-member advisory group to recommend regulatory changes aimed at shrinking Maine’s carbon footprint say the measure would allow the executive branch to do things that ought to be done by the Legislature.
But they needn’t worry. There is more than enough work for both branches of government, especially after an eight-year period where Maine acted as if nothing was happening to the climate. That changed in 2018, when voters sent Democrat Janet Mills to the Blaine House and delivered big Democratic majorities to the House and Senate. One-party control gives the Democrats the ability to get things done on climate change. The challenge will be doing the right things, and that’s why Mills’ proposal for a council of experts makes a lot of sense.
In her testimony in favor of the council, Mills summarized the problem well. As the planet heats up as a result of humans burning fossil fuels, she said, Maine can expect “more ticks, less cod, fewer herring and scallops, lobsters moving north, sap houses facing shorter seasons. Doctors and nurses warning about growing asthma rates in children. Seniors warned to stay indoors as ozone rates climb.”
These threaten the health and well-being of Maine residents, as well as our leading industries. But a smart response can also create opportunities for Maine residents.
Maine currently spends $5 billion a year on oil and gas we use to generate electricity, fuel our vehicles and heat our homes. Switching to renewable energy generated here would not only reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, but also would create jobs and generate property tax revenue. Changing over will require new infrastructure, such as charging stations for electric vehicles or helping replace inefficient home-heating systems with high-efficiency electric heat pumps.
The kinds of policies that will need be implemented to meet Mills’ goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 will not be developed with new laws or regulatory changes on their own. It will require both branches working together along with a private sector making significant investments.
And since Maine can’t reverse global warming on its own, it will need the same kind of effort to become more resilient in the face of sea-level rise and other effects of global warming.
Mainers are right to be concerned about climate change, but one thing they don’t need to worry about is doing too much. Creation of the Maine Climate Council is an overdue response to a problem that demands swift and smart action.
Rochester raising its profile in the art world
Foster’s Daily Democrat, May 20
Earlier this month, any resident of the Seacoast could see a work of a major American artist in Rochester for free. This is not fake news. It’s true.
And later this month, anyone in the Seacoast can see the work of a major American artist, up close and personal, once again in Rochester for free.
The Rochester Museum of Fine Arts has had quite a month, with two unprecedented art exhibits in these parts. If something builds from these two events, we’ll all look back and note this is when it started. And, hopefully, we can all say we were there when it did.
Some may be surprised to find out that Rochester even has an art museum. Located in the Rochester Community Center and the Rochester Public Library, the Rochester Museum of Fine Art is a community arts initiative dedicated to making exceptional fine art accessible to all. The group also curates the art exhibits at the Rochester Performance and Arts Center.
In early May, The Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in association with The Argh Gallery presented a one-day exhibition featuring a genuine “LOVE” screen print signed by Robert Indiana. On May 4, the group hosted a reception and invited the public free of charge.
Indiana, who passed away at this time last year on May 18, 2018 but had been creating for 90 years of life, was an American artist associated with the pop art movement. His “LOVE” print, first created for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card in 1965, was the basis for his 1970 “LOVE” sculpture and the widely distributed in 1973 as a United States Postal Service “LOVE” stamp.
In 1994, Indiana did a limited run of green “LOVE” prints to benefit the Greenpeace organization. Indiana personally gave one of the prints to Sarah Knoy, director of the Greenpeace offices in Chicago, Illinois. A partnership between Knoy and the ARGH Gallery in Manchester brought the print to the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts to display it and now the gallery is offering it for sale.
On Friday, May 31 from 5 to 7 p.m., the Rochester MFA will present a special exhibition called “A Tribute to Sunday B. Morning” in the RPAC Art Gallery. The exhibition will feature four, count ’em four, of Andy Warhol’s iconic Marilyn Monroe screenprint series.
In 1967, Warhol produced what would become the most iconic representations of Monroe. He created a series of 10 variations, each with virtually the same composition, but different color variations. These original prints are known as the “Factory Additions.” The most valuable Marilyn screenprints, they auction anywhere from $100,000 for a single print to over $1.5 million for the suite.
After publishing “Factory Additions,” Warhol collaborated with two friends from Belgium on a second series of prints. Warhol wanted to play on the concept of mass production and that the Factory Addition prints were somehow more important than the second series. Warhol provided the photo negatives and color codes needed to create silkscreens exactly like the first series and the “Sunday B. Morning” screenprints were made in 1970.
Sunday B. Morning LLC has donated the entire selection of Marilyn prints to the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts. The prints will be exhibited temporarily in the RPAC Art Gallery then added to the museum’s permanent collection.
Once again, they’ll be open to the public for viewing free of charge. Kudos to the Rochester Museum of Fine Arts for making artwork of this quality available to anyone on the Seacoast. Let’s make sure we can all say we were there at the start.
State’s economy still needs work, May 21
The news certainly sounded great last week. The monthly state jobs report released Thursday found that Rhode Island added 4,200 jobs, hitting a record high of 500,300 of them. At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to 3.7%, the lowest it has been since April 1989.
Wow! What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, a lot, according to University of Rhode Island economist Leonard Lardaro.
That is because other, perhaps more important numbers suggest the state’s economy is struggling mightily.
The unemployment number, for example, is “meaningless,” Mr. Lardaro said. That is because it was brought about by a large number of people dropping out of the workforce in Rhode Island, either because they are retiring or have given up looking for work — not because greater numbers of people are working.
“What they never tell you,” Professor Lardaro wrote in red on a chart he tweeted out Sunday, with an arrow pointing to a circled statistic he considers vitally important: The year-over-year change in civilian labor force, which includes the people employed and those actively looking for work. It shrank by 2,600, to 553,000.
As Journal Staff Writer Paul Edward Parker wrote in a May 16 news story (“R.I.-based jobs increase, but labor force continues to fall”), “the workforce has not come close to reaching its pre-recession peak of 574,000,” in December 2006.
Indeed, this year it has been falling: to 555,400 in February, 554,100 in March and 553,000 in April.
If the economy was strong, that number would be growing. “That’s a big negative. That’s a really big negative,” Mr. Lardaro said. He thinks the state’s economic leaders should be in “crisis mode” rather than celebrating Thursday’s numbers.
While it is good for Rhode Island that the total number of in-state jobs has grown, many of those could be part-time or low-paying jobs.
Moreover, the state’s growth in gross domestic product has been sluggish since 2015. Both New England and the nation as a whole have experienced much stronger economic growth than Rhode Island. Meanwhile, a May 3 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Rhode Island was America’s only state to record no year-over-year personal income growth in 2018.
What to make of this? As we have been warning for years now, the state has not made the structural changes necessary to get its economy in gear, including dramatically improving its mediocre public schools and shifting from an obsession with serving special interests.
At the State House, where budget-writers are grappling with a possible $150 million deficit, there seems little appetite for expensive new programs and higher Medicaid and service taxes proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo. Indeed, her “tool box” of economic incentives to create a critical mass of high-paying jobs in Rhode Island, something we have enthusiastically supported, could be at risk. (All the same, the governor and legislators were only too happy this month to saddle taxpayers with costly new giveaways to politically powerful public employee unions.)
Mr. Lardaro believes that state leaders are only fooling themselves if they are celebrating such numbers as last Thursday’s. “People are feeling it,” he said: Rhode Islanders understand they should be doing better, given the roaring national economy.
The paid family leave bill passed the Vermont Senate 19-10 last week.
The program is expected to cost at least $30 million a year and will be paid by Vermont workers through a 0.2-percent payroll tax. If history is any guide, the tax rate on everyone’s wages will creep up as the left demands more (and longer) leave and higher pay replacement.
The new plan would also cost taxpayers a few million a year in a Department of Labor slush fund, take awhile to build up reserves, fund a new bureaucracy and create an adminstrative nightmare for all Vermont employers.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Jane Kitchell, D-Caledonia, isn’t opposed to employees having family leave. But she is rightly averse to the regressive payroll tax to fund it - taking money out of the pockets of low-wage earners without offering much, if any, benefit in return. She rightly objected that the Legislature is already failing to address the needs of the most vulnerable Vermonters.
“I am simply talking about the fiscal realities of what the impact of taking this much revenue out of the workers of the state will have on our ability to substantially address very serious areas of need,” Kitchel said.
Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, the Senate Republican leader, said he and the Republican caucus believe the Legislature’s paid leave plan is fiscally irresponsible compared to Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal. “Our governor took the lead on this question and proposed a plan that was historic in the fact that two governors (VT and NH) got together and decided to make this attempt in a situation that they knew could float financially and bring benefits to people who don’t have them,” Benning said.
Senior Democratic Senators Kitchel, Dick Sears, D-Bennington, and Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, joined Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans and the chamber’s six Republicans in opposing the bill. Sen. Bobby Starr, D-Essex Orleans, was absent.
Somebody has to get through to the leftist Democrats and Progressives that there is a limit to how far the state can go in creating new tax grabs to subsidize “unmet needs.” And they should listen to Senator Kitchel when she astutely points out there are a lot better ways to help address these existing “unmet needs” that the Legislature is already managing badly.
We’re glad that Senators Kitchel, Benning and Rodgers did their best to get those points across but we shake our heads that their sober concerns were summarily ignored.
But the thing that really bothers us is how unnessary it all is.
If lawmakers wanted to actually help Vermont workers, they could accomplish it in a simple, one-page bill. They could simply order all employers to offer the benefits outlined in the bill. That legislation could easily take effect July 1.
No taxes; no slush fund; no 2-year delay in implementation to build up the reserves; no delay in filing for benefits while some government bureaucrat reviews the request; no stealing money off the top to increase state employee pay; no new state hires to administer the plan; no workers who will never use the plan being taxed to subsidize outfits like Planned Parenthood and Efficiency Vermont; no interruption in company 401K and pension plans (weekly automatic deposits can easily be done as part of payroll).
When leave payments are done as part of regular payroll the employee still receives that benefit and no interruption in credited service or vesting service calculations (the state plan would create a mass of bookkeeping nightmares to calculate these interruptions).
But that all makes way too much sense and would deprive the state of their money grab and slush fund.
We call on Governor Phil Scott to veto this nightmare bill.