AP NEWS

Editorials from around New England

September 28, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

Sept. 26

There’s nothing like the platform postures of this year’s gubernatorial hopefuls to send us back for another look at what Gov. Dan Malloy said he would do, did do, or could not pull off. Doubtless his successor will find himself equally challenged — and then, what happens to the campaign promises?

When a lame duck governor’s approval rating is around 17 percent and has been for a long time among the lowest in the country, he is obviously doing some widely unpopular things — which warrants a second look at how the governor has turned off so many. Has the governor been trying to practice tough love?

Governor Malloy did in fact make some tough choices in a job that — better face it, Mr. Lamont, Mr. Stefanowski and Mr. Griebel — is relentless and thankless. While the candidates attempt to convey what they could do better, voters might benefit from a reminder of Malloy administration efforts to tackle the same perennial issues. Comparisons could help voters choose.

The governor’s biggest failure was in not getting more concessions from state employee unions, although he did get some. Our judgment is that over eight years he should have been able to make the case that those did not go far enough. As it is, the state is many years from the job turnover that will mean a preponderance of newer hires getting leaner benefits packages.

Certainly, many state labor union members think the concessions went too far, but that’s in large part because they grew accustomed to benefits that the private sector long since surrendered as unsustainable. No one disputes that Malloy inherited a problem that previous governors and legislatures kicked down the road. It awaits the next effort by the next governor.

Anyone trying to balance a budget is going to get beaten up, and the next governor can bet that will happen to him as well. Economic recovery has been slow but moving. Income tax revenue is having a banner year so far, thanks in part to the bullish stock market that also benefits the state’s investments. The temptation to raid that pantry will be strong.

The rate of most crimes is down and the incarceration rate for men under Malloy’s Second Chance program has gone low enough to allow fewer state prison beds. Women’s rate of incarceration is steady. Homelessness reached an all-time low. The number of fatal overdoses from opioid abuse appears to be stabilizing after years of climbing.

The Malloy administration can legitimately take credit in each of those areas. When a candidate talks about people fleeing Connecticut taxes or about “social programs,” or declines to say where he will make budget cuts, voters need to weigh what lower rates of crime, incarceration, homelessness and fatal drug use contribute to the quality of life here.

It’s interesting to speculate what it will be like if Democrat Ned Lamont gets elected with a Republican-dominated General Assembly, or if Republican Bob Stefanowski were to have to govern with the Democrats in control of the legislature, or what would happen if Oz Griebel gets elected with either party in the majority. There’s a certain appeal for the top dogs in the legislature to have an opposition governor to spar with.

In the last two years, Connecticut residents have heard Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano as the mouthpiece for his party in criticizing just about everything Malloy has done or said. The Senate has operated with an even split, 18-18, giving Fasano a sizable bullhorn.

But in Malloy’s first term, starting in 2011, his own party was in control, and his fellow Democrats in the legislature had to get used to playing second string to the governor. During the administrations of Republicans John Rowland and Jodi Rell, Democrats in the General Assembly spoke for the party in state government. With Malloy at the helm their choice was to echo the governor or keep still.

It’s a moot point now, but we suspect that the lackluster response of some Democrats to the governor’s big ideas — or their beholdenness to state labor unions — contributed to the fact that some of his worthwhile projects, such as the bold transportation plan, never truly got moving.

Promises are optimistic; reality is relentless.

Online: https://bit.ly/2N4FRoQ

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Boston Globe

Sept. 26

How much more callous can President Trump’s immigration policies get?

The latest outrage is that immigrants — including legal immigrants — across Massachusetts are dropping their health coverage, believing that new Trump policies require them to choose between affordable health care or a green card.

One real life example: Maria Jose and her husband are immigrants from Mexico living in Stoneham. They moved to Massachusetts 12 years ago and now work independently as professional house cleaners. Last month, they dropped out of MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, a decision that left them with no insurance coverage.

The couple has a pending green card application; they’ve been playing by the rules. Even though nothing has formally been implemented, the mere leak of draft proposals reported in the media has scared people like Maria Jose away from using benefits to which they’re entitled. It’s not just health coverage: Roughly 18 states reported seeing enrollment drops of up to 20 percent in the WIC federal nutrition program for pregnant women and children.

What’s especially devious about the administration’s tactics is that it’s using fear alone to accomplish its goals. The Trump proposal was only released Saturday, but it was preceded by months of leaks that successfully sowed confusion and fear.

As it turns out, the proposed rule is actually less expansive than feared. In bureaucratic terms, it would alter the “public charge” test, which is designed to identify people who may rely on the government as their main source of financial support. Currently, the test is very narrow; it only considers cash-based benefits. WIC is not included in the draft, for instance, but food stamps and Section 8 housing assistance are. As it is now, it would apply to foreign-born individuals seeking a green card through a family petition or employment-based visa, and to some abroad requesting non-immigrant visas.

While it’s hard to know how to fight against unofficial policies, the state has an obligation to protect the foreign-born population — in part by helping to get accurate information, including the fact the plan is only a draft at this point, out to immigrant communities. One in six state residents, and one in five workers, is an immigrant.

The good news is that state officials are ready to oppose the new public charge proposal, which still must go through a federal review process. Charlie Baker was the first governor in the country to publicly oppose the plan, according to advocates. “We’re going to do everything possible to make sure the voice of our state is heard on how negative and detrimental this proposed rule would be on Massachusetts residents and our state economy,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in an interview. “I think of public benefits as a step up for immigrants who are on their path to economic security.”

There are currently more than 50,000 non-US citizens enrolled in SNAP in Massachusetts, and more than 260,000 in MassHealth, per state figures. The risk to health benefits is especially troubling, and threatens the state’s progress in ensuring health care access for all. But the state’s individual mandate raises the possibility that some foreign-born residents with subsidized insurance through the Health Connector would have to pay a fee if they drop insurance coverage to avoid threats to their green card.

For Maria Jose, the choice was clear. “I didn’t think of my health or my husband’s for a second,” she said in Spanish. “Even if (the proposal) is only a rumor ... if it’s out, that means it will happen — especially with Trump as president.”

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Sept. 26

The International Seapower Symposium, which took place last week at the Naval War College, offers a forum for the top military maritime authorities from more than 100 countries to come together to discuss issues of mutual interest. The leaders discuss such matters as shipping lanes through the Arctic, countering raids by pirates or cooperating on humanitarian missions.

“Make no mistake, this desire to sail together in support of our fellow citizens — regardless of the winds, waves and weather around us — is the current that has drawn us here to Newport,” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations.

The symposium bubbled into the news when China summoned its delegate, Vice Admiral Shen Jinlong, home from Newport amid growing tensions with the United States. It was one step in a series that highlighted the increasing disagreements between this country and China.

With the help of an enormous trade imbalance, China has been massively increasing its military, leading some American strategists to fear a day could come in the not-too-distant future when China, with its huge population and economy, will have hegemony over the United States.

Apart from the tariffs imposed by the White House to counter Chinese trade practices, the countries have disagreed about a range of military issues, including who controls the South China Sea, where China has built airstrips and warned other countries not to interfere with the waters it considers its own. The United States, by contrast, has long been a proponent of free movement on the seas.

The Treasury department recently sanctioned China’s military procurement agency for buying military aircraft and missile systems from Russia. China, in turn, refused the U.S. request to have the amphibious ship Wasp call on Hong Kong next month.

Still, while the United States and China are increasingly at odds, it remains valuable to have a global summit of naval forces and coast guards. And it is a privilege to have it right here in Rhode Island.

The symposium has been held at the Naval War College every other year since 1969. It has discussed topics ranging from fisheries violations to combating human trafficking. This year, Defense Secretary James Mattis was among those who addressed the conference.

Navy secretary Richard V. Spencer, a host of this year’s symposium, described its goal of promoting international maritime cooperation.

“We seek a true partnership based upon the concept of shared risks producing shared rewards,” he said. “A partnership in which no single nation is the expert, and the ability to lead resides within all of us. When we work together this way, we can produce an equation where one plus one equals three, and everyone benefits.”

The symposium also provides an occasion to reflect on the significance of the Naval War College itself. The naval research, education and leadership center has been graduating students since 1885. Today, according to the college, about 300 active-duty admirals, generals and senior service leaders are alumni.

“Every day, our allies and partners join us in defending freedom, deterring war and maintaining the rules which underwrite a free and open international order,” Mr. Spencer said.

Thank you for coming to Rhode Island, sirs and madams. Fair winds and following seas.

Online: https://bit.ly/2QgEh5h

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VERMONT

Valley News

Sept. 26

Four Vermont inmates have died while or shortly after being incarcerated at Camp Hill state prison in Pennsylvania. One of them was denied treatment or palliative care for lung cancer in circumstances that could reasonably be described as tantamount to torture. This outrageous situation is one reason why prison reform advocates urge Vermont to end the practice of incarcerating inmates out of state. Developments of the past week, however, call into serious question whether the health care provided to inmates in Vermont facilities is itself adequate.

Lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Justice Oversight Committee heard testimony from Michael Fisher, chief health care advocate for Vermont Legal Aid, suggesting that the Department of Corrections is failing to treat many prisoners who have the hepatitis C virus. Fisher told the panel that in 2017, the DOC treated just one of the 258 people in its custody who had the disease. So far this year, the number is 10.

Moreover, the department is apparently unable to account for $2.2 million of the $4.8 million that the state paid for pharmaceuticals and off-site medical services to Centurion, the private company that holds the contract to provide health care in the prison system. Centurion spent only about $2.6 million of that amount.

“Appalling,” said state Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington. “Unbelievable,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden. Of the two characterizations, we prefer the one by Sears. Unfortunately, this information is all too believable.

Hepatitis C is an infection that, according to the Vermont Department of Health, “can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that can lead to chronic liver disease, liver cancer and sometimes death.” It is transmitted primarily through blood-to-blood contact resulting from contaminated needles used to inject drugs intravenously, but sexual transmission is also possible.

The health department also reports that significant advances in treatment have been made in recent years, and that 90 percent or more of cases are now curable, although the prescription drug regimen is expensive.

Given the relationship to illicit drug use, it’s not surprising that studies show that the disease is more prevalent among inmates than in the general population. Thus prisons are a key arena in which to combat hepatitis C. Moreover, the courts have ruled that prisoners are entitled to medical care comparable to that offered in the community at large.

Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette told VtDigger that he would get back to the committee with information about what happened to the money that is unaccounted for, citing a couple of possible scenarios. Seven Days, the alternative weekly, reports that Ben Watts, the department’s health services director, conceded that Centurion got to keep the money under the provisions of its contract, which has now been changed to cap corporate overhead and profit. If that’s the case, taxpayers are entitled to be outraged.

Meanwhile, Watts claims that the department does offer inmates treatment equivalent to that provided in the community, an assertion that seems far-fetched given the small number of inmates being treated. The problem, according to Watts, is that many of the inmates who have the disease are detainees who are not in custody long enough to complete the eight-week prescription drug regimen. He did not provide numbers, however, and it’s reasonable to ask why the DOC could not coordinate with the state health department so that prisoners who start treatment while in custody could finish it back in the community.

Combined with the well-documented long-term problems with the DOC’s approach to housing inmates out of state, this troubling information strongly suggests that a change of leadership in the department is urgently needed. Absent that, lawmakers must step up their scrutiny of all its operations.

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

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Concord Monitor

Sept. 23

New Hampshire’s August unemployment rate was 2.7 percent. Employers from high-tech manufacturers to fast-food restaurants are flying “help wanted” signs. Waits for service are longer. Finding someone to do home repairs can be a full-time job. Everyone in the trades is flat out and booked far ahead.

The shortage of workers means existing companies can’t expand and new employers can’t move to New Hampshire. The labor shortage, economists warn, has become a drag on economic growth. The reasons are many but two are paramount — demographic trends and a critical shortage of affordable housing.

The state is the nation’s second oldest. Retiring boomers are not being replaced in equal number by new workers. The construction industry alone lost 1.5 million workers during the last recession. There are fewer high school graduates, and they are avoiding jobs in the trades. Demographers estimate that the state’s high school population will drop by 27 percent over the next two decade

Graduates of New Hampshire’s many colleges, both native born and out-of-staters, move away but often fail to return or are stymied by housing costs when they try to do so. Pay, in a state that still relies on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, has not kept pace with rents or home costs. It’s reached the point where some employers, among them Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, are debating whether to build company-owned housing.

There is, as many have pointed out, a disconnect between the housing older owners have, big three- and four-bedroom homes, and the housing younger workers and their families want or can afford. People now want to live close to services in the center city, but a diminishing supply of land and high construction costs have driven up the price of even modest dwellings, which aren’t being built in great numbers because there’s more profit in building big homes.

The state’s extreme reliance on property taxes to fund government makes the problem much worse.

The tax bill on the median price home in Concord, $227,000 according to Zillow, tops $6,000 per year or $500 per month. Property taxes add hundreds of dollars per month to rental costs.

Concord has done more than most places to create and maintain a mixed housing stock that includes affordable options. But more than 200 units of housing in Concord’s downtown have either been recently built or are under construction or in the works. All will be sold or rented at market rates, which means upward of $1,200 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. That’s good news for the downtown and proof that the city’s investment in its Main Street was a wise one. What isn’t being built on any scale is affordable housing.

Plenty of smart people — planners, economists, housing experts, builders and others — have worked for decades to find an answer. The solutions of the past, vast Levittown-style bungalow developments, towering housing projects or cheek-to-jowl triple-deckers, either won’t work or people don’t want to live in them.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that requires municipalities to permit the addition of an accessory dwelling unit, once called a mother-in-law apartment, to increase housing availability. So far, it’s had little effect.

What can be done, or at least tried? Zoning laws, building codes and other impediments to affordable housing should be revisited. Unused city and state land could be sold at a discount to providers of workforce housing. Incentives to create age-restricted housing, where they exist, should be replaced by incentives to create mixed-use housing. What’s unlikely to change, at least in the foreseeable future, is the state’s reliance on property taxes and the federal government’s reluctance to subsidize housing for the less well-off. The answer, for now, lies in local and regional efforts to address the shortage.

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

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MAINE

Portland Press Herald

Sept. 24

As Maine’s biggest city, Portland is a hub for all kinds of economic activity. It’s where wealthy people from all over come to spend lavishly on artistically composed restaurant meals, and it’s where people with nothing come to find a hot bowl of soup, a warm floor to sleep on and a chance to start over.

There are about 70,000 Portland residents, but at any time of day you could count three times that many people within the city limits because of the opportunities it offers.

Portland’s economic dynamism is good for Maine. Sales tax collected in Portland stores and restaurants goes straight to Augusta. Tax revenue from new construction is fed into the school funding formula, reducing the amount of state money sent to city schools.

But when it comes to taking care of the people who can’t care for themselves, the state is not so eager to be involved. This is wrong.

Homelessness is a state problem, not a local one. The state’s failure to address the opioid crisis has destroyed lives in every corner of Maine. The state’s failure to provide community mental health services has left very sick people with nowhere to go.

The collapse of the rural economy has forced people with no resources to go elsewhere to look for work.

But when these people show up in Portland, they become a local problem.

This wasn’t always the case. Before 2015, the state played a bigger role in funding homeless services by letting the city use General Assistance funds to pay overhead at its shelter. But under the LePage administration, the Department of Health and Human Services ended that agreement, forcing city taxpayers to shoulder that cost.

Recently, Portland has begun trying to bill cities and towns when one of their former residents appears at Portland’s homeless shelter. It has had mixed results, with some communities paying the bill, and others pushing back saying that Portland has to prove that the same individual asked for assistance in their hometown and was refused.

This is not workable. Maine does not issue internal passports, and everyone has the right to go wherever they think they can have the best life. Someone who shows up at a homeless shelter seeking a place to sleep is no more a resident than someone who spends the night in a hotel.

The state should share the responsibility to house the homeless, just as the state shares the lodging tax that’s collected at hotels.

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

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