Editorials from around New England
By The Associated Press
Aug. 24, 2018
Editorials from around New England:
Connecticut's 2018-19 fiscal year began July 1. Aug. 20, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Office of Policy and Management (OPM) projected the state is on track to end FY 2018-19 with a $137.9 million surplus. This is "an increase of $127.4 million over the original estimate," the Republican-American reported Aug. 21.
It is important to remember Connecticut's finances are a long way away from being stable. Any surplus the state has when the fiscal year closes next June will be artificial.
For starters, Connecticut faces significant obstacles in achieving a "black" budget. Even Benjamin Barnes, OPM's secretary, has acknowledged this depends on the state's economic performance, revenue collections and spending needs. In light of recent history, there is a distinct possibility one or more of these factors will throw Connecticut's budget into chaos. In such an emergency, state government's options will be limited. The 2017 "concessions" deal Gov. Malloy and all but one of the legislature's Democrats granted the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition prohibits layoffs through 2021; and changes to most unionized state employees' benefits through 2027.
Even if all of the above variables work in the state's favor, Connecticut will not be out of the woods. In other words, a surplus won't mean Connecticut is on solid ground.
The 2018-19 budget is part of a package Gov. Malloy and a bipartisan group of legislators approved in the fall of 2017. Among other things, this budget package, which covers FYs 2017-18 and 2018-19, depends on moving millions of dollars from special funds to the General Fund, the largest piece of Connecticut's budget. This is an age-old trick resorted to by politicians who don't have it in them to make tough spending decisions, i.e. meaningfully addressing personnel costs. The maneuverings for FYs 2017-18 and 2018-19 are just the latest examples of Gov. Malloy violating the pledge he made, as governor-elect, to "ensure there are no gimmicks contained within our state's books."
In May, Gov. Malloy and bipartisan legislative majorities revised the 2018-19 budget. Most notably, certain surplus funds from 2017-18 were designated for spending in 2018-19 instead of being deposited in the rainy day fund, as state law requires. The budget now totals $20.86 billion — 1.6 percent more than it was in 2017-18 and 1.1 percent more than the original 2018-19 budget.
If Connecticut finishes FY 2018-19 in the black, voters should remember that development will be nothing to break out the party hats over. The hats should stay on the shelf until the budget is honestly balanced, but unfortunately, that may not happen for many years.
The MetroWest Daily News
As society has evolved with defined gender roles becoming a thing of the past, the use of language in all areas of American life is slowly catching up with the fact that gender-specific language is no longer fashionable.
So instead of using the term fireman, for example, we now use firefighter, instead of policeman it's police officer, instead of mailman we use letter carrier or postal worker, and instead of stewardess we use flight attendant. The examples are endless.
While this may sound trivial and unimportant, it's all about being inclusive and more importantly, being accurate in using the English language to describe a specific role, a title or a group.
This week, a grassroots organization in the town of Hopkinton raised concerns about the phrasing Board of Selectmen, the term used to define the executive arm in small towns mainly in New England. The term dates back to colonial times.
The third syllable in the word selectmen is men, and for a single member selectman, the syllable is man. Yet, as anyone who has paid attention to politics in their hometown knows, there are numerous women serving in the role across the six state region.
Instead of Board of Selectmen, the group suggests the town start using the phrase Select Board, following the lead of a number of Massachusetts communities that have made the change in the past decade.
"Women have served on our Board of Selectmen since 1975," the Hopkinton group says on its website, hopkintonselectboard.org. "Since then, we have seen no significant gains in women's representation ... Would changing the name of the Board change this picture all by itself? Probably not. But it could be a step in the right direction. As the expression goes, "You can't be what you can't see."
To make the change, the group must first petition an article at Town Meeting in May and if affirmed, it would then go on the ballot for voters to have their say at a town election.
To get the measuring rolling, the group is launching a four-prong public awareness campaign that includes a request for supporters to write letters to area newspapers.
Organizers are also asking supporters to sign an endorsement page on its website (so far 115 residents have done so), to comment on its Facebook page and share it to a wider audience, and lastly to speak with friends and encourage them to endorse.
Naturally, not everyone agrees as noted in a front page story in Tuesday's Daily News.
"I'm fine with it the way it is, I'm a traditionalist" selectman Chairwoman Claire Wright said. "In the English language, man is a generic term. There's humankind. There's mankind."
Selectman Brendan Tedstone agreed, saying "I'm tired of everybody trying to change history. I don't think it is gender specific, it's just a title. I just wonder how far the political correctness will go."
Another self-identified traditionalist selectman John Coutinho said "it just seems like we are looking for an issue. Why change it if it has worked for hundreds of years?"
In the scheme of things, this admittedly is not the most pressing issue facing Hopkinton. And no, it's not about being politically correct. We can understand that folks love tradition; it's nostalgia, keeping the memory alive of the so-called good old days.
But time moves on, day-by-day, time moves. What was fashionable yesterday is not so today. Besides the word selectman is not a sacred term. No one gets hurt if the word Select Board is used going forward. As mentioned before, it's about evolving, being inclusive, and casting a wider net.
"It is a simple change, but it's a change worth making," said Amy Groves, who started a website to promote the change. "It would be sending the right and accurate message."
We agree 100 percent.
The Providence Journal
Rhode Islanders who have been crying out for reform at the State House had another reason to be angry last week.
Combined, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio doled out more than $400,000 in "legislative grants" during the past fiscal year — bestowing awards, or gifts, that come from a slush fund that these leaders may use to buy votes and win the allegiance of fellow lawmakers.
Ignoring years of calls for the grants to be eliminated, Mr. Mattiello doled out $205,048 during the fiscal year that ended June 30, more than any other lawmaker and up from $158,500 he handed out the year before ("Mattiello doles out 30 percent increase in grants", news, Aug. 13).
Coming in a close second was Mr. Ruggerio, who doled out $200,050.
All told, lawmakers in the two chambers sponsored more than $2 million in grants.
Good or bad, these grants are neither itemized in the state budget nor vetted through the budget process. Instead, the General Assembly gives itself a $2.2 million pot from taxpayers each year, and the grants — sponsored by many lawmakers — are approved at the whim of the House speaker and Senate president.
As we have said many times before, this system was designed by powerful politicians to curry favor with local voters, by doling out money to charities, nonprofits and sports programs. Some of these causes may well be worthy. But even if they are, any decision to award taxpayer dollars should be made through a process that removes self-serving politics and provides accountability.
Taxpayers should not be compelled to hand over money to be used transparently for political purposes — to control votes and help incumbents win re-election.
At present, the process is sorely lacking. There is no effort to spend the money on the basis of the state's interests or needs, or even spend it in an evenhanded manner. Again, it all comes down to the speaker and the president, and what suits them.
The public has repeatedly called for an end to this system, but so far, leaders of the General Assembly have ignored those wishes and maintained the status quo.
If lawmakers feel called to contribute to charities and local organizations, they should do so with their own money. And if these awards do serve a vital public purpose, they should be vetted through the state budget, which originates with the governor.
In refusing to let voters weigh a line-item veto — although huge majorities of the state's voters support that reform — legislators demonstrate their continued opposition to improving government. Legislative grants are another example of leaders' putting self-interest ahead of the public good.
It's time for the House speaker and Senate president to stop these shenanigans.
The Rutland Herald
In general, Americans are pretty happy about the state of the economy, which is approaching nearly a decade of sustained growth. But behind that general feeling, there is a divide. If you think the economy is doing better, you're likely a Republican. If you think it's doing more poorly, you're likely a Democrat.
That's a trend reflected in a recent poll of nearly 10,000 people conducted by the online polling firm SurveyMonkey for The New York Times, released in an article in the paper last week. This trend is one more indicator that our current public life is driven by artificial divisions that have more to say about the fears and concerns of Americans than they do about our actual beliefs and aspirations.
The data came in response to questions about respondent's feelings and outlook on the national economy; pollsters found that the perception of the direction of the country was more closely tied to a person's political leanings than any other factor, including their financial condition. The survey found that this may be helping Republicans as they attempt to fend off a so-called "blue wave" in November.
"Among registered voters, more than 80 percent of those who judge themselves better off now than a year ago say they are at least leaning toward voting for Republicans in the midterms. That might suggest that the strong economy is serving as a big selling point for Republican candidates," the Times article about the survey reads.
But at the same time, the survey might not indicate that this time, as in 1992, the salient issue is "the economy, stupid." The story goes on: "Complicating that story, though, is the fact that views on the economy have become starkly partisan in recent years. Hardly any Republicans — 5 percent — say they are worse off now than a year ago. At the same time, very few Democrats — 14 percent — say they are better off. Other questions reveal a similar split."
Roll back to when Barack Obama held the office of president, and those positions were reversed: Republicans felt badly about the economy, while Democrats felt better, according to prior research along these lines. The truth is that the economy is on roughly the same course it has been for the last seven or eight years — steady growth, with stagnant wages. Yet public perception is framed more by party affiliation than other factors. That's the story in almost any public arena these days. Party lines have overrun common sense, science, compassion and even reality.
This divide is at the heart of the problem with America right now. Without a place of common ground to start from, finding a way to debate how to tackle the vast problems we face becomes much more difficult, even insurmountable. It results in the inability for Congress to compromise on getting even simple things done, or creates situations where the only solution put forth is a highly partisan one.
Has it always been like this, and we just haven't noticed? That's hard to say, because research into this phenomenon has not been as focused in years past. But in general, this partisanship has become more pronounced, even as there were political campaigns, battles and debates that were just as bitter and nasty, if not more so, stretching back to the founding of our democracy. It does feed into the general sense — which Donald Trump taps into during his campaigning — that the country has lost its way. This was forged to a great extent during the crash and Great Recession, but our recent political campaigns have often featured the theme of getting back on track, with different images of what it would take to reclaim the path.
The messaging has done its job — when people identify the problems in the country as having to do more with party and politics than underlying issues, it's easy for politicians to pitch partisan success as a feel-good moment, or motivate the so-called "base" with attacks on the other side. While this works in the short term, this nation has always depended on the ability of its citizens to see beyond red and blue to tackle the great challenges. America has always been able to embrace competing visions and perceptions of our shared experience, while holding on to a broader sense of belonging to a great, imperfect but ever-improving enterprise. The current climate of partisanship has lessened that sense of belonging to something bigger, to the detriment of our country.
The Bangor Daily News
Last week, we found out that the Trump administration lied when it said that weakening vehicle fuel efficiency standards would save lives. Now, it has come to light that the administration was warned that easing emissions standards for power plants would cause more Americans to die. The administration ignored the warnings and went ahead with a proposal to allow coal-fired power plants to pollute more.
"Implementing the proposed rule is expected to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and increase the level of emissions of certain pollutants in the atmosphere that adversely affect human health," the agency wrote in an impact analysis.
Let that sink in: The Trump administration is proposing to replace rules put in place by the Obama administration to reduce emissions from power plants with less stringent rules that will result in death and illness for thousands of Americans.
It is literally putting corporate interests, a pathological desire to undo everything that was done by former President Barack Obama, ahead of the well-being of Americans. We should all be outraged by this.
Environmental regulators from 14 states wrote a letter to the EPA condemning the rollback. Maine was not among them.
"Beyond addressing the serious climate impacts of greenhouse gases, emission regulations also must help people live long, healthy lives - especially in Maine, which has one of the highest rates of asthma in the nation," Sen. Angus King told the BDN. "Shockingly, this plan does the opposite and is especially bad for Maine, which is downwind of many major sources of pollution. It is a deeply flawed policy, and should be abandoned in favor of an approach similar to the original Clean Power Plan - one that puts the health of the American people first."
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, then under Scott Pruitt, said it was repealing the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Pruitt said the plan ignored states concerns and partnerships with businesses.
The EPA had previously determined that greenhouse gases are pollutants that endanger public health, and therefore must be regulated. This determination came after the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act; it was not affected by last year's rollback of the plan.
This means that the EPA must replace the Clean Power Plan with other rules that purport to cut emissions of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gases. As expected, the agency is proposing minimal improvements at power plants. It would also delegate authority to the states to set pollution rules, which would allow older, dirtier facilities to remain in operation longer.
In its own assessment, the EPA found that the proposed Trump rules would result in up to an additional 1,400 premature deaths from increased pollution each year by 2030. In a section about "foregone benefits," the agency's technical analysis concluded the Trump plan would increase emissions, which would also lead to more cases of asthma, heart attacks, hospital stays and missed school days.
By contrast, the Clean Power Plan would reduce premature deaths by as many as 3,600 annually by 2030. New cases of asthma, hospitalization and missed school days would also have declined.
"In Maine, our economy is inextricably linked to the environment," Sen. Susan Collins told the BDN. "And our state has made substantial progress in reducing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, adopting clean energy technologies, and improving air quality and public health.
"But Maine is also . on the receiving end of pollution generated by power plants in other states. The administration's proposal to rewrite the national standards established by the Clean Power Plan is a step in the wrong direction," she said.
At this point, there appears to be a limited role for Congress in stopping these rules. Use of the Congressional Review Act, which would allow the Senate to reject the rules, would likely forestall future power plant rules from the EPA. That is an unacceptable outcome. That leaves the court as the most likely venue for keeping the deadly proposed rules from taking effect.
Of course, it would be better if the administration simply followed the EPA's guidance and scrapped rules that will unnecessarily sicken and kill Americans. Congress could pass laws to regulate emissions that contribute to climate change, but under Republican leadership such action has been a fantasy.
In November, it is imperative that we elect representatives, at the state and national level, who understand the deadly consequences of refusing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and will take action to reduce them.
A number of newspapers across the country have been writing editorials to protest President Donald Trump's increasing attacks on news organizations and reporters, and his repeated use of the term "enemies of the people" to describe the nation's free press.
The initiative was proposed by a Boston Globe editorial page editor. Because news organizations are free, independent and uncensored, we expect the editorials will run the ideological gamut, from strong condemnation to equally ardent support for the president.
Just as the nation's newspapers do not speak with one voice, Seacoast Media Group's editorial board is, by design, ideologically diverse.
For 15 years, our editorial board has included citizen advisors who bring a broad range of political and life perspectives to our debates to ensure that we are not reaching our opinions in a bubble.
While our board is diverse, there are certain things on which we can all agree.
The president has every right to criticize the press and to call out reporters and organizations when they are inaccurate or show bias, but this particular phrase "enemies of the people," has a dark history, applied by dictators, most notably Joseph Stalin, who used it to dehumanize opponents and make them more vulnerable to violent attacks.
In a speech following Stalin's death, his successor Nikita Khrushchev condemned the phrase because: "It made possible the use of the cruelest repression, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent..."
There is a natural tension between the government and the press, which has long played a watchdog role with the people's support and blessing. President Trump is not the first president to criticize the press and he won't be the last, but despite their irritation and frustration, previous presidents have recognized the value of a free press.
President Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, observed:
"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
This is why the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of the press, along with freedom of speech, religion and assembly. A self-governing people need to be informed. This is also why the onslaught of misinformation bombarding our citizenry, from sources foreign and domestic, poses such a serious threat to our ability to self govern.
As the president and press corps battle it out on the national stage, we remain deeply committed to the mission of our news organization, which like real estate, is local, local, local. Ultimately, we are answerable to the readers and the communities we serve and it is to them we must remain credible.
Our newspapers and journalists are rooted in the communities they cover. Most of our papers have been publishing for more than a century. Our journalists pay local taxes and our children attend local schools. We shop at local retailers, eat at local restaurants, play at local parks. We celebrate the good together and together we mourn the tragic. In short, we have skin in the game.
We do our best to keep the public informed of public health issues such as the impact of the opioid crisis, toxins in drinking water, an increase in pediatric cancer and the growing struggles of the homeless. Our reporters alert our readers about tax hikes, land-use and economic development, public emergencies and public education.
We celebrate our communities through events like the Spotlight on the Arts Awards, which will mark its 25th anniversary this year, and our newer Seacoast All Stars, which in its second year brought Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez to town to help honor our top high school athletes. When we see a need in the community, we move to address it, both in sustained ways and in smaller ways by calling attention to fundraisers for local people and organizations in need.
Our readers have a sense of ownership of these newspapers. Letters to the editor pour in every day like manna from heaven and the debates on our Facebook pages are vigorous to say the least. Community members don't hesitate to call us out if they feel we have made a mistake. And when we do make mistakes, we correct them as quickly and as publicly as possible.
If our readers and the business community thought of us as "enemies of the people," we wouldn't be in business and we are deeply grateful for their ongoing confidence and support.