Just recently I received an e-mail from a constituent asking me to oppose Senate Bill 367, which called for raising the gas tax in New Hampshire. He gave some compelling reasons for his argument (including the concern that as the I-93 expansion gets the bulk of funding, our rural roads and bridges are suffering). On the other end of the spectrum, there have been pleas from the Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to not only raise the gas tax, but to also support the passage of gambling — both to be used as revenue sources to fund NHDOT.
I think everyone agrees that good roads and bridges are critical to our safety, quality of life, and overall economy. And not unlike many other states across the country, New Hampshire faces some real challenges in determining how to fund our transportation system in a fair and cost effective way. With limited resources, we need to manage the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure and determine what projects are a priority.
As background, New Hampshire has two road systems, each funded differently. Our turnpike system has about 89 miles of highway and 164 bridges and various toll plazas. The Turnpike Fund provides revenue for this system through tolls and is in good financial shape. (There have been two toll increases in recent years.)
The other road system includes about 4,300 miles of state roads and 2,129 state bridges. The sources of revenue to pay for this system are road tolls (aka the gas tax), motor vehicle related fees and surcharges (e.g. registration fees), and federal funds. The Highway Fund is the sole source of revenue for funding the maintenance of the state's highway infrastructure, as well as the construction projects contained in the state's Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan.
In addition, under state statute, towns and cities collectively receive 12 percent of the preceding year's total road toll and motor vehicle fee collections. Finally, there is a diversion of highway funds to other agencies including the Department of Safety, the Judicial Branch, the Department of Justice, and the Highway Safety Agency. (In the 2016/17 NHDOT budget projections, the diversion amounts to $83 million and $85 million respectively (Projected Highway Fund revenue for 2016/17 is $231.9 million and $231.3 million respectively).
For the period 2006 through 2015, total spending by the NHDOT increased by over $120 million. Fueled by a historic spike in road construction projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), unprecedented bonding for capital projects, and increased operational expenses, the NHDOT total spending climbed nearly 20 percent over the last decade. Salaries and benefits are budgeted to increase approximately 12 percent over the next two years alone, costing $26 million. Employee benefits are among the fastest rising pieces of the NHDOT budget. While personnel expenses have actually fallen slightly from their peak during ARRA, benefits continue to rise.
According to NHDOT current projections, the Highway Fund will be cumulatively negative $50.8 million by the end of fiscal year 2016 and by $103.1 million by the end of fiscal year 2017, just in the operational portion of their budget. The department also estimates the cost of certain capital projects (completion of I-93, paving, state bridge program, etc.) could add approximately $100 million per year.
While Senate Bill 367 (the 4 cent increase in the gas tax) attempted to solve the NHDOT funding problem, it unfortunately fell short of the mark. SB-367 was estimated to raise $32 million annually, which would not even cover the operational shortfall that NHDOT projects, let alone fund any additional capital projects. Based on NHDOT projections, in order to cover the anticipated operational costs and fund $100 million in additional capital related projects per year, it would take an approximate $0.20 increase in the gas tax beginning in fiscal year 2016 for the Highway Fund to end the fiscal year 2016-2017.
Further, transportation experts agree that the traditional per gallon gas tax is not a long-term sustainable funding source. For nearly a century, gas taxes helped build America's transportation system. But today, gas tax revenues are declining. Americans are reducing their gas consumption by driving less and when we do drive, we are using fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles more frequently.
The need for infrastructure improvements far outpace the funding available and raising taxes amid the specter of a still struggling economy is burdensome. Rather than pass a tax that does little to address the projected shortfalls, we need a thoughtful and comprehensive solution.
To that end, I have co-sponsored legislation (SB-416) with Sens. Bradley, Morse, and Odell to prohibit certain allocations of highway funds and to establish a committee to study methods of maintaining highway fund integrity. Once this committee is established, it should look at setting priorities (a fix-it-first before starting new projects approach), Best Management Practices (e.g., vendor contracts, latest technology, etc.), and private-public partnerships, as well as possible revenue sources.
(Republican Jeane Forrester of Meredith represents District 2 in the N.H. State Senate.)
Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 09:06
The Supreme Court has done it again. By a 5-4 vote, with the court's five Republican appointees on one side and the four Democratic appointees on the other, the court struck down limits on total contributions to federal campaigns that have been enforced and were specifically upheld in 1976. What the 1976 court saw in Buckley v. Valeo as a "quite modest restraint upon protected political activity" that serves "to prevent evasion" of the limits on contributions to campaigns, the 2014 court has now held violates the fundamental protection of political speech enshrined in the First Amendment.
The arms race for money is not completely out of control. Sure, an individual still can only give $5,200 to an individual candidate ($2,600 for the primary, and $2,600 for the general) and is limited to $32,500 to national party committees, $10,000 to state and local committees, and $5,000 to other committees. But whereas the old law limited contributions to federal candidates and committees to $74,600 every two years, now there are no total limits at all.
For most of us, of course, these limits are meaningless. How many people can afford $74,600 in political contributions? We are in the world of the 1 percent already. But now those 1 percenters can give millions or tens of millions. Already maxed out on one committee? Believe me, someone will create another. There is no limit to the avenues to contribute and no law against it, thanks to the Supreme Court.
Does it matter? Of course it does. Sure, having more money is no guarantee of victory. But between having more and having less, every candidate alive would rather have more. And they are grateful, most grateful, to have more, however it comes in — including from other candidates and their funds, committees, the party, supposedly "independent" groups and individuals. Very grateful. You don't get a picture in a silver frame when you give this kind of money. You get access and a hearing and maybe a feather on the scale — not something anyone can prove, but enough for it to be a wise business decision and not just an expression of constitutionally protected political beliefs.
And while it is certainly true that both political parties play this game, it is not true that everyone does. As former Sen. Bob Dole famously observed decades ago, every business interest may have a political committee, but poor children don't. There are no million-dollar donations coming in from single mothers struggling to make ends meet, from homeless families seeking shelter, from the 99 percent of Americans who don't even earn enough to make this new decision of any immediate significance to them.
As for the argument that disclosure solves all problems, reality is to the contrary. Oh, once in a while we hear a story about a clumsy contribution from someone who is seeking federal funds at the very same time. Sophisticated donors don't make that mistake. They've figured out ways to avoid disclosure altogether through supposed "grassroots" committees that are anything but.
Moreover, disclosure is a one-day story at best: an enterprising reporter digging through FEC reports trying to match names and companies and issues. But very few people are around for or follow up on the calls and meetings that happen months later. Moreover, the very goal of many big donors is nothing: forestall legislation to assure that nothing is done when something should be. How do you follow that?
Democracy should be sacrosanct. It should not be for sale. The venerable principle of "one person, one vote" is essentially meaningless when a tiny percent of all Americans, by writing checks and forming supposedly independent and grassroots committees, can and do wield undue influence on the process and its elected beneficiaries.
I certainly support the Founders' vision of an independent judiciary: appointed, not elected, and serving for life. But on days like today, I can't help but wonder whether the five-man majority might see things a little bit differently if they had to raise money — and be beholden to moneyed interests — in order to win and keep their jobs.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
There were 54 residential home sales in February, 2014 in the twelve thriving Lakes Region communities covered in this real estate market report. The average sales price came in at $332,695 and the median price point stands at $214,500. Last February there were just 46 transactions at an average price of $268,188.
A guy walked into our office last week and I could tell right away he was extremely ill. He appeared very agitated, irritated, and almost delirious. A vein was practically bulging out of his forehead; he was perspiring and muttering somewhat incoherently. I immediately recognized that he was suffering from both Type I and Type II Cabin Fever. We see that a lot this time of year. It is almost an epidemic.
Type I Cabin Fever is probably the more common of the two types this time of year; especially after the gloomy, cold, and snowy winter we have had. Generally speaking, those afflicted suffer from moderate to severe depression, bouts of uncontrollable anger, and nightmares that you are in an Expedia commercial. This type of Cabin Fever can be treated easily by extended vacations to warmer climates and liberal amounts of alcoholic beverages. These are usually prescribed together.
Type II Cabin Fever is somewhat rarer and afflicts those with a pent up desire to get back to basics and live a simpler life in a rustic log cabin. Type II is harder and much more expensive to cure and unfortunately is not covered by the Affordable Care Act. There's a lot of anxiety associated with Type II, sometimes to the point of being totally debilitating. It can sometimes be put into remission by extended stays in the Alaskan wilderness, but generally it will come back after returning from the wilds.
The only real cure is to buy a log cabin and live in it until all of the symptoms subside. Right now there are over a dozen log cabins available in Belknap County alone ranging from as little as $134,900 all the way up to $1.15 million for those most seriously afflicted. Here are a couple of homes that might provide relief.
One cabin that looks really nice is at 296 Knox Mtn. Road in Sanbornton. This is a 2,574 square foot, high quality, four bedroom, two bath home. It has Brazilian walnut floors, custom kitchen with granite counter tops, a great room with cathedral ceilings and a gas fireplace, a finished basement, loft, and a great wrap-around porch. Built in 2007, it sits on a nicely landscaped half acre lot and is offered at $325,000. There's also an additional 62 acres of land available for $125,000 if you are extremely contagious and don't want to spread the disease.
The cabin located at 1069 Route 140 in Gilmanton also looks like a cure. It has 2,682 square feet of space, three beds, three baths, a great room with a massive stone fireplace, first floor master, eat in kitchen with silestone counter tops, lots of windows to brighten things up, and a farmer's porch. The house sits on a 5.18 acre lot with mountain views. The property is on the market for a mere $349,000 which is a lot cheaper than intensive care these days.
I was going to tell you about this nice water access log home down at 57 Loon Cove in Alton which would have provided intense therapy, but before I could finish writing this it went under agreement. This home was built in 1986 and has 1,984 square feet of living space, three bedrooms, and two baths. It has a well appointed kitchen with center-island that flows into a large dining area, the requisite great room with cathedral ceilings, skylights, floor to ceiling brick fireplace, all wood interior, game room in the basement, and a farmer's porch. This home might not be right on the water, but there is a golf cart path that leads to the lake where there is 150' of frontage and a deeded dock. The house sits on a .69 acre landscaped lot. It was listed at $328,000. While your cabin fever might still be raging, at least one other person is cured. That's what we realtors do: cure people...
Please feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 2/1/14. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.
Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 05:49
In his Kremlin defense of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.
Crimea, said Putin, "is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus."
Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying.
This speech recalls last December's address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West: "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation."
Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?
Indicting the "Bolsheviks" who gave away Crimea to Ukraine, Putin declared, "May God judge them."
What is going on here?
With Marxism-Leninism a dead faith, Putin is saying the new ideological struggle is between a debauched West led by the United States and a traditionalist world Russia would be proud to lead.
In the new war of beliefs, Putin is saying, it is Russia that is on God's side. The West is Gomorrah.
Western leaders who compare Putin's annexation of Crimea to Hitler's Anschluss with Austria, who dismiss him as a "KGB thug," who call him "the alleged thief, liar and murderer who rules Russia," as the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins did, believe Putin's claim to stand on higher moral ground is beyond blasphemous.
But Vladimir Putin knows exactly what he is doing, and his new claim has a venerable lineage. The ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers who exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy, was, at the time of his death in 1964, writing a book on "The Third Rome."
The first Rome was the Holy City and seat of Christianity that fell to Odoacer and his barbarians in 476 A.D. The second Rome was Constantinople, Byzantium, (today's Istanbul), which fell to the Turks in 1453. The successor city to Byzantium, the Third Rome, the last Rome to the old believers, was — Moscow.
Putin is entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today and command post of the counter-reformation against the new paganism.
Putin is plugging into some of the modern world's most powerful currents. Not only in his defiance of what much of the world sees as America's arrogant drive for global hegemony. Not only in his tribal defense of lost Russians left behind when the USSR disintegrated.
He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West.
In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia's flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity. His recent speeches carry echoes of John Paul II whose Evangelium Vitae in 1995 excoriated the West for its embrace of a "culture of death."
What did Pope John Paul mean by moral crimes?
The West's capitulation to a sexual revolution of easy divorce, rampant promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, assisted suicide — the displacement of Christian values by Hollywood values.
Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum writes that she was stunned when in Tbilisi to hear a Georgian lawyer declare of the former pro-Western regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, "They were LGBT." "It was an eye-opening moment," wrote Applebaum. Fear and loathing of the same-sex-marriage pandemic has gone global. In Paris, a million-man Moral Majority marched in angry protest.
Author Martha Gessen, who has written a book on Putin, says of his last two years, "Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world."
But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia's role, in Putin's words, is to "prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state."
Would that be the "chaotic darkness" and "primitive state" of mankind, before the Light came into the world?
This writer was startled to read in the Jan-Feb. newsletter from the social conservative World Council of Families in Rockford, Ill., that, of the "ten best trends" in the world in 2013, number one was "Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader."
In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.
"While the other super-powers march to a pagan world-view," writes WCF's Allan Carlson, "Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values. During the Soviet era, Western communists flocked to Moscow. This year, World Congress of Families VII will be held in Moscow, Sept. 10-12."
Will Vladimir Putin give the keynote?
In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 09:33
"Ultimately, it's up to our community to say yes to a comprehensive regional trail system around here, advocate for a more walkable city, and help usher the project along by investing in its construction."
We wrote these words less than a year ago, encouraging the Lakes Region to look at the regional trail system not only as a nice path for residents to enjoy, but as a means for economic development. Since then, the City of Laconia has voted to make a significant investment of Downtown Tax Increment Financing funds in the walkability of the city, including the expansion of the Riverwalk and Phase 2 of the WOW Trail. As well, the Town of Belmont approved two warrant articles that will make it possible to build Phase 1 of their Winni Trail this summer.
Quite simply, enthusiasm for the regional trail effort is being backed by solid investment.
Nationwide, rail trails have proven time and again to be economic anchors that stimulate tourism and maintain and improve property values by fostering redevelopment. The more destinations connected by a trail, the greater the economic impact. Expanding the trail system in the Lakes Region will bring an additional type of tourist, increase overnight stays, and require existing and new businesses to meet their needs.
The regional trail will be a significant enhancement to our economy and it's not just us trail advocates who are saying so. According to downtown Laconia business owner Myles Chase of MC Cycle and Sport, "We have a customer base of recreational riders who seek out and travel to these types of trails as a destination. With the new addition to Belmont and eventually beyond, there is no doubt that riders from afar would do the same for the WOW Trail."
So what's next? Well, thanks to the City of Laconia's significant investment, we are close to funding Phase 2 of the WOW Trail, which will meet Belmont's Winni Trail at the Belmont/Laconia line. But, we need your help with a final fundraising push to make this happen.
In the Lakes Region we've got something that many rail trail communities nationwide can't offer: access to a wide range of year-round recreation opportunities and a regional trail that will showcase three beautiful lakes. Coupled with the opportunity to link neighboring communities together in a unique way, it's a wonder that trail enthusiasm hasn't hit the region sooner. Thank you for your belief in our efforts to make the Lakes Region a more desirable place to live, work and play. We hope you will join us as we make the final push for expanding the regional trail this summer/fall.
I'm ready for 4.5 miles of continuous trail for walking, biking and running in 2014. Are you?
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 08:43