The state's political establishment has it all wrong when talking about who will take on Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016. It isn't who the best candidate might be to take on the Republican rising star, it's who will base Democrats pick to do so.
Democratic operatives and establishment types all say they were going with the "operating assumption" that Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will challenge Ayotte. Certainly this is the matchup that Washington Democrats like Harry Reid are hoping to make happen. If she doesn't run, some Democrats already have their eyes on a different woman to take on Ayotte: U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.
All this thinking misses a much more obvious option: retiring U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
Since 2006, New Hampshire has been the most swing of swing states in the entire country. Nearly every two years since then there has been a violent move from Democrat to Republican. This should have taught us a lesson by now about how New Hampshire politics works lately: What matters most is if a candidate can win a primary, the general election atmosphere cannot be controlled.
There is no better example of this concept that Shea-Porter's three repeat contests with Republican Frank Guinta. The reason voters had the same choices three different times is because neither of these candidates could be defeated in a primary and then they won or lost against each other depending on the political mood of the year.
This is what makes Shea-Porter really interesting as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2016. Should she ever consider it, she definitely has more of a path to victory than Kuster and maybe even Hassan.
Shea-Porter might be the most prominent true progressive ever elected to major office in New Hampshire in a century. She owns the label. She was running for office talking about the "99 percent" five years before it became the rallying cry for Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Her liberal positions matter because in a typical low-turnout Democratic primary for the Senate in 2016 a well-run liberal campaign is the one that will win.
Kuster showed how this played out in 2010 when she ran was the well-funded progressive challenging perceived Democratic front-runner Katrina Swett. In the years since progressives have lost favor with Kuster. One group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, strongly backed Kuster in 2010 and 2012, only to totally drop her once she starting voting in Congress.
As one top Democratic put it to me: Shea-Porter would beat Kuster 10 to 1 in a Democratic primary for the Senate. Sure, Kuster can raise more money, but Shea-Porter has the Democratic base locked down in the state's 1st Congressional District and would be favored in the more liberal 2nd Congressional District.
In 2012, when Hassan ran for governor the first time, she faced a challenge from the left. Hassan's opponent, former state Sen. Jackie Cilley, lacked fundraising and no one really knew who she was, reasons that she wasn't a perfect candidate. Hassan deserves credit for that win. What few know, however, is that Hassan was flown to Washington and encouraged to take on Shea-Porter in a Democratic Primary. Hassan turned down that idea. In the end, two other Democrats did challenge Shea-Porter, but dropped out before they could even put their name on the ballot.
And unlike Hassan and Kuster, Shea-Porter won't be in office next year and has nothing to lose by running.
Until she takes her name out of contention, watch Shea-Porter.
(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/political scoop and on WMUR-TV.)
Last Updated on Monday, 29 December 2014 11:57
We are six months to the end of the state's fiscal year and all eyes are closely watching the budget. Overall revenues are running ahead of projections, which means the Senate Ways & Means Committee did an excellent job estimating revenues when we built the budget last session. However, with the governor's recent executive orders for agencies to reduce spending, it appears that over-spending has occurred ... some budget experts estimate as much as a $100 million deficit. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I've been asking the governor to provide department-by-department reports on General Fund spending since July. Unfortunately, the governor refuses to share it with the public. So we really don't know the extent of New Hampshire's current budget problem.
Various constituencies are nervously watching to see how the deficit will be addressed, and many fear that dedicated funds may be a target. We have approximately 320 of these dedicated accounts that fund specific programs.
There has been some controversy in recent years about the "raiding" of dedicated funds to assist in balancing the state budget. This has been done by transferring those funds or fund surpluses to the general fund for general state expenses.
It is not hard to find examples of this practice. In recent years, the consistent raid of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program's (LCHIP) dedicated fund caught the attention of Granite Staters. LCHIP is an independent state authority that makes matching grants to N.H. communities and non-profits to protect New Hampshire's natural, cultural and historic resources. Funding for these projects is made possible by small fees charged on four types of documents that are recorded at county registries across the state. The public was told that the money would be used to conserve our state's most at-risk natural and historic resources. But the unfortunate truth is that since the establishment of that fund, more money has been used to balance the budget then went to LCHIP projects.
In the last session, the Republican Senate made a commitment to stop this practice, most notably with LCHIP. We held to the principal that a dedicated fund means just that: funds raised for a specific purpose should be spent on that purpose. In her budget, the governor provided some partial funding of the program, but the Senate fully restored the $8.5 million that were raised through real estate transaction fees. We also went a step further and protected LCHIP from being raided to fund other parts of state government. We did this by stopping the governor's attempt to have the flexibility to raid these funds to cover over-spending in other departments. Because of this action, LCHIP recently awarded nearly 40 grants to communities in New Hampshire, including three in District 2: Bristol (Bristol Town Hall), Haverhill (Pearson Hall), and Sanbornton (Congregational Church Building).
LCHIP is not the only casualty of raids to dedicated funds. Today we are seeing another important dedicated fund about to fall victim to a budgetary raid. Politicians and bureaucrats have turned their sights on more than $9 million raised from New Hampshire ratepayers which is dedicated to increase renewable energy generation in our state.
Similar to LCHIP, the state's General Fund has to date become the largest recipient of Renewable Energy Fund dollars. If the impending raid of $9 million does occur, almost half of all funds raised for renewable energy projects will instead have gone to balance the state's General Fund. This surely was not the intended use of the proceeds when the program was established by a near-unanimous vote of the state Senate.
By continuing to look to the renewable energy funds as a source of general government revenue, lawmakers will dodge the transparent manner in which the state generates the revenue needed to finance public services. Worse, when a decision to raid these funds is made behind closed doors, politicians and bureaucrats are undermining the very investments that they pledge to support — further weakening the state's energy future, and casting doubt in the minds of businesses and voters on the integrity of the state's commitment to renewable energy.
Fortunately, we still have time to reverse the trend of raids on dedicated funds. Contact the governor, your legislators and leaders at the Public Utilities Commission and express your support for transparent budgeting. Remind them that dedicated means dedicated. When the Legislature sets up dedicated funds, and when taxpayers pay fees to support those funds, they deserve to know that their money is going towards its stated purpose.
As we begin to put together the next two year budget for New Hampshire, the Senate will continue to protect the integrity of dedicated funds such as LCHIP and the Renewable Energy Fund.
(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)
Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 08:10
While most citizens were distracted by the holidays, the enlarged Republican majority in Congress was laying golden pavers for its magical kingdom — a fabulous place where taxes are cut, military spending is not and budgets balance effortlessly. The coat of arms reads, "Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves."
And to think the rubble has hardly been cleared from the ruins of the most recent magical kingdom, that ruled by George W. Bush. Not only did the Bush tax cuts not pay for themselves but tax revenue as a share of the economy today isn't even close to what it was in 2000.
So how can Republican leaders restore the realm? For starters, they've launched a campaign to replace Doug Elmendorf, the economist overseeing the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is the nonpartisan agency that estimates the cost of legislation.
Let it be noted that prominent conservative economists — among them Gregory Mankiw, chairman of W.'s Council of Economic Advisers — have called for Elmendorf's reappointment. Elmendorf "is a superb economist and, over the past six years as CBO director, has shown himself to be scrupulously nonpartisan," Mankiw said.
But nonpartisan may not be partisan enough for tax cut activists. They want the bean counters to make the numbers work for them through the powers of "dynamic scoring."
The idea that reducing taxes could unleash new economic activity, generating new tax revenues, is not without merit. Dynamic scoring factors in those revenues. Count them, Republicans insist, and the burden of finding painful ways to pay for tax cuts is lightened. That makes tax cutting easier.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, calls dynamic scoring "reality-based scoring."
The problem is the ease with which politicians can make their own reality. Dynamic scoring is a dark art, producing wildly different estimates, depending on the choice of economic model and other assumptions. For example, some kinds of tax cuts raise more revenues than other kinds.
Another nonpartisan office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, did apply dynamic scoring to the tax reform plan submitted by retiring House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. The result was eight scenarios, some considerably rosier than others. At the low end, the Camp plan would raise only $50 billion in additional revenue over 10 years. The high-end estimate was $700 billion — 14 times the low one.
Furthermore, the optimistic $700 billion figure included deficit reductions that future Congresses might make. Some of the assumed policy changes weren't even mentioned in the Camp plan.
Bruce Bartlett, an economist in the Reagan and George H.W. administrations, points to another flaw in the Republicans' approach: the highly selective use of dynamic scoring on some elements of their proposals but not others.
"Republicans want to use dynamic scoring only for tax cuts," Bartlett wrote me in an email. "They refuse to acknowledge that spending, such as public works spending, also has dynamic effects. They should either do it for spending and taxes or not at all."
Bartlett added that "spending cuts can have negative dynamic effects that Republicans also never acknowledge."
The Joint Committee on Taxation's models are themselves problematic, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For example, they count the economic benefits of investments in new machinery but not investments in worker training. Human capital doesn't get much attention.
But even when score-makers do their darnedest, they're working with numbers pulled from air. So Republicans can use butterfly nets to catch those guesses that produce the conclusions they want. Bear in mind, the last time they performed their tax cut magic trick, things didn't work out too well.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
This year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. By December, 1914, long before the U.S. became involved in WWI, the "War to End All Wars" and the "War to Make the World Safe for Democracy" had become a ghastly bloodbath as well as a stalemate.
The war had only started that previous August and everyone was expecting a very short war and was sure that all the troops would be home by Christmas. Little did these soldiers know that "The Great War" would last over four years and turn out to be one of the deadliest wars in history and one that would cause major changes in the world of the 20th Century.
On Christmas, 2014, soldiers on both the British and German sides declared a "Christmas Truce." Such informal truces, such as those declared while soldiers were eating or for trade, were not uncommon in an era when war was a still considered at least something of a "gentleman's game." For instance, during the American Civil War, Union and Confederate troops traded with each other. The South grew tobacco but could not get coffee because of the Union blockade. The Union troops wanted tobacco and the Confederates wanted coffee.
The WWI ceasefire happened spontaneously among the enlisted soldiers and NCOs and involved at least 100,000 British and German soldiers in the trenches across the Western Front. Most were young men who were homesick at Christmas. As one might imagine, the generals and other high-ranking officers did not at all like the idea.
The soldiers had been through heavy fighting. They had suffered machine gun fire and artillery shells. They also suffered from the cold and from disease and injury brought on by the wet and unsanitary conditions in the trenches and the vermin that multiplied there. Between the trenches, in "No Man's Land," there were the unburied bodies of the fallen.
The story is well-known and sometimes has the ring of legend. On Christmas Eve, German soldiers lit candles in the trenches and put some on Christmas trees, an old German custom. Then, they began singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing back to the Germans. Soon, they were yelling "Merry Christmas" at each other. Afterwards, soldiers from both sides were venturing out of the trenches, over the barbed wire, and into "No Man's Land."
The Germans and the British shook hands and shared food items, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes. Even the sergeants participated. Some traded buttons and even pieces of military equipment. Each side allowed the other to claim their unburied comrades and either buried them on the spot or took them back behind their own lines for internment. The highlights of that Christmas Day were the soccer matches between German and British soldiers. In fact, a soccer ball has become one of the symbols of the Christmas Truce.
In some areas of the Western Front, the truce only lasted though Christmas Day but in other areas, it lasted through the 1915 New Year. There were similar incidents on the Eastern Front.
The military "brass" was horrified. During the truce, some shot at those participating in this "fraternization with the enemy." Afterward, strict orders were issued which promised strict punishment for any soldier participating in future events of this kind on charges of "collaborating with the enemy," a very serious military offense. Although there were future attempts during WWI, they never reached the level of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
Of course, that war did not end wars. In fact, it created conditions for future conflicts. Perhaps warfare is a part of the human condition. On the other hand, we humans can also be very good and intelligent and realize that we share a common humanity in spite of our differences. At the darkest time of the year, perhaps we can reach out to others, even our enemies. Perhaps this is the message of the Christmas Truce.
(Scott is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 12:25
Let's say you are playing with your family in the front yard and while throwing a ball, you get a terrible pain in your shoulder. The doctor discovers a torn rotator cuff and schedules you for surgery. The average cost: about $2,000.
Now, let's say you suffer the same injury, only you do it while you are at work. Same shoulder injury, same diagnosis, same operation. However, because it's a worker's compensation claim, the operation will now cost on average more than $10,000.
This isn't a hypothetical. These are actual numbers from the New Hampshire Department of Insurance report comparing group health medical costs versus worker's compensation medical costs. On average, the shoulder surgery was five times more expensive because it was a worker's compensation claim.
Recently, the Insurance Department compared identical services filed in workers comp to group health claims. The findings are eye-popping:
Surgeons in New Hampshire charge 2 1/2 times more for workers comp surgeries
Ambulatory surgery centers charge 3 1/2 times more in workers comp
Radiology charges are 2 times higher in workers comp
As a business owner, this is appalling. This is either a massive tax on businesses or a hidden fee to benefit health providers. Either way, New Hampshire inexplicably holds the dubious honor of having the highest worker's compensation costs in the region, and among the highest in the U.S.
The Department of Insurance report shows our comp costs are a whopping 58 percent higher than neighboring states. Surgeries, like the rotator cuff example, are 100 percent more expensive in New Hampshire than anywhere in New England.
I applaud Governor Maggie Hassan for recognizing this problem. It is a crippling cost for small business owners. The governor created a special commission this year and told members to recommend ways to lower worker's compensation costs in New Hampshire.
Unfortunately, as the commission wraps up its work this month, all we get is a split decision. We have two separate reports from the commission, because the group can't agree on the size and scope of the problem.
The majority report recommends the state create a database to track workers comp medical costs. Unfortunately there are several problems with this: the data is already available to the state, the database would cost the state and employers money to create, it would take years to develop and doesn't even address the problem at hand. This approach protects the medical community, but it does nothing to help business owners like me.
A minority report from the commission may have an answer. It offers a solution that's in place around the country and is also N.H. specific. We could create a cost containment schedule that ties workers comp claim payments to general health care payments. Sometimes, worker's comp cases are more burdensome to providers; where that occurs, an additional payment amount should be added.
The Insurance Department collects group health payment info in its Comprehensive Health Care Information System (CHIS). The CHIS database could act as the reimbursement rate benchmark for workers comp payments. Even Roger Sevigny, the Department of Insurance Commissioner stated a fee schedule would indeed reduce costs and encouraged the use of the CHIS database
A cost containment schedule is fair and transparent and not difficult or expensive to implement as it uses the CHIS database.
We also need to remember that worker's comp is only about 3 percent of the medical community business. The other 97 percent is general health care — not comp. If the medical community already accepts general health payments for non-work related injuries, why require businesses to pay upwards of 200 percent or 300 percent more for the same treatment? The focus needs to be on mending N.H.'s workers, not milking the system.
Employee access to doctors or hospitals will not be affected since the reimbursement will be based on existing N.H. general health costs which represent 97% of all medical costs.
Let's get these costs under control and fix our worker's compensation system. Stop adding insult to every employee's injury.
(Dennis Gaudet is CEO of AutoServ of Tilton. He chairs the N.H. Auto Dealers Workers Comp Trust.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 December 2014 06:50