Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Susan Bruce's Column for 6.24.11: Impulse Control and Pledge Politics

Impulse Control and Pledge Politics

It has become increasingly obvious that the current NH legislature is not just trying to turn the state into a Randian/Dickensian paradise, but they’re also intent on repealing any law they can, just because.

A case in point would be the recent repeal of the NH minimum wage law. NH has had it’s own minimum wage law since 1949. The party that claims to be all about “states rights” just passed a bill that repealed a law that gave us the right to set the state’s minimum wage, rather than just abide by the federal minimum. Governor Lynch vetoed the repeal, and the Freebaglicans decided that it was so important to thumb their nose at the Governor (who was defending the actual right of the state) that they overturned the veto. This is the kind of brilliant thinking that’s been going on in Concord this year, in a legislature overrun with Tea Partiers, Free Staters, and John Birchers.

The current crop of Republicans is badly behaved. You’d see better impulse control in the ape house at the zoo. House Majority Leader D J Bettencourt calling Bishop McCormick “a pedophile and a pimp” comes to mind as an example. NH GOP Chairman Jack Kimball had this to say about the re-election of President Obama: ‘‘look at who we put in the White House. You think about that and we realize the profound responsibility that we have this time. In my view, if we re-elect this man, all that all of the people fought and died for is completely in vain.” In other words: if you die in the service of your country when the president is a dark skinned Democrat whom we like to pretend was born in Kenya; you’ve died in vain. A number of veterans groups are rightly unhappy with this statement. Those of us who remember being called traitors for questioning the invasion of Iraq are unsurprised by the level of hypocrisy shown by the leader of the NH GOP or his NH media stenographers.

Another badly behaved Republican recently in the news is our very own Ray Shakir, whose lack of impulse control has been on display for a number of years in the op-ed section of this newspaper. Ray achieved national fame for his brand of commentary in Mother Jones magazine, in a piece on his support for presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. Writer Andy Kroll quotes Shakir’s description of President Obama: "a jungle alien. Because that's what he is—he's not an American. You can call me a birther if you want." A “jungle alien.” I’m sure old T-Paw is thrilled to have his association with a racist go national, especially given that Pawlenty himself has tried to avoid rolling in the stench of the birther cesspool.

The Freebaglican legislature passed their budget this week. As legislature discussed the bill, prior to the vote, the Republicans in the House got up and walked out when former Speaker Terrie Norelli spoke in opposition to the bill. The GOP majority has shown repeatedly that not only do they lack impulse control; they are incapable of common courtesy.

This budget makes drastic cuts in the few safety net programs our state has. NH will be returning to the GOP glory days of the wait list for services for people with developmental disabilities, always a source of pride for our state. There are further cuts to domestic violence programs, to mental health programs, and to substance abuse treatment programs. It’s hard to imagine that a state that uses alcohol as a source of revenue could spend any less than we have been on treatment, but we will be. Prison and jail will be the increasing source of treatment for addicts and the mentally ill. Despite the recent heap of baloney served up by DJ Bettencourt and Gene Chandler on the op-ed pages of this paper, be prepared for cost shifting to the counties and towns. Expect your property taxes to rise as a direct result of this reckless budget.

Another area of concern is NH’s failing infrastructure. The annual infrastructure report card gives NH a barely passing grade. NH has 142 bridges on the red list. Our roads, bridges, dams, schools, public water, and public sewer systems are all in need of attention. Pledge politics mean we’ve kicked that can down the road for decades. Pledge politics guarantee that we’ll continue to, and that we’ll pay the pound of cure when some kind of disaster occurs.

When the recent unemployment numbers came out for NH, showing that our state has among the lowest numbers in the country, the NH GOP took credit for it, saying it was their policies – even though those policies had yet to be enacted. When those numbers rise, as a direct result of the budget cuts, one wonders if they’ll be so eager to take credit for the increase.

This legislature has slashed programs carelessly, and has worked hard to cut revenue sources. This week, as Speaker O’Brien returned from meeting with special interest groups (including one funded by Big Tobacco) the House cut the NH tobacco tax. NH is the first state to decrease the tobacco tax in 50 years. This is expected to result in a $15 million loss in revenue over the next two years.

At the same time, the new budget slashes state aid to higher education by 45%. NH already has the dubious distinction of ranking dead last amongst the 50 states in spending on post-secondary education. NH was firmly in 50th place – well behind states like Mississippi and Arkansas. We’re in 70th place now, behind the other 50 states. This means that sending a NH kid to a NH college is now going to be even more cost-prohibitive. In-state tuition at UNH is going to increase by 8.7 percent. If this budget becomes law, it’s going to be cheaper for NH kids to go to college in other states. When they do, the likelihood of their returning to NH is small. They’ll be helping to build the economy and the future of other states, while NH remains a hostage of the past.

Pledge politics combined with a tax system that designed in the 1800’s, but fails in the 21st century will continue to conspire to keep our state moving backwards. Businesses considering moving to our state will not find our property taxes and our negative attitude about education to be an enticement. The real NH advantage is being slowly destroyed by pledge politics.

“New Hampshire is not a poor state, NH is a cheap state.” Blue Hampshire blogger tchair.

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