It’s decision time for progressives again.

I’m familiar with it, but have never really have gotten used to it. Those are the compromises every pol has to make when his man loses -pardon the gender references.

I supported Fred Harris in 1976. That was the year fat cats got cut down to size with a tough new post-Watergate campaign finance law. It was said that they couldn’t buy that election. It gave people like us a fighting chance in presidential politics, and it put a premium on small contributions.

Well, it sort of worked out for Jimmy Carter, but before long the powers-that-be began destroying his agenda and his reputation. I compromised on Carter in 1980, but in retrospect, Ted Kennedy probably would have been better than the Reagan Revolution.

Then there was Tom Harkin against Bill Clinton in 1992.

Harkin wanted to break the back of the international oil cartel and bring down oil company profits. He spoke about full economic and legal justice for all Americans who suffered from discrimination. He wanted tax equity, jobs creation and national health care.

He lost and I compromised with Bill Clinton. We got NAFTA, but, the total administration agenda was better than a continuation of the Bush “New World Order.”

So you see I’ve done this before. As in those earlier eras, I have to decide if my aspirations for affordable access to education, a decent paying job and health care for average folk needs to take a back seat, again.

I mean, it could be worse. After all, any Democrat is better than the Republican alternative, right. As tepid as that may appear, that’s the way Republican pols see it too – ergo the nomination of Donald Trump.

But, we’ve never come closer to a progressive agenda than this election year. We had a champion who not only advanced ideas, but made them credible. Millions of people who have never participated in the political process got involved.

So now, I endorse Hillary Clinton for president. But what I also do is support the progressive agenda that Bernie Sanders so adeptly advanced and encourage young and old progressives to seek political office on the local and state level.

We don’t have to live with the “New Hampshire Tax Advantage.”

The university system does not have to stay alive by recruiting out-of-state students.

We don’t need to poison our environment in order to create jobs.

We can create an environment in Keene and New Hampshire that attracts young people and encourages them to start businesses here and to raise their families here.

There has never been a better opportunity for progressives to convince people that the “same old, same old” systems of taxation and job creation don’t work and new ideas need to be advanced.

We only get these chances every so often. Let’s not leave the bitter taste of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” in our children’s mouths.

I remember the first time I heard Bernie Sanders speak. He attended our county Democratic spaghetti dinner fundraiser, twice. Years before he decided to run for president.

He talked about economic unfairness and how the system was rigged to benefit the wealthiest and most powerful people in America.

He talked about raising the minimum wage to a livable wage.

About affordable and accessible healthcare for all.

About strengthening Social Security, not dismantling it.

He talked about sane environmental and energy policies.

He spoke to the needs of the people that I know.

He spoke to the needs of people you know.

He was saying those things in the 1980’s and they still ring true.

Apparently, these truths are self-evident.

 

Elizabeth Warren told Stephen Colbert that people are angry

and that they have good reasons to be angry.

Incomes are flat, expenses are up,

young people can’t get through college without being crushed by debt,

seniors can’t stretch social security checks to cover food and rent.

There are a lot of reasons to be angry.

But Donald Trump does not have the answers.

And frankly, I wonder about the presumptive Democratic nominee.

But that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here today to talk about keeping Bernie’s revolution alive and bringing it down to the state and local level.

You know me. I’ve tilted at a few windmills in my time.

You’ll recall we lost the fight against bringing a Bearcat into this town.

But we won assurances from the police that they wouldn’t use it indiscriminately.

We lost the first rounds to ban plastic bags, but kept it on the agenda and will bring it back again if business won’t do the right thing voluntarily.

We won the fight and took a stand on keeping the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 350 parts per million, and to be a sustainable community.

And, just this Thursday, we won the fight to tell the utility industry that they will NOT charge ratepayers a tariff for their dirty little pipelines.

But, the single biggest threat to people in Cheshire County New Hampshire is this state’s antiquated tax system.

The so-called New Hampshire Advantage.

Here we have a tax system that not only depends upon the property tax to fund most of state government, but actually protects the income of wealthy people in ways that guarantees that middle income people pay more than their fair share of those taxes.

How does it do that?

1) New Hampshire’s individual income tax system consists of a flat rate of 5%, which applies to interest and dividend income only. But, state law exempts all TRUSTS from interest and dividends tax.

This means a trust, including land trusts, can accumulate interest and dividend income free of any New Hampshire tax.

Not surprisingly, there is a cottage industry among New Hampshire lawyers to create trusts for wealthy clients.

The average taxpayer doesn’t have that option.

2) If you own 10 acres of land or more, you can put it under “current use”, meaning you receive a huge property tax discount. Once you’ve decided to sell or develop it, you merely pay a 10% tax based on the value of the property, a fraction of what you would’ve paid had it not been under current use. The average home owner doesn’t have that option and ends up subsidizing wealthy people’s obligations.

Using Census data, the leading tax advocacy organizations show that New Hampshire ranks third, behind only Connecticut and New Jersey, in property tax charges.

Since 2001, New Hampshire’s General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent.  During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent.  As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue.

And, it’s not working very well.

State contributions to their obligations to Keene’s local government have fallen by more than $1 million per year since 2008.

And guess what, those downshifted costs are picked up by local property taxes.

And who pays more than their fair share of property taxes?

That’s right, the middle class takes it right in the neck.

Those aspirations to send your kids to college? Forget about it.

Tuition costs to the UNH system have never been higher. And that’s because the state’s contribution to the state university system has never been lower. In fact, their contribution is so low I don’t know how they pass the red face test by still calling it a state university system.

The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the “general good.”  It also states that each of us is obligated to “contribute his share” to the cost of government.  But Concord is so focused on tax cuts that they’ve lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.

How much time could I take talking about the labor laws in this state?

Suffice it to say that it is not right for workers who work what in reality is a full time job, to not be offered full-time benefits and overtime. Splitting up shifts to avoid paying full time wages and benefits is wrong and should be illegal.

If it isn’t bad enough, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a labor seminar for employers at the Hannah Grimes Center last week to talk about the effects of the new Federal overtime rules that take effect January 1st. I attended as sort of a fox in the henhouse.

What the attendees came away with were ways to reclassify employees so they can avoid paying the overtime the new law was designed to mandate.

Bernie sure was right when he said this system is rigged.

No one, including me, loves paying taxes. But if we must pay taxes then everyone should be treated equally and not given special treatment under the law.

People should be able to afford the price of a state university education.

People deserve the right to universal healthcare.

No person who works for a living should live in poverty.

These deceptive and unfair practices must end.

And the revolution that Bernie started is the KEY to ending them.

Don’t become discouraged.

Become engaged.

Keep the pressure up.

Tell your legislators, your select board, your governor and members of Congress at every opportunity that they are going to be held accountable for these things.

And most importantly, vote.

Drag your friends and family to vote.

Vote in every election.

I want to thank you for asking me to speak to you today.

And, I want to thank Bernie Sanders for giving us the courage to stand up for our own best interest.

Don’t let him down!

Peace!

 

Council Goals Workshop

Posted: July 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

It was raining Saturday morning, so my family wasn’t overly irked at me for heading off for a five-hour council goals workshop. Well, maybe they were a little irritated, but that was mostly the rain’s fault.

Last year I suggested to the council that we hadn’t spent a lot of time over the years giving staff clear direction. They agreed and told the mayor to set up a short-term council goals workshop where we could work out the steps needed to reach the long-term goals in the community master plan. Seven senior staff members also were there.

The results will be announced in a month or two, but I’d like to give you my first impression now while it’s fresh in my mind.

Each of us presented three goals we thought the city should shoot for and I swear we didn’t compare notes beforehand. We almost unanimously agreed that there should be regional collaboration between city, county and school governments to save money through elimination of duplication and cost sharing. That started a few years ago with the Joint Procurement Initiative committee that the city/school district formed, but was amplified Saturday with the suggestion to add the regional importance of the airport, as well as city services and infrastructure that benefits county-wide interests.

My first goal was to add to our energy efficiency effort by decreasing the city’s on-grid electrical dependency by 5% per year for the next 10 years. This could slash Keene’s electric budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and help meet our master plan sustainability goals. A small change in our permit process could save residential projects 3-5% in overall costs.

Many goals centered around economic development. There is a widely-held view among councilors that we need to introduce education and job skills to the existing workforce and not just rely on importing skilled workers from outside. To do this we should identify the needs of new and existing businesses that would provide new, better-paying jobs. A double stumbling block was identified – low wages and high housing costs – that stands in the way of economic development. Why do local employers pay less than the statewide average, and local landlords charge more?

Councilors agreed that another major impediment to economic growth is our tax base, and that we need to do things to expand it. Today, Keene is host to more than $600 million dollars worth of non-taxable property – local, state, and national buildings, non-profit organizations, churches and the like – that increases the burden of residential, commercial and industrial owners. And, our industrial properties have never been less productive. This is common with towns that serve as the economic center of a region, but our situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are more remote than many county seats.

Another area was in reorganization of the way the city does business.

There was substantial discussion about changing to what is known as priority-based budgeting. Priority-based budgeting is a management accounting technique that seeks to improve profitability by requiring managers to reassess their activities and determine priorities. It aims to reduce costs and channel resources into high-priority areas.

This melds well with my second and third recommendations to review 10% of our city ordinances and employment positions for value and pertinence for the next ten years, and to re-prioritize spending on road/bridge/sidewalk spending and find that funding by paring down department responsibilities in police and fire department spending.

The report from the Mayor’s office will be much more complete.

By the way, we were not paid for participating in this workshop.

IN 1976 I WAS PROTESTING NUCLEAR POWER AND THE WAY THE SEABROOK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WAS GOING TO BE PAID FOR. IN 1961 THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT DETERMINED THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMPANY COULD ASK FOR COMPENSATION FOR THEIR CONSTRUCTION WORK WHILE IN PROGRESS. IN 1979, THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT OVERTURNED THE 1961 DECISION. THE APPEALS PROCESS WENT ON FOR YEARS AND RESULTED IN SOME OF THE HIGHEST ELECTRICITY RATES IN NEW ENGLAND.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN IN JANUARY 2016 THE PBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION RULED THAT NEW HAMPSHIRE LAW MAY ALLOW ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES (EVERSOURCE) TO BUY NATURAL GAS CONTRACTS AND PASS THOSE COSTS OFF TO RATEPAYERS IN THE FORM OF A RATE TARIFF.

EVEN THOUGH KINDER MORGAN HAS CANCELLED THEIR PROPOSED PIPELINE THROUGH THE MONADNOCK REGION, EVERSOURCE STILL HAS A PETITION IN FRONT OF THE PUC TO CHARGE RATE PAYERS FOR CONSTRUCTION WORK IN PROGRESS. – DOCKET (#DE 16-241)

RULINGS BY GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES SUCH AS THE PUC BECOME DE FACTO LAW UNTIL CHALLENGED AT THE SUPREME COURT LEVEL. AND THAT IS WHAT IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW; THE UTILITY COMPANIES ARE TRYING TO GET BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS WHEN THEY COULD USE RATE PAYERS AS THEIR INVESTORS.

IT BOILS DOWN TO THE QUESTION WHETHER OR NOT RATE PAYERS CAN BE CHARGED UPFRONT FOR THE RISK THE INVESTORS DO NOT WANT TO MAKE. I AM ASKING THE CITY COUNCIL TO ADOPT A RESOLUTION OPPOSING THE FUNDING OF A PRIVATE GAS PIPELINE THROUGH A DISTRIBUTION COST RECOVERY RATE TARIFF.

ACCORDING TO CLAIRE IN THE PUC CLERK’S OFFICE, PUBLIC COMMENT IS ALWAYS WELCOME, AND THE DISCOVERY PERIOD IS NOT OVER FOR THIS DOCKET NUMBER. SHE GRACIOUSLY SHOWED ME WHERE STAFF CAN FIND THE NAMES, MAILING AND EMAIL ADDRESSES OF ALL INTERESTED PARTIES SO THAT WE MAY CONTACT THEM, AND HER OFFICE FOR DISTRIBUTION TO INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE PUC.

THE PUC EXPECTS TO HOLD FUTURE TECH SESSIONS AND MAKE THEIR FINAL DECISION IN OCTOBER, AFTER IT GOES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR AND GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL. THE GOVERNOR INDICATED IN APRIL IN KEENE THAT SHE HAS NO POSITION ON THE RATE TARIFF. IN FACT, IT WAS AT A 2014 JOINT NEW ENGLAND GOVERNOR’S MEETING THAT THE IDEA OF RATE TARIFFS WAS FLOATED.

THE STATE SENATE IS NOT BACKING OFF ON THEIR DISCUSSIONS ABOUT EVERSOURCE’S RELATED EMINENT DOMAIN REQUEST. AND WE SHOULDN’T BACK OFF EITHER.

THE CITIZENS OF THIS CITY NEED TO BE PROTECTED FROM THE COMPLICATED BACKGROUND ACTIONS OF LITERALLY DOZENS OF INTERESTED STAKE-HOLDERS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE GOVERNOR, MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL AND THE PUC.

THE CITIZENS OF KEENE AND THE ENTIRE STATE RELY ON THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS ON ALL LEVELS TO ACTIVELY REPRESENT THEM IN THESE MATTERS, NOT MERELY SIT BACK AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

Time To Rethink Policing

Posted: May 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

The traditional image of frontline policing has been part of our culture for at least a police-officerhundred years and in the light of growing budgets and the resulting higher property taxes, a major rethink is overdue.

I think it is time to fundamentally rethink how policing is delivered and the level of service  we can provide with the tax revenue available.

We cannot continue to be all things to all people.

If that means withdrawing from certain areas of service delivery than so be it – other areas of society will have to pick up the slack as necessary.

It’s not what any of us want to see, but a dose of realism is required. Failure to address this issue leaves us spreading the thin blue line even thinner and asking fewer people to do even more.

The police force is the agency of last resort. They deal with people who have mental health problems, community planning issues, and they provide policing in schools – whole areas where the police undertake a wider civic responsibility as noone else does.

To be fair to the police, they are trying to deliver services at a level people are used to but we need to be honest and say we can’t do this anymore, we just don’t have the revenue source. Already, police chiefs across the state – ours included – have begun to re-evaluate how police should respond to addiction-related calls. This is just the beginning.

Tough decisions on police finances have not been prioritized by previous administrators and councils –  they have stored up problems for the people coming in after them because they didn’t concentrate on the long term. To be fair to them, state officials have hamstrung local governments with an unfair and unsustainable tax structure.

In order for future police departments to provide a high standard of service which delivers effective policing, we need to step forward and offer that leadership.

This year’s 2016-17 Keene city budget will be the last staff-generated budget, as the city council begins a new council goals process. Instead of staff building a budget and hoisting it onto the council near the end of the fiscal year, councilors will work closely with staff to develop the next budget from the beginning based on goals identified in July.

This is a new beginning for us and an invaluable tool to address future challenges that the citizens of Keene expect and deserve.

Reference: https://terrymclark.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/council-should-hold-strategic-planning-workshops/

 

The Democratic Party’s delegate process for choosing a nominee for President has come into question after Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 21-point rout of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday garnered him fewer delegates than Clinton. Even though Sanders won every town but two in the state, and most by wide margins, Clinton was awarded 17 delegates to Sanders’ 15.

The DNC’s system allows party leaders to be named as so-called Super Delegates who owe no allegiance to the voter’s choice in the primaries and caucuses.

Super Delegates are made up of Democratic governors and members of Congress, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former vice president Al Gore, retired congressional leaders such as Dick Gephardt, and all Democratic National Committee members, some of whom are appointed by the party chair – who currently supports Hillary Clinton.

The Super Delegate system was created to supply some Establishment stability to the nominating process, after anti-war Senator George McGovern was nominated in 1972, then went on to lose every state but one and the District of Columbia to President Richard M. Nixon.

This strategy seemed to hold water until 1984 when former Vice President Walter Mondale won the nomination over Sen. Gary Hart due in great part because of Super Delegate loyalties, only to go down in flames to President Ronald Reagan.

I would offer this strategy to pro-Sanders backers: Put up primary challenges to every Democratic Super Delegate seeking re-election this year who refuses to abide by the wishes of the electorate.

In New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, for example, voters gave Sanders a 70 percent vote of confidence, ten to fifteen percent higher than the rest of the state. Since Democratic incumbent Congresswomen Annie Kuster is a Super Delegate aligned with Clinton, and considering Sanders won every town in her district, she may be swayed to honor her constituent’s choice for President if she wishes to be re-elected.

Time for Addiction Solutions

Posted: January 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

Most columns about the heroin addiction problem these days are prefaced by a long list of statistics, then are followed by nice declarations such as, “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.” It’s true. These memes have been posted by every stakeholder group in the region, printed by every newspaper in the state, and broadcast by radio, cable television and podcasters across the land.

There is large if not unanimous agreement that these statistics are correct.  But now it’s time to digest the sobering numbers and shift gears by laying some rubber on the road, and that’s just what Keene’s Addiction Solutions Task Force is doing.

Nearly two years ago my co-chair, Keene City Councilor Randy Filiault, and I, with the support of the chairmen of the council’s finance committee and the Keene school board asked the mayor to form this task force to bring together the many stakeholder organizations who have been struggling with the addiction problem for years and give them a forum to collaborate on real solutions that get people off drugs.

Within the last year the governor appointed Jack Wozmac drug czar, the usually water-logged and hard-line-pandering state legislature is actually talking about increasing funding for treatment beds that have gone lacking for far too long, and I feel the tell-tale rumblings of federal grants coming down the pike to fund recovery centers across the state. Locally, Jessica White and David Pence created a very active anti-heroin group in the community who meet frequently to deal directly with active users.

You can tell things are heating up because private-sector organizations are springing up to compete for the federal largesse. And, state and federal election time is approaching. So the iron is hot. Let’s strike!

Our first initiative, led by newly elected councilor George Hansel, is to create a recovery center in collaboration with local businesses to not only help present workers who have addiction problems, but to increase the available workforce by reducing the stigma of addiction and bring the 20% who fail drug tests into the workforce.

Another committee member, Cheshire County Administrator Chris Coates, is creating a research group of education-based stakeholders to bring solutions to the task force.

Committee members Sheriff Eli Rivera and Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard have gotten certification for their staff to administer Narcan to overdose victims. And, county drug court coordinator Alison Welsh is looking into national drugstore participation in Narcan distribution to family members of addicts.

These and other resources are going to be created to add to what is already in place locally to allow the newly funded addiction hotline to offer police and emergency responders a much-needed alternative to jail, the hospital emergency room or morgue.

You can help by enforcing tough-love on someone you may know who has a problem instead of stigmatizing them. Let’s make productive citizens out of these people who are all around us. Don’t throw them away, because the next one in line may be you.

Once, some really smart person said that progress is slow, but it’s worth it.