Archive for July, 2016

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.