Editorial Roundup: New England

Hearst Connecticut Media. November 30, 2022.

Editorial: CT transportation has a new driver

When it comes to public transportation, it’s all about speed.

Everyone is looking for a shortcut. Can the GPS find a way around traffic? Will trains ever get faster? Could new sneakers cut time on the walk?

Yet nothing seems slower than upgrading our transportation infrastructure.

Every new Connecticut governor starts out with a vision. Dannel Malloy imagined adding lanes to Interstate-95 and carving a bike path parallel to the Merritt Parkway. Ned Lamont declared the 30-30-30 folly of cutting Metro-North times from Hartford to New Haven, New Haven to Stamford and Stamford to Grand Central Terminal to a half hour each. Commuters would have been ecstatic with the realization of a 45-45-45 plan.

Once upon a time, America was innovative in linking roads, rails and bridges to hasten progress. But it’s a lot easier to work with a blank canvas than to update and replace existing infrastructure, so upgrades perennially get stuck in traffic.

Such are the challenges facing Connecticut’s new Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto. He rises from the position of deputy commissioner, which he assumed in January 2020.

Consequently, Eucalitto got to see what Connecticut transportation looked like when everything stopped two months later. During those early days of the pandemic, with Metro-North on hold and highways vacated, it was hard not to fantasize that it would have been a convenient time to catch up on overdue upgrades.

Instead, we got to see how Connecticut functioned with the work force toiling from home. It seemed to provide a remedy to the relentless traffic that clogged roads even before and after rush hours. And while many commuters continue to work from home, traffic returned.

But the pandemic reminded us to think again about a blank canvas. Eucalitto didn’t hesitate to point out at his introductory news conference that electric cars will change the landscape as well, reducing income from the state’s gas tax that is channeled back into infrastructure.

It’s right in his wheelhouse. Eucalitto calls himself a policy nerd. He didn’t spend a lifetime working on the railroads like his predecessor, Joseph Giulietti, but can leverage lessons learned from a previous position with the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., where he advised leaders across the nation on transportation objectives. Painting a picture of the future of travel requires coloring outside state lines.

“No one is more passionate about transportation equity, inclusion and roadway safety than Garrett,” Giulietti said of Eucalitto.

These aspirations could not be more vital in Connecticut right now. The state’s identity crisis over affordable housing underscores the need to find transportation solutions for those who cannot afford rising costs for cars, as well as the gas that fuels them. And recent numbers revealed a grim narrative about safety, as 2022 will end as one of Connecticut’s deadliest years for pedestrians.

At the top of Eucalitto’s to-do list will be coming up with the coin to match the infusion of federal funds that can transform the state’s infrastructure. He also needs to create new strategies to find talent to fill open positions to do the heavy lifting.

Welcome to the driver’s seat, Garrett Eucalitto. We look forward to seeing where you take us.

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Bangor Daily News. November 30, 2022.

Editorial: Expanded child tax credit should be a priority for Congress

Many politicians from both major political parties campaigned this year on pledges to tackle rising prices, which have made it hard for many Americans to afford basic necessities.

Current members of Congress can’t stop inflation, but they can do something, before they leave town for the year, to financially help millions of families. They can reinstate a more robust child tax credit.

Last year, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Democrats in Congress, the federal child tax credit was made more generous and payouts were more frequent. The changes were credited with lifting millions of American children out of poverty.

When the expanded credit expired at the start of this year, the child poverty rate rose quickly and significantly.

In Maine, about four out of five kids live in households benefiting from the expanded credit, according to the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy. The vast majority of low-income families receiving the benefit said they used it to pay for necessities – most often food, and the biggest benefits went to rural areas.

As part of the American Rescue Plan, the maximum value of the credit rose from $2,000 to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for older children. The credit became fully refundable, meaning it’s paid out in full even if someone owes less than that amount in taxes.

The 2021 changes also made it so the benefit was automatically paid in cash each month beginning in July, rather than paid as a lump sum when taxes are filed.

Without action from Congress, the benefit reverted back to the less generous credits and it will shrink down to $1,000 at most per child after 2025, when the 2017 GOP-passed tax law changes expire.

Initial research suggests that the expanded child tax credit reached over 61 million children in more than 36 million households, and funds were primarily used for child care, food, housing and other basic needs.

A March study from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the benefits of returning to an expanded child tax credit would greatly outweigh its price. It estimates that the expanded program would provide benefits worth about $980 billion per year.

There have been several efforts over the past year to enact some version of a more generous tax credit. They have so far failed to gain needed traction.

One proposal, from Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, would offer qualified families $250 a month for each school-aged child and $350 per month for children up to the age of 6. The payments would start four months before the birth of a child, in recognition that families bear additional costs before a child’s birth.

There is likely to be an effort in the lame duck session of Congress to tie the child tax credit to broader tax changes, namely extending the tax cut passed by the Republican-led Congress in 2017.

Given the positive impact of the expanded child tax credit, resuming this more generous credit can and should stand on its own. The larger credit clearly helped millions of families and significantly reduced the child poverty rate. That, it seems, to us, is worth the investment.

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Boston Globe. November 25, 2022.

Editorial: Assault weapons bans work. More states should try them.

Only a handful of states have assault weapons bans despite evidence that such a policy could reduce mass shooting fatalities.

More preventable tragedies have left Americans mourning the loss of loved ones. Days before Thanksgiving, a man walked into an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., carrying a handgun and an assault-style rifle. He killed five people and injured at least 19 others. Days later, another shooter opened fire on co-workers at a Walmart in Virginia, killing six.

Every mass shooting in America follows a familiar script: A community grieves, politicians send their often empty thoughts and prayers, and the nation’s gun laws remain, by and large, unchanged. It has become such a pattern that it sometimes feels naive to call for, let alone expect, meaningful reform. But earlier this year, Congress proved that there ought not be such hopelessness after it passed the first major federal gun safety bill in nearly three decades. And while that law is a small step — and a far from perfect one at that — it is still a sign of progress.

With Republicans taking control of the House at the start of the new year, however, it’s unlikely that federal lawmakers will again take on America’s gun laws anytime soon. But as has long been the case, the best hope for sensible gun laws rests on the states, which should continue pushing for stricter regulations. And while there’s no single law that can guarantee that the next mass shooter will be stopped, there’s one clear place to start: an assault weapons ban.

That might sound like it’s far too polarizing for lawmakers to touch, but it’s not a foreign concept. In fact, before this year, the last time Congress had passed meaningful gun legislation was the federal assault weapons ban in 1994. While it’s a shame that the ban only lasted 10 years — it was set to expire in 2004 and Congress failed to renew it — it provided an opportunity for a natural experiment. And according to one study, during the time that the federal assault weapons ban was in place, fatalities from mass shootings were 70% less likely to occur.

Other research has pointed to similar conclusions: There were fewer deaths from mass shootings in the 10 years that the ban was in place than in the decades prior to and after it. But natural experiments are not perfect, and it’s difficult to control for all other variables. That’s why those studies are perhaps not definitive. But what is common among many of the deadliest mass shootings in America is the type of weapon that’s used. And that is an AR-15 or a similar assault-style rifle that is designed with the explicit purpose to kill quickly — hardly the kind of weapon anyone would need for self-defense or sport.

Some states, including Massachusetts, have implemented their own assault weapons bans. But they consist of a very small minority: Only eight states and the District of Columbia have imposed such a ban. The unfortunate reality is that these bans are far less effective than a national ban because people can simply cross state lines in order to purchase the weapon they want. But that’s all the more reason for other states, including our New England neighbors, to enact assault weapons bans. And while the state bans are certainly not foolproof, they still could prevent would-be shooters from acting on impulse by making it that much harder to purchase a weapon.

Notably, Hawaii, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and doesn’t share any land borders, consistently has one of the lowest death rates related to gun violence every year.

On their own, assault weapons bans would only go so far. States must ensure that gun control laws that are already in place are actually enforced. The Colorado Springs shooter, for example, appears to have evaded the state’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed law enforcement to seize his weapons because he was previously investigated for threatening his mother with a homemade bomb. Handguns are also often used in mass shootings — as was the case in the shooting in a Virginia Walmart Tuesday night that left at least six people dead — and an assault weapons ban won’t change that.

But getting military-style guns out of the hands of civilians is just common sense. It has clear pros, like the potential to reduce fatalities, and no real cons — why does any civilian need an assault rifle anyway? It’s a sensible policy goal that more lawmakers should push for. And if Congress isn’t willing to reenact the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, then it should be more than just a handful of states that impose one for themselves.

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Rutland Herald. November 30, 2022.

Editorial: Historic vote

We are grateful that Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders helped pass bipartisan legislation this week to protect same-sex marriages. Their “yea” votes were joined by 59 other senators, including 12 Republicans, to approve the Respect for Marriage Act. The final vote was 61-36 on Tuesday.

It ensures that same-sex and interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law. The House passed an earlier version of the Respect for Marriage Act with a strong bipartisan majority this summer. The amended Senate bill will now move back to the House for a final vote before heading to President Biden’s desk.

“Today, we became a slightly more perfect union by recognizing the sanctity of marriage between two individuals, regardless of gender or race,” Leahy said in a statement. “A decision such as who to spend your life with should not be determined by a state, local or federal government. It is regrettable that throughout our history, too many Americans have been denied the right to marry who they love based on their gender or race.”

Mary Bonauto, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders’ senior director of civil rights and legal strategies, said, “In a time of escalating attacks on our LGBTQ+ communities, it is also important to see our country come together to protect fundamental rights. ... As the votes in Congress attest, LGBTQ+ people belong and are part of our families, our communities, and our country. This is a critical victory on the road to the day when all people are fully protected from discrimination and have the freedom to make decisions about their lives and families.”

Leahy’s release reminds us that “Vermont is no stranger to making history. Vermont has been a pioneer in the movement for LGBTQ rights. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to introduce civil unions and the first to offer a civil union status encompassing the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage. The state again made history in 2009 when it was the first state to allow same-sex marriage without being required to do so through a court decision. Just last year, I was so proud when former Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson became the first openly gay woman to ascend to our federal circuit courts, on the Second Circuit.”

It is worth noting, the Rutland Herald — through the leadership of then-editorial page editor David Moats — won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for its editorials in support of same-sex marriage.

“Over the years, I have heard from Vermonters, colleagues, my staff, friends and family on this issue. They have told me what I already know from my marriage to Marcelle. The right to marriage — the right to love someone and build a life with them — should be equally available to all Americans,” Leahy noted.

The vote would suggest Democrats are moving quickly, while the party still holds the majority in both chambers of Congress. However, on this issue, the vote was not a total surprise to some.

Washington Post columnist Philip Bump, in a column Wednesday, noted that “same-sex marriage is one of the more remarkable examples of how politics can shift rapidly. A decade ago, views of allowing same-sex couples to wed were evenly split; nearly every state banned legal recognition for same-sex unions.”

He goes on: “Attitudes shifted quickly after that. Support for same-sex marriage grew, and in June 2015, the Supreme Court ordered that same-sex unions be granted the same protections as marriages between men and women. Opposition largely collapsed. The issue had been settled. … And yet. The Senate held a vote earlier this month considering whether to advance federal legislation protecting same-sex marriage in the event that the Supreme Court — after having rescinded its decision in Roe v. Wade — decided to unwind its protections of those unions. While 12 Republican senators joined the Democratic majority in advancing the bill, 37 Republicans voted to oppose moving ahead on the measure. When the final bill was passed on Tuesday, the split within the GOP was essentially the same. (Thirty-six GOP senators voted against it.)”

President Joe Biden praised this week’s bipartisan vote and said he will sign the bill “promptly and proudly” if it is passed by the House. He said it will ensure that LGBTQ youth “will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Among Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, four in five support same-sex marriage, according to Bump. Among Republicans, it’s just over half — and among strong Republicans, only two in five support same-sex marriage, he wrote.

According to published reports, just before passage, Maine Sen. Susan Collins thanked her fellow Republicans who supported the bill. “I know it has not been easy, but they have done the right thing.”

The arc of the LBGTQ-plus movement continues, and it gives us hope that as a society, we are — too slowly but moving nonetheless — toward more acceptance, tolerance and equity.

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Barre-Montepelier Times-Argus. November 26, 2022.

Editorial: Shop local

The internet has ruined us. We feel lost without our smartphones and devices.

You don’t need to Google to find a study suggesting that while technology has brought us many conveniences, it has also stripped away our sense of community.

Sure, we can find like-minded people on online forums and comments sections, but it is not the same as personal interaction with neighbors, or people who work in our cities and towns.

We can argue over the implications that our lack of interpersonal communication has had on society. Social clubs and church attendance has waned; our centers of community often are online. Groups — and businesses — that have not pivoted toward marketing to mass audiences, or even considered thinking about how that might be accomplished, are getting lost in the shuffle.

We need community in order to share knowledge; show gratitude; congregate and celebrate; and to remind ourselves that we are part of something greater. Because as we have seen time and again, when there is tragedy or need, a community can rally.

At a minimum, the collective “we” tend to be impatient and far too quick to judge. Online dependence plays right into impulsivity, and that makes conveniences — like online shopping — almost addictive in their simplicity. We have created the excuse not to go out.

But when we do leave our homes, we want to drive through a thriving downtown center. We do not want to bristle at empty storefronts on Main Street; we don’t want to feel sad when a longtime shop — one we grew up with — announces it is closed for good.

To avoid such gaps in our community, we need to contribute. We must take the time to walk into our local businesses and shop locally. These are investments in our community; it is support for our neighbors and friends. And it is about keeping our community healthy and strong.

So let this holiday season be the kicking off point from which you let carriers bring goods to you, and you go out — all year long — and put your money where it matters, not into the hands of millionaires/billionaires or corporations.

Here are a few things to think about to make that transition both spirited and community-minded:

First, if you don’t know what to get for someone, get a gift certificate from a local business. That still puts cash in their coffers, and it allows your gift recipient the option of getting something they actually want or need. It takes the guesswork out of it.

Second, make a day of it. Lots of Americans have a tradition of making a point of spending the day hitting Black Friday and Shop Local Saturday deals. It does not have to be just a shopping frenzy (nor should it be, probably). Stop at a local restaurant or café and have a coffee or tea, or something to eat. Allow yourself a bit of time to rest, catch up, meet friends — and see what is going on in your community. (People watching is an art in and of itself, especially during the holidays.)

Third, try a different kind of gift than you would get usually. Go to a gallery or check out local artists and artisans. Vermont is rich in talent, and there are amazing gifts just waiting to be purchased and enjoyed. You can also get someone a membership to a local performing arts venue (they will thank you for the advance notice on shows and the discounts that come with being a member), and you are supporting an organization and giving a valuable gift. You can also give a CSA (a farm share), which supports the local agriculture industry and is a gift that keeps giving month after month. (There might even be a jam of the month option with some of these farmers.) That’s a true win-win.

Supporting local artists and businesses is as easy as you want to make it. It feels right to find things (again all year long) in town instead of outsourcing it from across the country or the world. Even if you get free shipping online, you are often compromising with the poor quality of goods you buy. There is no question that locally produced goods often are high-quality and last a long time, and it usually comes with a smile and some conversation.

Right now, butting up against inflation (and the threat of a national railroad strike on the horizon that could disrupt the supply chain even more), we need to feel good about the shopping we are doing. Every purchase needs to matter.

Come together and put your money in your community, so you can enjoy that community all year long — and forever.

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