Editorials from around New England:
New Haven Register
Connecticut needs a viable Republican Party
The unsettling saga of Robert Hyde, a Connecticut resident who may or may not have been involved in a plot against a U.S. ambassador, has raised questions about the president and his associates’ actions in Ukraine. Closer to home, it’s put a renewed focus on the Fifth District congressional race, where Hyde calls himself a candidate even as virtually no Republicans claimed to know anything about him.
Whether that would matter is an open question. It’s not hard to imagine an otherwise unknown candidate who seems to have entree to the highest levels of Trumpworld — see his selfies with the president and members of his inner circle — could ride that notoriety to a primary victory. The rules changed in 2016, and it would be naïve to think a candidate with Hyde’s credentials — or lack thereof — shouldn’t be taken seriously. Of course he would be a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.
But that’s a far cry from winning. First-term U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes is theoretically the most vulnerable House member in Connecticut, and a number of more-legitimate Republican candidates are preparing to challenge her. But “most competitive seat in Connecticut” isn’t saying much. In looking ahead to the U.S. House races for this fall, it’s hard to find a single national prognosticator that has CT-5 on a map of key races. Every prediction has it as safely Democratic, along with the other four Connecticut House districts. (The state has no U.S. Senate race this year.)
Anything could happen, and it’s too soon to say any race is a sure thing. But people who follow politics for a living have all but given up on a Republican winning a U.S. House seat in Connecticut for another cycle, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The Republican Party has some known names in the state, but they rarely if ever challenge for federal seats.
Nearly every one of them, from Len Fasano to Themis Klarides to Bob Stefanowski, appears to view state government as their ceiling, and the effect is to cede to one party a generation of representation at the federal level. Potential candidates including Erin Stewart, the mayor of New Britain, have stayed unconvinced that they should jump into higher-profile races.
The 2018 race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination included a spate a candidates with wider potential, including Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik. Of that group, only Obsitnik has taken on a congressional campaign.
This can’t go on.
The last competitive House race in Connecticut might have been in the Fifth District in 2012. The seat was open because the incumbent, Chris Murphy, ran for Senate, leaving a little-known Democrat, Elizabeth Esty, to emerge from a scandal-plagued primary process to face a well-liked Republican, Andrew Roraback. Esty nonetheless won 51 percent of the vote, and that was it for major competition. When Esty did not run in 2018 following a scandal in her office, Republicans were unable to find a viable candidate to oppose Hayes, and the race was never seriously in doubt.
That’s the case around the state. John Larson, Joe Courtney and Rosa DeLauro, who represent Districts One, Two and Three, respectively, have gone unchallenged for years. Jim Himes, in the Fourth District, beat long-term incumbent Christopher Shays in 2008 and eked out his re-election in 2010, but it’s been smooth sailing since then.
The only Republican to put up a fight in Senate races lately has been Linda McMahon, who poured $100 million of her own money into two races at the start of the last decade. Neither attempt came all that close, possibly scaring off other Republicans from even trying.
This isn’t a healthy situation. Connecticut is well-represented by its delegation, including Hayes as its newest member, but legitimate competition is essential to maintaining a vital democracy. Whether it’s a change in leadership or a commitment to taking on difficult challenges, the state Republican Party needs to find a way to compete on the national level.
If Robert Hyde is the best known Republican congressional candidate in the state, and he is, it’s a sign of a party in deep distress.
Portland Press Herald
Maine Legislature right to take on packaging waste
Americans receive about 165 billion packages a year, not to mention all the goods they pick up at the store, most of them in individual packaging and containers. Out of all the cardboard, paper and plastic those goods come in, some of it is recycled, but much of it ends up incinerated or dumped in a landfill – or even in the ocean.
It is waste on a massive scale, and with online ordering increasing and recycling exports to China on the wane, it is getting worse. If the United States, and the rest of the world, is to fix its costly and destructive trash problem, then packaging must be addressed.
That’s why we support an effort in the Maine Legislature to shift at least some of the cost of packaging from consumers to companies.
The Environment and Natural Resources Committee is now drafting a bill that would require producers of packaging material to pay fees to municipalities based on the type of packaging they produce and how easily it can be disposed of, known as “extended producer responsibility.”
The idea is to push companies to reduce the amount of packaging used and to offer incentives for innovation in packaging and shipping goods. What’s more, residents and municipalities would no longer be solely on the hook for the increasing costs associated with waste.
Those costs have increased in recent years as China has cut back on the amount of low-value recyclables it is accepting by import, a market that once paid cities and towns thousands of dollars a year but has now virtually disappeared. In 2018, ecomaine, which recycles 40,000 tons annually, said it was then paying as much as $45 a ton to get rid of “dirty recyclables” that had once been worth $107 per ton in revenue to the recycling facility. About 30 percent of municipal solid waste is packaging; the state Department of Environmental Protection says Maine taxpayers pay about $17 million a year to dispose of packaging alone.
Pushing companies to create, produce and use packaging that is less wasteful would raise recycling rates – which have stalled at 40 percent in Maine in recent years – and lower costs for taxpayers.
On a wider scale, it would take a chunk out of the waste stream that is currently filling landfills and incinerators, and often ends up in the ocean – the United Nations estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Maine can’t make that happen on its own, but it can add to the momentum. Extended producer responsibility programs are used in Europe and in five Canadian provinces. Other states are consider them, too.
To satisfy their own sustainability commitments, some large companies are already working on better packaging, proving it is possible.
Laws like the one being considered in Maine will give those companies and others a push to do the right thing, for taxpayers and the world around us.
A good address, as far as it went
The Berkshire Eagle
Gov. Charlie Baker placed a strong emphasis on the related issues of climate change and transportation in his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night, proving once again that he is a much-different breed of Republican than those found in Washington. But while the focus was refreshing, there was a lot that was left unsaid.
Noting pointedly that there have been "significant steps backward in Washington," where an anti-science president and Republican Party deny the reality of climate change, the governor promised to move the state toward net-zero emissions by 2050, going past the goal of 80 percent established in the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008. Democratic leaders applauded this pledge and promised to join the governor in providing specific plans for achieving this goal. Gov. Baker, who normally avoids tax hike proposals, urged lawmakers to take up his stalled objective of hiking taxes on real estate transfers to help fund climate resiliency projects.The governor again touted the ambitious Massachusetts-led regional effort to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and raise funds for climate change responses through a cap-and-trade program. However, with New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Chris Sununu already announcing he will have no part of such a progressive effort, this is definitely a project for the long haul.
The state's immediate problems of traffic congestion in the east and poorly maintained roadways and bridges in much of the state needed more Tuesday from the governor, who surely had eyes rolling in the largely Democratic Legislature when he proposed an additional $135 million in the next fiscal year for the money pit that is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Whatever is plaguing the MBTA, it is more than clear that simply more taxpayer funding for the Boston agency is not the solution. House and Senate leaders maintain that the state must consider an increase in the modest gas tax to fund necessary projects around Massachusetts, which the governor opposes and didn't allude to in his address. The speech, said state Rep. "Smitty" Pignatelli, a Lenox Democrat, to the State House News Service, "had too much focus on the T and public transit in the Boston area, and not across the commonwealth."
In the absence of such advocacy from the governor, we'll cite a Boston Globe op-ed column of Tuesday in which Joan Vennochi made the case for high-speed east-west rail as a solution to congestion problems in the Boston area and a boost to the western end of the state, which needs jobs and businesses and can offer lower housing costs and a high standard of living. This idea is under discussion in Boston, and The Eagle has floated the idea editorially of beginning the project in the west and working east. Rep. Pignatelli says this would assure political will for the project, observing in The Eagle last month, "If you start in Berkshire County with west-east rail, I promise you it will get to Boston. But if you start in Boston I can almost guarantee you it won't get to the Berkshires."
State of the Commonwealth speeches are akin to grocery lists, and the state partnership with vocational schools that the governor floated is a list item that merits attention. While it is clearly in the planning stage, Mr. Baker talked of a $15 million partnership that would "turbocharge" vocational training programs for both teens and adults. Modern-day vocational training, which is a long way from the traditional metal shop, is critical to the small manufacturing that must play an expanded role in the Berkshire economy. Such a partnership, if realized, could pay huge dividends for Berkshire schools like McCann Tech in North Adams and Taconic in Pittsfield.
With the state and nation having embarked upon what is sure to be an ugly election year, Gov. Baker's brief detour from the wonkery of government programs to call for an end to "the politics of personal destruction" was welcome. "We all know campaigns are contests, and the siren call of sloganeering and cheap shots will be everywhere this year," the governor told his audience. "Let's rise above it." For every person who succeeds in rising above it, the election din of 2020 will be that much more tolerable.
Put brakes on distracted driving bill
The desire to make the punishment fit the crime, to make the offender’s penalty commensurate with the suffering that resulted from his or her actions, is natural and understandable. It’s also a mistake that compounds a tragedy. That would be true of Senate Bill 436, legislation filed at the urging of the victim of a 2018 accident caused by a driver distracted by his cell phone.
Distracted drivers are a menace. Every day, at least nine Americans are killed and 100 injured in accidents caused by them, according to the National Safety Council. The death toll in 2017 from distracted driving – fiddling with the radio, turning to check on the kids, reaching for a coffee cup or sending or reading a text message – was 3,166, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Clearly more needs to be done to make cell phone use in particular taboo. But draconian penalties aren’t the answer.
A Senate bill sponsored by state Sen. Shannon Chandley of Amherst on behalf of a constituent who suffered grievous injuries and more than a half-million dollars in medical expenses would increase the potential prison time for a driver whose use of an electronic device led to an accident resulting in injury or death from a maximum of one year in jail to seven. The bill would also double the maximum fine to $4,000.
The tougher penalties, particularly the threat of years behind bars, might change driver behavior, but we’re doubtful. Franklin Sen. Harold French got it right when he asked, “Do we want to fill our prisons with people who reached for their cell phones for up to seven years.” Of course not. Stiffer fines, a longer period of loss of driving privileges, more community service, yes. Jail time, no.
Federal traffic statistics show that distracted drivers under age 20 account for the greatest proportion of fatal crashes. That means, particularly for males, young people whose brains and decision-making ability are not fully developed. A long period of incarceration risks ruining an offender’s life. Incarceration means job loss, broken families and a host of societal problems.
The bill is beyond a simple fix. The issue needs more study. Stricter enforcement would help, as would campaigns, particularly in high schools, to warn motorists about the danger of succumbing to the temptation of checking a message or sending one while driving. The five seconds it takes to send a text is the equivalent, if traveling at 55 mph, of driving the length of a football field with one’s eyes closed. How many times can that be done before it leads to disaster?
Breaching the pain point in R.I.
Every state budget season sends fear into the hearts of those who produce jobs and taxes. The explosive growth in the cost of state government in Rhode Island makes it almost inevitable that people who pay taxes are going to be compelled to pay more if they choose to remain here.
Ken Block, president of Sympatico Software Systems in Warwick and a two-time candidate for governor, was miffed to find an expanded sales and use tax on computer services in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s $10.2-billion state budget, unveiled last week.
“This computer services sales tax will wipe entire companies right off of Rhode Island’s tax rolls ... because they will move,” Mr. Block said. “I can do what I do anywhere in the world.”
He ticked off some of the taxes his business already pays: income tax on net profitability; unemployment insurance; workers compensation insurance; multiple other business taxes and fees; taxes on his business phones, internet, electricity and gas usage; Warwick property taxes on his leased office space; a Warwick “inventory” tax on items already purchased for his office and on which he paid sales tax, including a refrigerator, desks, chairs, bottled water, printer paper, printers, computers, bookshelves and more.
And then there are his personal taxes.
“There are limits to the pain that people will bear ... and my personal pain point is about to be breached,” he said.
Mr. Block believes big companies that use a great deal of computer services — including IGT and CVS — will not be pleased. It is not always easy to simply pass along costs to customers, particularly when long-term contracts are in place.
For his part, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor says the new taxes are designed to ensure a “level playing field” for sales of computer software and computer services. And while attracting high-technology companies are a key part of Governor Raimondo’s economic strategy, they are primarily interested in finding a strong labor force, Mr. Pryor argued.
“The governor has focused intensively and appropriately on the growth and coordination of our workforce development efforts across multiple state agencies,” he said.
It is certainly true that top high-tech companies cite the quality of the workforce as the most important factor in where they locate.
In the office of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, the response to a whole slew of tax and fee increases the governor has proposed — including this one — has been decidedly chilly.
The speaker is “looking very skeptically at all of her new proposed taxes and fees, but will reserve final judgment until after the hearings,” spokesman Larry Berman said.
He added that Mr. Mattiello was “very disappointed” that the governor proposed taxes and fees the legislature rejected only last year.
High-tech companies are important to Rhode Island’s future, since they would produce the high-paying jobs Rhode Island greatly needs to provide opportunities to its residents and generate tax revenue. Any special tax increases targeting them should be done only after carefully weighing the benefits against the cost.
It’s early in the process. Presumably Rhode Island business lobby groups and companies will be weighing in. It is important that all sides be heard.
We don’t want high-tech companies to move out. We need a growing cluster of those jobs to thrive in years ahead.
The time is now
Timing can be everything.
For advocates for climate action, the stars seem aligned.
Because of our dependence on the natural world, coupled with our quality of life, Vermonters have traditionally been mindful of our carbon footprint and our role in keeping it in check. (Depression-era residents were using every scrap of food and saving every salvaged part.)
Now, however, we are in a moment. With Democratic presidential candidates each addressing the climate emergency as part of their campaign platforms; high-profile activism that has spurred a global youth movement; the divestment by companies — including Green Mountain Power here in Vermont — as well as higher-education institutions, away from fossil-fuel companies; and socially responsible businesses across the nation (but especially Vermont) coming up with more “green” solutions to improve their products and services, one might say the stars have aligned.
Legislators of every stripe are feeling the pressure to “do something.” Vermonters are being vocal, showing up at meetings, holding protests, and sending various messages that climate inaction has gone on too long. It is time to turn the tables, and make bold choices toward climate action.
We were encouraged this week when 30 organizations representing business, youth, poverty alleviation, public health, environment and other diverse interests presented a policy plan for climate action in 2020.
“Vermonters are experiencing the intensifying, negative impacts of a warming world, and these changes threaten our every pursuit,” wrote the stakeholders in the plan.
There is not one piece of the plan that should be considered over another. We believe lawmakers should look at all four of the legislative priorities, and consider them as a whole.
— Enacting a Global Warming Solutions Act that enables and requires state government to achieve climate emissions reductions, by holding the state accountable to developing and implementing a plan that will meet our commitment to the Paris Climate Accord by 2025 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050
— Making a commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2030 to move our state infrastructure away from imported fossil fuels and strengthen our local economy.
— Modernizing Vermont’s energy-efficiency utilities, enabling them to focus on reducing climate pollution through innovative new technologies while reducing the cost burden by helping low- and moderate-income Vermonters access cleaner, healthier and more affordable heating and transportation solutions.
— Participating in a just, equitable implementation of the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional effort to reduce climate pollution by placing a cap on emissions from fossil-fuel companies and using revenue raised to help participating states invest in cleaner transportation options.
Already, 87 lawmakers have signed on to The Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688) — which creates the accountability framework that turns goals into requirements. That is a huge first step, and a sign that the momentum is real.
Many in the state’s environmental lobby feel lawmakers have not gone far enough up to now. Likewise, they have been quite critical of this governor, who convened a Climate Action Council, accepted its recommendations, but has done little to implement them.
And the state’s energy policy looms large, with very aggressive mandates looming over the next two decades.
But the landscape has changed. Climate change — or more specifically climate “emergency” or “crisis” — is being worked into many conversations, whether it is at general stores, in municipal meetings, among health care providers, or in the halls of the State House.
Vermont joins Maine and New York, which both have put forth aggressive legislative actions toward climate change in the last two years, including expanding EV fleets for state vehicles, adding charging stations, and imposing incentives toward more renewable energy use. New Hampshire also is considering a bill to mandate climate change be taught as part of the curriculum for every public-school student.
For Vermont, this climate action plan is the right start. It sets the trajectory, and it sets a course for a cleaner energy future. It is bold action that we feel positions Vermont to once again be a leader in the nation — and the world.
It will be met with resistance by special interests and lobbyists. But our state’s future, which depends on a stable climate in order to monopolize upon snow, foliage, syrup, apples and the like, needs this plan.
The time is now.