Hearst Connecticut Media. January 5, 2023.
Editorial: A pledge to stay the course in Hartford
There was more than a little basking at the Capitol on Wednesday.
And not without reason. Gov. Ned Lamont won a convincing reelection victory in November, bucking what could have been a tough year for Democrats with his party’s biggest gubernatorial win in decades. The General Assembly remained firmly in Democratic hands, with the message from voters that the state generally approves of the way things have been going in state government.
Lamont came into office four years ago with one goal foremost in mind — to turn around the state’s chronic budget mess. The state was mired in deficits and projected shortfalls stretching off into infinity, with every year bringing yet another round of belt-tightening measures and novel ways to make dollars stretch further. It held back the state’s growth and sent a message that no one in Hartford knew how to manage our money.
That situation has changed. The projections now show surpluses stretching into the far future, with billions of dollars more in tax revenue slated to come in compared to expenses. This has led to a shift in priorities, away from perpetual crisis management and toward a plan for a better, more prosperous future.
Connecticut has been paying off its debts. The long-term indebtedness in state retirement programs dates back decades, and blame for it cannot be placed on current lawmakers. But it’s up to them to deal with it, just the same. As such, the state has been making real progress in paying down those long-term debts, a prospect that just a few years ago would have seemed impossible.
So it’s fair for Lamont and fellow Democrats to feel good about what they’ve accomplished. It’s true that flush coffers are hardly unique to Connecticut — many states have found themselves in a much-improved financial position in recent years, and not just because of pandemic relief funds from the federal government. But credit the current leadership team for taking advantage of opportunities as they became available.
Now, in many ways, comes the hard part.
All those billions of dollars in surpluses don’t come free, of course. They come from tax dollars. And it’s natural to ask if the state is taking in so much more than it’s spending, that maybe it shouldn’t be taking in quite so much.
This has led to calls for big tax cuts, bigger than what the state put together in Lamont’s first term. At the same time, calls have issued from other quarters for dramatic program expansions to take on the state’s many needs. Health care, housing, education — all are increasing burdens on the state’s population, and all would benefit from an infusion of funding at a time the state is flush.
Lamont has continued to urge lawmakers to stay the course. He wants to continue the programs that have put the state in its current enviable position, and stay away from either big tax cuts or huge program expansions.
It won’t be an easy sell, and the opening Wednesday of the General Assembly’s session may be the last time everyone is all smiles for a while. But it’s the right move. The current course of caution has served the state well, and needs to be the way forward again.
Bangor Daily News. January 1, 2023.
Editorial: Pragmatism won over politics at heating aid hearing
The proposed heating aid package making its way through the Maine Legislature is not perfect. It is not the exact bill we would craft if we were in charge in Augusta. We still think it should pass when lawmakers return this week.
Here’s the thing: Nobody is in complete control of state government, even with Democrats in charge of both the State House and the Blaine House.
It takes collaboration — across party lines, within parties, between the legislative and executive branches — to get things done. That is especially true with something like this heating assistance proposal, which is an emergency measure requiring two-thirds support in both the Maine House of Representatives and Maine Senate.
Gov. Janet Mills had already been collaborating with lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, as her office developed the package. House Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill in a Dec. 7 vote after successfully raising the income caps for people who would receive direct heating aid checks of $450.
The proposal stalled, however, due to unified opposition from each of the Senate Republicans present for that vote. Their stated reasons for opposing it included a desire for transparency and a public hearing on the nearly $475 million proposal.
Frustrations and accusations followed that initial failure. A stalemate seemed possible, despite the clear need to help Mainers with heating and housing relief in these cold months — and the recent projection of another state budget surplus.
However, legislative leaders from both parties came together to welcome a creative path forward in these early stages of the new Legislature: the temporary appointment of appropriations committee members to review the bill and take testimony on it. This led to a long committee hearing on Dec. 21, with hours of testimony from the public and the Mills administration. After deliberation between committee members, the bipartisan panel advanced the aid package unanimously.
Critically, Senate Republican leader Trey Stewart voted for it, and said he believed there would be enough support for the measure to pass when it reaches the Senate again.
“We understand the emergency,” Stewart said. “That’s why we’re willing to swallow a bunch of provisions that are not favorable towards us in terms of what we would do.”
Democratic Rep. Jim Dill of Old Town, a member of the committee, shared his own message of pragmatism before voting to advance the proposal. He said he disagreed with the higher income caps, but wasn’t willing to hold the package up because of it.
“I just want to go on record as personally saying I think the caps are too much, and I would certainly like to see them lowered,” Dill said. “But for the sake of tonight, I’m not going to go down that road.”
Republican House leader Billy Bob Faulkingham added that if he wrote the heating aid bill, it would look different, “but we’ve come together to compromise for the good of the Maine people.”
In other words, lawmakers weren’t ready to let perfect be the enemy of good.
Hopefully, this sets a more collaborative tone for the new Legislature. This should be the start of more bipartisan cooperation.
As raised during the hearing, Maine can’t go from one emergency housing aid cliff to another. Leaders need to fundamentally address crises, not repeatedly delay them. Lawmakers and the governor, in collaboration with communities, must develop a long-term plan. That must include more housing, of all types. (At the same time, the onset of another Maine winter would be the worst moment to let emergency housing aid expire without such a plan in place.)
We’ve seen people say that the Dec. 21 hearing was a waste of time, and that little was learned during the process. We disagree. While it’s true the proposal wasn’t amended — and we also would have liked to see income eligibility tightened for relief checks, so that money could be better targeted to people in greater need — we learned something very important.
We learned that members of the new Legislature are willing to work through political obstacles and frustrations to get things done. It hasn’t always been pretty, and the bill still needs to be approved in both chambers, but the hearing outcome puts the Legislature on that path. That’s a win for pragmatism over politics, and it’s a win for Mainers.
Boston Herald. January 5, 2023.
Editorial: Healey must say ‘no’ to bloated state OT
Can a progressive governor slam the brakes on runaway state overtime?
Massachusetts is about to find out, as Maura Healey is sworn in Thursday, a day after the Boston Herald published the state’s public payroll.
It was eye-opening, as some workers passed $300,000 in OT and two exceeded $400,000 in gross income.
For taxpayers, that income is particularly gross.
“Someone needs to take ownership. We have a new governor and the first thing she can do is help taxpayers because on face value, this seems impossible to attain,” said Mass Fiscal’s Paul Craney of Gov.-Elect Healey. “She needs to rein in unsupervised spending.”
Healey had openly supported the millionaires tax during her campaign, the 4% tax on annual income above $1 million, on top of the state’s current 5% flat income tax.
That ballot question passed, and the new tax is estimated to raise at least $1.3 billion from millionaires, homeowners, retirees, and those who own passthrough businesses.
That’s a revenue stream coming in, but how the money pouring out?
Healey is in essence the CEO of Massachusetts, and she’s taken over a business that racks up enormous overtime. In the private sector, this would be a huge problem.
That’s because those who work in the private sector have budgets they must adhere to. There is no “raise the rate” wiggle room, Companies in the private sector use the word “no” often.
Understandably, overtime is appealing for employees – who wouldn’t grab the chance to rake in more bucks? But the odious part of the bloated OT on the Massachusetts state payroll is that so many taxpayers who can’t pad their salaries this way are supporting those who do.
This is a management issue, as someone gave the all-clear for all these extra hours.
Gov.-elect Healey needs to have a chat with them.
“These sky-high overtime payments are absolutely mind-boggling,” said Mary Connaughton of the Pioneer Institute. “The public should demand to know how overtime is approved and how supervisors are satisfied these staff can perform effectively in high-risk jobs working so many hours.”
Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer think tank, added that “when state workers earn more in OT than in base pay, taxpayers deserve answers.”
Imagine the “found funding” that could be had if someone took a long, hard look at ballooning state salaries and self-imposed raises in addition to overtime. One thing Massachusetts is not is streamlined.
This calls for political courage, with improving the lives of constituents at the top of any agenda.
A tall order, especially as the winds of progressive politics blow strong in these parts. Healey has indicated support for fare-free buses, a project that would cost billions.
The new governor has a lot on her plate as she settles in to the Corner Office, and we wish her well.
But we also hope Healey impresses upon state managers the power of “no.”
Rutland Herald. December 31, 2022.
Editorial: Finding our resolve
We find ourselves at the doorway of another year. For most Vermonters, 2022 proved to be just as difficult as navigating the pandemic of 2020 and 2021. The past year came with a lot of pinches and very few pats on the shoulder.
Every day that we publish, we use this space to nudge, educate, contextualize or provide a call for action. On this day, as we lean into 2023 and take an inventory of our lives, we urge you to resolve to broaden your horizon even further: Allow yourself to get shoved — not nudged. That’s not to say we are saying you’re stuck, but rather, we feel we could all demonstrate a better willingness to accept a variety of ideas and allow them to percolate over time with what we know, as well as what we think we know.
We have some reading recommendations for your deeper dives.
As a nation, we are wrestling with our identity. Many Americans are in a struggle between what they feel their politics should be and how the party edicts mesh with their lives (and lifestyle). That commitment to principles has created a chasm between us, and it is affecting our ability to problem-solve the most critical issues facing us as a society.
Wendell Berry, who is widely considered to be one of the best American thinkers and writers of our day, published a book in 2022 titled “The Need To Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice.” Through a series of essays, Berry focuses on the topics of our national conversation, and he dissects them and shows how misguided we have become as a nation. As he picks at the scabs of history and lets them bleed on the page, he offers some hard truths that will not please any ideology. He does not accept that there are no-win situations, which provides a beacon of hope. It’s the sit-down we all need.
Nearly every challenging issue facing Vermont — housing, child care, affordability, homelessness, addiction, mental health, and others — all have a common thread: poverty. At its root, more Vermonters are finding themselves in hardship; struggling is becoming a way of life. The most vulnerable communities in our state are the ones that are growing and are requiring urgent attention.
Yet, many people see poverty as “somebody else’s problem.” Not so. It is everyone’s problem. Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox explain the issue, its implications on communities and services, and the long-term effects in “Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending U.S. Poverty” (2021). By no means is this book a map out of poverty, but it is a wake-up call. For a state like Vermont, with affordability and rural challenges, it connects the critical dots between policy and practicality. It reveals just how important (and hard) lifting families out of poverty can be.
“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi is a hard lesson. The National Book Award winner is unforgiving in its dissection of our historical missteps and what came as a result of them. It is humbling in its brutality and astounding in how comprehensive it is.
Meanwhile, “The 1619 Project” (2021), which won the Pulitzer Prize, is characterized as “A New Origin Story.” Through its essays, interviews, poetry and more, The New York Times’ staff reframes what we think we knew about slavery in America. It is a powerful exhibition of facts and points of view.
Lastly, “Call Us What We Carry” (2021) by poet Amanda Gorman is a collage of what racism looks like today, front and center. It also provides hard-to-read lessons. But its presentation is engaging, creative and genuine in its uniqueness.
An insightful look at how we as consumers connect (or don’t) to our world is laid out in “A History of The World In Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet” (2017) by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore. It’s an analysis of “today’s planetary emergencies,” and while it is also a reshaping of modern commerce, it looks back at how we (as consumers) let policies of the past dictate the decisions for the future. In other words, Patel and Moore demonstrate just how out of step we have become in how we spend money (and on where we are spending it).
“The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion” (2022) by Zac Gershberg and Sean Illing shows “that our contemporary debates over media, populism, and cancel culture are not too different from democratic cultural experiences of the past,” according to the book notes. We feel that understanding messaging is just as important as understanding the messages being circulated.
Lastly, we offer up two novels by Becky Chambers — “A Psalm for the Wild Built” (2021) and its sequel, “A Prayer for the Crown Shy.” (2022). This short (in pages and volume) series is a modern-day fable that dials into critical issues of tolerance and diversity. It is an unlikely friendship that develops between a young monk and a robot. Sounds intriguing? It is. These books, written during the isolation of the pandemic, are a bright glimmer of hope of what could (and ought to) be across society.
Our first step forward into 2023 needs to be one of hope, courage, and a willingness to usher in the change we want for a better tomorrow. That’s a resolution — and journey — we should all get behind.
Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. January 3, 2023.
Editorial: Not the same way
Holidays are over. Time to get to work.
The new Legislature gets gaveled into session Wednesday. We expect lawmakers — nearly a third of whom are freshmen — not to dally.
Yes, we understand the learning curve is going to be steep. There are going to be lobbyists pushing agendas hard, trying to sway lawmakers of all stripes to join their camp. Veteran lawmakers need to mentor — not manipulate — this new group.
There is too much at stake for shenanigans.
If Democrats are all fired up about their supermajority, use it wisely. Don’t dismantle. Don’t take aim at things that are working just fine. Don’t feel you have to put your fingerprints on everything.
Our advice is threefold: Listen to constituents. Be effective. And put all Vermonters first.
Candidates running for the Legislature heard — time and again — in the lead-up to the election in November that Vermonters have some serious concerns. The voters made choices. Now it is time to listen to what those voters said, focus on what the state needs, and work together to get results.
We would argue that lawmakers can be easily influenced by bright, shiny social agendas that get headlines and sound bites. We contend that they can get caught up in the “club” and let ego (and reelection hopes) drive them. Like many Vermonters, we get frustrated by the talk about making changes but the willingness after such posturing to watch important decision-making die in committee.
Remember what you heard last summer and fall. The issues facing Vermont right now need answers right now.
Housing. You want young people and families to move to Vermont to live and work? You have to invest in affordable housing. And not just within our downtowns (but that would be a great start). We have to invest in apartments and starter homes. Right now, housing is a nonstarter when it comes to driving the economic engine.
Wages. You have to get wages in line so people living in Vermont don’t need multiple jobs to pay their rent or mortgages. Minimum wage adjustments are a piece of the pie. But the real push needs to be the livable wage. Without making shifts, we cannot attract folks to come to work here.
Day care. We invest plenty in our school districts; however, families are not made up of just parents and school-age children. We have to make it easier for day care and child care centers to operate in Vermont. Forcing a family member to stay home to care for children deprives them of the opportunities they need to contribute to the household and — in many cases — lift their family out of poverty.
Mental health. We need more and better services for dealing with Vermonters living with mental health concerns. The pandemic showed us how acutely our state’s population depends on therapy and services. Without them, we saw an uptick in individuals going unchecked, and in extreme cases becoming disruptive and violent. We need more beds for acute cases, and we need more funding to help Vermonters to cope with challenges.
Addiction. We are seeing more Vermonters abusing substances, and far more dying from overdoses and exposure to fentanyl-laced drugs. Officials who work in public safety will tell you that addiction is one of the underlying issues that threads its way through most emergency calls they respond to. It does not matter if it is police, EMS or the fire department, far too many calls center on drugs and drug-related incidents.
Homelessness. Those crises — mental health and addiction — also are testing communities having to deal with a sharp increase in homeless populations. When state voucher money runs out in March, the demands will — once again — fall back to communities and social service organizations to provide assistance to one of the state’s most vulnerable populations. The problem, especially in cities and larger municipalities, is critical, and without some careful rethinking of policies, and the reallocation of funding, the problem will only worsen.
The focus for lawmakers today — as federal COVID money dries up — needs to be on solving real problems. Without more individuals contributing to our economic engine and our tax base, Vermont will continue to remain stagnant, and be outpaced by other states showing more courage to wrestle some of these issues to the ground.
We do not need long lessons on how things have been run in the past. We do not need agendas being pushed away from the immediate needs. We need answers, and this crop of new blood in the Legislature might just be a big part of the answer toward not governing “the same way.”