Guest Blogs

Tuesday
Feb202007

A CONFUSED CONGRESSWOMAN

By Ed Mosca

In her remarks during the recent U.S. House debate on a non-binding resolution against President Bush’s plan to send reinforcements to Iraq, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter drew a sharp contrast between Afghanistan and Iraq: “Our nation was attacked by evil people who trained in Afghanistan. We have a right to go into Afghanistan to remove the terrorist training camps. As a matter of fact, we should be working even harder there to make sure our Afghanistan mission does not fail. We must not allow the Taliban and other terrorist groups to control Afghanistan again.”

I am glad that Shea-Porter believes that we must prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base to attack America. It is troubling that the Congresswoman doesn’t seem to understand that the terrorists are also in Iraq and that it is even more vital to prevent terrorists from using Iraq as a base.

Iraq is located in the strategically vital Middle East, a region much more important to our national interests, and Iraq is rich with oil that could be used to finance terrorism against America. If it is in our national interest to have a terrorist-free Afghanistan, as Shea-Porter contends, then it is at least as much in our national interest to have a terrorist-free Iraq. The Congresswoman, however, doesn’t seem to even be aware that Al Qaeda is in Iraq. Her remarks lay the blame for all of the death, destruction and violence that have occurred in Iraq on America.

The most famous aspect of Shea Porter’s remarks has been her reference to Davy Crockett: “What is this talk I have heard tonight about freedom and liberty? This talk of glory that I heard on the floor. This romanticized language, this talk about Davy Crockett. There is no Davy Crockett in Iraq. Our troops need clear-eyed leaders, not this romantic rabble that we have been hearing.”

I’m all for clear-eyed leadership, but a non-binding resolution is hardly that. Congress’ constitutional role is not to provide commentary on the President’s effectuation of the war. If Shea-Porter and her Democrat Party believe their own words, then they are obligated to end the funding.

And as for Davy Crockett, I get the sneaking suspicion that Shea-Porter’s sympathies would have been with Santa-Anna.

Friday
Feb162007

GIVE CANNON MOUNTAIN A NEW LEASE ON LIFE

by NH Sen. Ted Gatsas and NH Rep. Gene Chandler

Cannon Mountain Ski Area located in Franconia Notch, is known for its challenging terrain and family friendly atmosphere.  Unfortunately, it is also known for its low skier attendance, yearly deficits and financial burden upon the state park system and taxpayers.  It’s time for a new day at Cannon Mountain, one with thriving attendance, improved infrastructure and increased revenues to enable it to run on its own two feet.  It’s time to seriously consider leasing Cannon Mountain. 

Cannon Mountain is a businessa business that’s losing money.  The ski industry is volatile and the State of NH is ill equipped to be successful in this type of business.  A public-private leasing partnership of Cannon Mountain is the answer to its financial woes. 

To clearly understand the benefit of leasing Cannon Mountain, one must examine the Mount Sunapee success story.  Over the course of seven years at Mount Sunapee private monies have been invested to improve trails and infrastructure while maintaining the integrity of the state park.  The numbers speak for themselves: skier attendance at Sunapee has increased 45%, $2,892,492 has been paid to the state of New Hampshire in lease payments, $635,000 collected in state business taxes, $589,000 collected in state rooms and meals taxes, $720,000 has been paid in local property taxes and $2.7 million has been invested annually in salaries and wages at Mount Sunapee. 

Conversely, the financial history of Cannon Mountain is spotty at best.  Year after year, Cannon runs in the red.  Since 2004 Cannon Mountain has lost nearly $1.2 Million from its Capital Account and that is just where the money drain begins.  Year after year, skier attendance has flat lined due to Cannon’s lack of terrain diversity, and because it is a state-owned entity, no taxes at the state and local level are being collected.  Cannon is operating on the back of the taxpayer regardless of an affinity for skiing. 

The other piece of the Cannon Mountain story is the entire state park system of the State of New Hampshire.  The parks are in total disrepair; campgrounds need upgrades, trails need maintenance and historic landmarks and structures need refurbishing.  In 2006 the legislature, in conjunction with, Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) produced an in-depth study of the overall system.  Part of their findings read as follows, “The Legislature should approve two bonds totaling $20 million in succeeding biennium’s. The Commission believes that is the minimum necessary to meet the most urgent needs in the state park system. As part of a request to the legislature, the Director of Parks will provide a detailed and prioritized plan for the expenditure of these funds, including the impact on revenue generation throughout the park system.”

A public-private leasing partnership for Cannon Mountain is the solution to our problems.    Lease payments to DRED (from Sunapee and Cannon combined) will be enough to pay the debt service on a $20 million dollar bond.  Business taxes and the rooms and meals taxes will provide the revenue to the state for ongoing park improvement after the upgrades are made.  The local communities will be able to collect property taxes from the mountain to aid their local economies.  From a public-private partnership upgrades and improvements are possible and with that comes more skiers, which mean more tourists that equals more spending that will benefit the local economies and the state park system as a whole.  What is also important about a lease proposition for Cannon is the potential to save the taxpayers of New Hampshire millions of dollars.  We owe it to the taxpayers to make Cannon profitable.  

Opponents of this possibility see Cannon through rose colored glasses, choosing to ignore its serious funding issues, and claiming that leasing the mountain will jeopardize the integrity of the park and decrease access.  The success of Sunapee is a testament to these concerns.  This is not an issue of development, there is no place to build as Cannon is surrounded by state park land and the state will have control of lease details.  The issue is about saving our park system without hurting the taxpayer.  

Cannon could and should be the crowning jewel of our North Country.  It’s time we give it a new lease on life. 
***************************************************************************************************************************************

Senator Ted Gatsas of District 16 which is comprised of Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Wards 1, 2 and 12 in the city of Manchester and Representative Gene Chandler who represents Carroll District 1 which is comprised of Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Hale’s Location, Heart’s Location, and Jackson

Wednesday
Feb142007

LYNCH’S RISKY SCHEME

by Ed Mosca

John Lynch claims he wants to define an adequate education first, and then “have a discussion as to its cost.” Don’t believe him. He already has a good idea of what his definition will cost, and he already knows how he wants to fund it. The problem we face is that the cost is in excess of $2 billion, which means we’re looking at an income tax if Lynch then doesn’t get his targeted-aid constitutional amendment passed. To borrow a phrase from Al Gore, Lynch’s approach to education funding is a risky scheme.

Lynch has proposed making the State's existing school approval standards and curriculum frameworks the “starting point” for defining an adequate education. The standards and frameworks are voluminous, covering in excruciating detail every aspect of the operation of the public schools from curriculum, class size and teacher qualifications to janitorial services. This means that what it has cost us to fund the public schools should give us a good idea of the minimum cost of Lynch’s definition. In 2004-2005, the most current school-year for which data is available, the cost was about $2.2 billion. No wonder, then, that Lynch wants to put off discussing the cost of his definition to another day.

While Lynch doesn’t want to talk about cost yet, his definition does provide that the resources needed to provide that education will “vary from school to school” based on students' needs, “requiring more resources in districts with greater challenges.” What this signals is that Lynch is going to bring back the funding scheme that he proposed in 2005.

In a nutshell, that scheme was based on a per pupil cost of an adequate education of $8,290.00. Each town was formulatically assigned a “measure of risk,” which was simply the percentage of the $8,290.00 that was to be funded by the State. For example, Allenstown = s measure of risk was .5733, which meant that the State would have paid 57.33%, or about $4,753.00 per pupil in that town. The remainder of the $8,290.00 per pupil cost, $3,357.00, would have been paid for with local property taxes. Londonderry, in contrast, was assigned only a .1465 measure of risk, which meant that it would have received only $1,215.00 of State funding per pupil. As a result, it would have had to pay for $7,075.00 of adequacy’s per pupil cost with local property taxes.

Substitute an updated per pupil cost of an adequate education, say between $9,000.00 and $10,000.00, for the $8,290.00 used in 2005 and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Lynch’s 2007 education funding scheme will look like. This explains why Lynch intends to offer a “narrow constitutional amendment” to allow the State to target aid before he unveils his funding scheme. Towns like Londonderry would not support his amendment if they knew how poorly they would fare under his funding scheme compared to towns like Allenstown.

The problem with Lynch’s approach is that it puts the cart before the horse. If his definition is passed, but his targeted aid amendment either is not passed by the Legislature or is passed but then loses at the ballot box in 2008, we will be forced to choose between increasing State taxes by more than $2 billion to comply with Claremont and confronting the Supreme Court. To borrow a couple of other phrases from Al Gore, Lynch is playing income tax roulette and gambling with the New Hampshire advantage.

The best course would be if the Legislature did not define an adequate education. Let the Court be the one to tell the people of New Hampshire that their constitutional right to an adequate education comes with a $2 billion income tax string attached. Then we’ll have a true idea of just how popular the right to an adequate education is with the voters.

Given that Democrats and Republicans-in-name-only make up a plurality of the Legislature, that obviously is not going to happen. What conservatives need to do is to make it clear to everyone that a vote for Lynch’s definition of an adequate education is a vote for an income tax because there is no guarantee that Lynch’s targeted aid amendment will pass.

Conservatives also should not allow themselves to be stampeded into voting for a constitutional amendment. They need to take a long, hard look at Lynch’s targeted aid amendment, and oppose any amendment that writes any aspect of the misbegotten Claremont decisions into the constitution because such an amendment will make a bad situation worse.

Monday
Feb122007

Affordable Housing

by John Clark

The Housing situation comes down to two distinct basic and very closely related factors.

1. Land Use Regulations – Zoning, specifically related to allowable Density and minimum frontages/ setbacks.

2. Taxation Methods – reliance upon Property Tax as the primary source of Education funding, combined with current assessing practice.

Zoning, as we know it, is a relatively recent (50 years on average) form of population control. The most significant feature being a requirement for much larger Lot sizes, combined with lot-line setbacks which, in our “free market” style of economy, demands larger houses in order to balance the amount of land used to the expense of development.( return on investment )

Tracking the effects of this practice show quite clearly that the average house size has increased along with lot size, and that the percentage of income required for home ownership has risen proportionately.

Unfortunately incomes have not risen in the same ratio, thus the major impact has disproportionately affected the lower income strata, the first quartile by causing higher rental cost, the second quartile ( composed of the basic workforce / workforce retirees ) by increased financial pressure of home ownership.

Compounding the Zoning problem is the “other leg”. Property Tax alone on these larger homes and lands are reaching twenty-five percent of income. This level of expense, on top of a mortgage, is driving younger residents out of New Hampshire. Retired workers on Social Security without “other income” are in dire straits and often cannot afford to retain their fully paid-for homes.

Towns themselves have restrained spending. Education has not. School spending has risen at an alarming rate. Property taxes related to Schools cannot be adequately controlled at a local level.

Latest Census results, and the Report of the Northern New England Real Estate Network, released this week, confirm these trends once more.

Each of these two apparently independent factors paralyzes and polarizes any movement toward wider discussion or implementation of possible solutions.

It is my opinion that ANY discussion of the Housing Dilemma MUST include both Zoning and Taxation. Although each must be solved separately, both paradigms are equally at question. Attention to only one will result in partial resolution of the overall problem.

Thursday
Feb082007

ERPG’S SUIT - A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE!

by Tom Sutliffe

To the citizens of Epping:

What we have here is pure and simple…. a failure to communicate. Epping Residents for Principled Government (ERGP) sued the Board of Selectmen and the School Board last year because it claimed both bodies illegally lobbied townspeople using taxpayer monies to influence the election without allowing opposing viewpoints. ERGP alleged that elementary school children were used to carry home political newsletters, a principal promoted a lobbying group in a public newsletter and boards spent town funds to produce a flier advocating certain positions. ERPG also claimed that town officials made statements improperly lobbying for positions in the 2003 and 2004 school and town annual report, paid for by taxpayers.

This was steadfastly denied by all Epping officials and even the school board, thus, necessitating a legal suit in the Courts of New Hampshire. The town and the school board think they are justified in spending more than $40,000 of the taxpayers’ money to defend their wrongdoing. Now wouldn’t you think that if a citizens’ group goes to court to ask if their rights are being violated, that the town and school officials would allow the courts to adjudicate un-contested whether or not they were breaking the law. They would have, had they felt they were following the law? But no, not Epping elected officials. They had to hire a plethora of attorneys to justify and defend their wrongdoing and to add insult to injury….. on your dime! How offensive and how convenient to use taxpayer money to defend themselves against suits for violating your taxpayer rights! In our Court suit, we cited several Federal cases as well as the New Hampshire Constitution that pointedly illustrated that we (ERPG) had a valid complaint. No frivolous suit here! Acting as a pro se litigant on behalf of our group, I tried to the best of my ability, to present a well-documented legal case against the town officials. The Court chose not to allow me to broaden my case, something which is highly unusual, and I guess, reserved only for pro se litigants in New Hampshire. The Court had already pre-determined what the outcome would be. The Court now had to legitimize its findings. Our group questioned the way that they arrived at its decision by asking the Supreme Court to review it. The Supreme Court chose, at its option, not to rule on the issue, thus neither upholding nor denying ERPG’s suit. Now, they had to find an excuse not to rule in on this issue. The following is an example taken from the Supreme Court’s decision:

“Because this appeal concerns important matters of public policy, which are likely to recur but continue to evade review, we exercise our discretion to consider this appeal.”

They further state in their decision:

“Although we find some of this material troubling, we decline the petitioner’s invitation to rule upon it.”

Now, what we have here is a failure to communicate. Do the above indicate to you that they ruled against ERPG, or does it appear they chose not to rule on the issues of the Petitioner’s (ERPG’S) appeal?

To further add insult to injury, the Supreme Court in their ruling stated:

“The only other issue for our review is whether the trial court erred when it removed a February 26, 2004 letter from Exhibit 1 and declined to enter it into evidence. We review a trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence under an unsustainable exercise of discretion standard, and reverse only if the ruling is clearly untenable or unreasonable to the prejudice of a party’s case. Figlioli v R. J. Moreau Cos., 151 N.H. 618, 626 (2005). As the petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the trial court’s ruling prejudiced the petitioner’s case, we uphold the trial court’s decision to remove the February 26, 2004 letter from Exhibit 1.”

The above caption is the last paragraph of the Supreme Court’s Decision of October 3, 2006. Notice that the document, referenced above, dated February 26, 2004 from an attorney working with the New Hampshire School Board Association totally concurred with the ERPG suit. The document was submitted by ERPG at hearing, but it was stricken by order of Superior Court Judge Morrill after the hearing was completed, which is highly unusual. We filed a motion not to strike because the information contained in the document, if stricken would be highly prejudicial, because it supported ERPG’s complaint! Superior Court Judge Morrill struck this evidence anyhow after the hearing had ended. The Court never noticed ERPG of his decision to strike this evidence. Thus, ERPG never asked for a reconsideration of his order, having no knowledge it had been stricken. The first ERPG ever knew of the ruling was when it was asked to have its complete file sent up to the Supreme Court for the appeal process. Please note that every order issued by Judge Morrill was followed by reconsideration from ERPG, as it was quite clear Judge Morrill had his own agenda as this case’s outcome! Why strike the document…. because it contradicts Judge Morrill’s predetermined conclusion regarding the case’s outcome. Would this happen to a member of the “brotherhood”, or is this treatment specifically reserved for pro-se litigants in New Hampshire? Having no knowledge an order was entered, there would be NO request for reconsideration of such an order. Thus, after the allotted time, the issue becomes non appealable! Why... because no reconsideration was requested within the ten day allotted timeframe. The Supreme Court gang declined to act on this issue because it said ERPG failed to ask for a reconsideration of the Judge's order in a timely manner. The Supreme Court gang, referred to it as a procedural issue! Citizens looking for justice in New Hampshire.... are then required to go to Federal Court for a decision.

On another issue regarding the case, I thought you might like to see two different interpretations of the same Supreme Court decision placed on the websites of the New Hampshire School Board Association and the Epping SAU #14 websites respectively. The following reflects these two differing interpretations of the same decision, depending on your personal agenda:

1. NH Supreme Court Rules on Epping School Board Case

On October 6, 2006, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued an order in Epping Residents for Principled Government, Inc. v. Epping School Board. The issue was whether the Epping School Board used "unwarranted advocacy" in support of certain ballot issues and warrant articles, in violation of the Constitutional rights of certain taxpayers who held opposing viewpoints.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the School Board's actions. However, the order was not a clear-cut victory for New Hampshire school boards, as the order raises more questions than it resolved and does not provide definitive guidance for the difference between appropriate and inappropriate advocacy.

The Court's decision was based largely on procedural grounds, as opposed to being decided on the merits of the law. The Court ruled that the taxpayers did not properly preserve certain of their arguments for the Court to review. The Court may have been looking for a better case upon which to make some significant rulings.

It appears that some statements by a School Board are clearly acceptable, such as "we urge you to support the budget because we need it to fund our program" and "we need a new high school and ask you for your support". These kinds of "advocacy" appear to be tolerable, especially if they appear in the School District Annual Report. However, some Epping School Board practices were, in the Court's words, "troubling."

Specifically, the Court had reservations about the Board's direct attacks upon opponents of the budget or new school and using students as "mules" or couriers to send "political" messages home.

Because the decision was unclear, the legality of some board practices is still unsettled, such as using public money for mass mailings advocating a particular position. There probably would not be anything wrong with a mass mailing that conveys information on important issues, provided that it is consistent with the acceptable language. Also, it appears to be unlikely that the Board would be required to give dissenting viewpoints equal space and time in the School District Annual Report, or pay for an opposing mass mailing. Until the law is further clarified, NHSBA urges school boards to proceed with caution when "advocating" for particular political ballot issues and warrant articles. NHSBA Policy KDCA recommends that school districts do not use student as couriers for information that advocates a particular position on bond issues, political matters, labor relations issues or District budgets. NHSBA also recommends that any mass mailings contain purely "neutral" information related to the issue at hand, as opposed to including potentially coercive statements from the school board.

The New Hampshire School Board Association

2. NH Supreme Court Affirms Decision Of Superior Court In Erpg Vs Epping School Board

On October 6, 2006 the NH Supreme Court issued an order regarding the appeal of the Epping Residents for Principled Government, Inc. versus the Epping School Board. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's determination. In summary the Superior Court:

1. Denied ERPG's request to declare the school district annual report as unwarranted advocacy and an incorrect expenditure of public funds in violation of the State and Federal Constitutions.

2. Denied ERPG's request to enjoin all officials as to the unwarranted advocacy in the future and to contain a statement in the next two annual reports about the constitutional prohibition against using public monies for the purpose of advocacy.

3. Ruled that the statements made by public officials were made on behalf of public purpose, not private statements.

4. Ruled that the district did not inappropriately or excessively use public funds for the annual report.

5. Ruled that the district did not violate ERPG's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution or the Equal Protection under the State Constitution (to have access for presenting an opposing view).

The Epping Superintendent, Barbara Munsey

Pick an interpretation that suits your agenda. Epping Superintendent Barbara Munsey did. It appears that at this point a little more clarification is in order. The Superior Court, as well as, the Supreme Court both refused to do the right thing and uphold the citizens’ rights. These rights are the law! Now, the Town wants you to anti up another $10,000 for their legal defense team, above and beyond what has already been spent. Say buddy, can you spare a dime? We are hopeful, with the filing of a Federal Complaint, the questions left un-answered by the New Hampshire state courts, will be definitively resolved and that you will vote not to allow the Town to spend more of your money on their legal defense.