Concord Monitor Editorial on Importance of Moving Forward with Commuter Rail
Concord, N.H. – News outlets continue to highlight the need for the NHGOP Senate to address House budget cuts to critical economic priorities including substance misuse treatment, the 10-bed crisis unit at New Hampshire hospital, ServiceLink, and House Republicans’ failure to responsibly fund the Department of Transportation.
A Concord Monitor editorial also called for the legislature to move forward with commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester, highlighting the “potentially transformative nature of a rail link to the region’s largest city.”
See below for coverage roundup:
NHPR: Drug Epidemic Front And Center In N.H. Politics
Money is tight, and there are plenty of competing priorities. The House trimmed $6 million from what the governor proposed to boost treatment. The House also declined to extend Medicaid expansion, which includes substance abuse coverage for participants. These moves were criticized by plenty from the moment they were made, but the push is really on now. And the statistics are pretty rough. According to the head of the governor’s commission on prevention, treatment and recovery, right now New Hampshire has the country’s highest per-capita rate of addiction and the second-lowest treatment capacity. Only Texas is worse, apparently. [Full story]
Concord Monitor’s Capital Beat: Will there be money for beds, but not for staff?
In July, New Hampshire Hospital administrators expect to complete construction on a new 10-bed crisis unit, meant to help ease pressure at emergency rooms where oftentimes the mentally ill are forced to wait in line until a bed becomes available at the Concord facility.
But, whether the crisis unit will actually open its doors to patients this year is still up in the air.
The unit needs funding to launch, primarily to hire staff. And that comes from the state budget, which at this point doesn’t plan to offer up the cash until 2017, a full year after the unit construction is complete.
… Hundreds of New Hampshire residents took their frustrations with the budget process to the State House last week during a marathon public hearing lasting from 3 p.m. to midnight, where they asked for the state to fully fund services ranging from mental health services to tourism promotion.
… The House-approved budget plan suspends the ServiceLink program altogether, an information referral program that fielded 83,000 calls last year and helps residents find nursing home placements and enroll in Medicare and the Healthcare marketplace, among other things.
… Educators are also carefully watching the budget progress. School district budgets rely on state dollars distributed in the state budget.
The Concord School District would stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars under the House budget plan. To fill a hole in expected state dollars, the district would have to convene this summer and consider cuts in other areas of its budget or potentially raise taxes. [Full story]
Union Leader’s State House Dome: Fish & Game, highway a funding conundrum
Nearly 700 people attended the public hearing on the new $11.2 billion biennial budget last week, urging Senate budget writers to add money to social service programs for the disabled, stay-at-home seniors and substance abusers, for higher education, for tourism promotion, and to reduce retired public workers' health care premiums.
However, Senate budget writers have two other major issues to address that received little attention at the public hearing: declining revenues in the highway, and Fish and Game Department funds.
The Highway Fund, which receives money from the gas tax and vehicle registrations, pays most of the operating costs of the Department of Transportation, for state police to patrol highways and for state and local road and bridge projects.
… Lawmakers over the years have used some one-time fixes to prop up the fund, but they are exhausted and now there is at least a $100 million shortfall over the next two years.
The House used money from the rainy day fund, the renewable energy fund, state adequacy money and millions earmarked for higher education to pay for the agency.
The Senate is expected to return money to the rainy day fund and at least some of the money to the renewable energy fund, but that means less money for the DOT.
… Like the Highway Fund, lawmakers have known for some time diminishing revenues in the Fish and Game fund would sooner or later have to be addressed. [Full story]
Concord Monitor Editorial: Commuter rail is a gamble worth taking
After nearly two years of study, the consultants have spoken. Train service between cities along the Interstate 93 spine of New Hampshire would lead to new jobs, higher property values and an increase in the percentage of young people who call the state home.
… The potentially transformative nature of a rail link to the region’s largest city led Gov. Hassan to make re-establishing passenger rail service from Concord to Boston the apple of her eye. But now, after brief study, comes the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy to explain how like an orange an apple really is.
… The center, which admitted that its comparisons were less than perfect matches with the capital rail corridor, failed to include any success stories – and they’re out there.
Ridership on commuter rail has increased in almost every major city. Extended systems in northern California, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Connecticut have spurred economic growth, led to higher property values and development in areas near stations, and an increase in jobs. The days of whole towns springing up around stops on the railroad may be long gone, but for many of the millennials who are becoming the heart of the nation’s workforce, so are the days of suburban ranch homes and three or four cars in the driveway. They want to take trains.
… Planners have long known that congestion can’t be widened away. The expansion of I-93 only as far as Manchester cost $800 million. Compared to that, the investment in rail is small money.
… Trains pollute far less, allow people to be as productive or relaxed en route as they choose, avoid parking costs and facilitate commerce. Establish regular rail service and, for a time, even more New Hampshire residents will commute south to work, but also in time, we’re betting that more and more of those Massachusetts employers will decide that a northern move makes economic and lifestyle sense.
Build it and they will come. [Full editorial]