Editorials from around New England

Published 02-01-2019

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Editorials from around New England:

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Berkshire Eagle

Jan. 30

Not long after U.S. Representative Richard Neal, whose district includes Berkshire County, picked up the gavel to chair the first full hearing of the important House Committee on Ways and Means Tuesday (Jan. 30), it became apparent that Republican members of the committee are having a difficult time adjusting to the fact that they are no longer in the driver's seat. This is the new reality, and it means among other things that the relentless assaults against the Affordable Care Act are at an end in the House.

Matters concerning the Affordable Care Act (better known as "Obamacare") fall under the aegis o

Matters concerning the Affordable Care Act (better known as "Obamacare") fall under the aegis of the committee he now chairs, and he wasted no time fulfilling his promise to his own constituents and their fellow Americans that his top priority regarding this topic was to uphold one of the ACA's signature provisions: protection of pre-existing condition coverage. Mr. Neal and his Democratic colleagues, despite protests from Republican members of the committee, made clear that the GOP - thanks to its past record of some 70 House votes to repeal the ACA - could not be trusted on the topic, particularly in light of repeated attempts to sabotage it, dilute its benefits and reduce its affordability. There was much ado during Republican rule about repealing the ACA with little or no attention being paid to its so-called replacement.

Any legislation regarding the strengthening of the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid must originate from Mr. Neal's committee, and the experience gained from his 26-year tenure on the panel will serve him well as he navigates the shoals of partisanship to ensure that whatever comes to a final vote in the full House will place constituent needs before special interests, and put political pressure on a Republican-held Senate to fall into line as well. This is especially welcome news in the Berkshires, where a significant segment of the population depends on such federal programs to provide the care that a statistically older and sicker population requires.

As Chairman Neal noted, more than 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition, which is why provisions in the ACA requiring insurers to honor those conditions are so popular in Americans according to polls. The claim by Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, that Republicans "always have" supported protection for pre-existing conditions is false, and part of the revisionist history that had House Republicans flip-flopping on the issue in the days before the November elections. That they appear to support this provision now is welcome and we hope that continues.

If Tuesday's hearing is any indication, Rep.

As Chairman Neal noted, more than 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition, which is why provisions in the ACA requiring insurers to honor those conditions are so popular in Americans according to polls. The claim by Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, that Republicans "always have" supported protection for pre-existing conditions is false, and part of the revisionist history that had House Republicans flip-flopping on the issue in the days before the November elections. That they appear to support this provision now is welcome and we hope that continues.

If Tuesday's hearing is any indication, Rep. Neal is also fulfilling his pledge to be firm while not resorting to the kind of nasty partisan infighting that has characterized Congress under Republican control in recent years. Instead of hurling insults at his colleagues from the opposite side of the aisle, he allowed moving testimony from witnesses who had experienced undue hardship at the hands of predatory private insurers to do the talking for him. While Republicans on the committee may resent being called out for casting aside Americans' best interests in their headlong rush to please the health insurance industry, Mr. Neal's working philosophy of being firm yet fair and giving them an opportunity to express their concerns about the cost of the ACA and other legitimate issues should earn their respect.

Online: https://bit.ly/2DO2Pj3

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

Jan. 28

The Democratic controlled state legislature has a chance to reverse a major mistake made in 2018 when Connecticut joined the contrivance called the National Popular Vote compact. Under its provisions, Connecticut would no longer award its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who won the state vote. Instead, the candidate who got the most votes in the national count would receive our electoral votes.

In 2004, for example, Connecticut was won by Democratic nominee John Kerry over Republican President George W. Bush by a margin of 10.4 percent - a landslide. But if the law was in play then, Connecticut would have assigned its seven electoral votes to Bush because he won the national vote by 2.4 percent.

We don't see how that serves Connecticut voters well.

The compact becomes effective only if states representing at least 270 electoral votes, the amount needed to win, join up. The movement is 98 electoral votes short. Hopefully, it never gets to that number.

Better yet to see Connecticut back out. But alas, the bill to revoke Connecticut's participation was introduced by Republican state Rep. Kurt Vail of Stafford and the Democratic leadership appears unlikely to even give it a hearing. It should.

The compact's intent is to assure the candidate with the most popular votes wins. The right way to do that would be amend the U.S. Constitution, but there is no political path to that end.

The founders provided a system under which every state, despite size and population, gets two electors for its two U.S. senators, plus a number of electors equal to its House representatives. This gives relatively small states - meaning Connecticut - greater influence in electing a president than their populations would suggest. Connecticut, for instance, has 514,300 people per elector, compared to 744,740 per elector in Texas.

This is rooted in the "Connecticut Plan," introduced at the Constitutional Convention. The plan recognized that since this is a federation of states, some degree of comparable standing was appropriate in electing a president.

Yet our modern-day Connecticut leaders are ready to toss this protection away and invite chaos.

Imagine the controversy if this plan was in place and the national vote was too close to call. The nation would face recounts in 50 states.

The compact would encourage multi-candidate races, with a president being handed an electoral majority after getting, say, 35 percent of the vote, potentially without even winning a state.

Also, what is to stop a state legislature from pulling out its electoral votes in a close election? Not the compact, we suspect.

And there is this language in Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution: "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State."

Fix this mistake. Withdraw from the compact.

Online: https://bit.ly/2TjTFQD

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

Jan. 30

The previous governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, has a perfect right to live anywhere he wants. Still, it was surprising to learn that his wife, Stephanie, has changed her permanent address to Wyoming, and that Mr. Chafee may be next.

"Lately, we are spending more and more time out here in Teton County. Reflective of that, Stephanie has declared residency here and I am contemplating following suit," Mr. Chafee said in an email message.

"This is a big beautiful state with only about 560,000 people. The motto here is Equal Rights and Wyoming in 1869 was the first state to grant women voting rights," he said.

It seems doubtful that Mr. Chafee - once a Republican, then an independent, then a liberal Democrat - would attempt a political resurrection in that state, home of former Vice President Dick Cheney. Some 67 percent of the state's voters backed Donald Trump in 2016, compared with 22 percent for Hillary Clinton, who handily carried Rhode Island.

To be sure, Rhode Island without the Chafee dynasty is somewhat jarring. The Chafees have long been known as one of the "five families" that ran the state. Mr. Chafee's great-great grandfather Henry Lippitt was governor before him, as was his father, former Sen. John Chafee. His great-great uncles include former Gov. Charles Warren Lippitt and Sen. Henry Frederick Lippitt.

Back in 2011, when he was governor, he gushed about Rhode Island in a YouTube video, waving his arms as he spoke at the State House: "This is the greatest state in the country, it's my firm belief. I've traveled around the country. I've been in 49 out of 50 states. The only state I haven't been in is Hawaii. And I can say that Rhode Island is the best state."

In truth, Rhode Island may not be the best state for everyone, however - especially some retirees, particularly those concerned about inheritance taxes. The financial-advice newsletter Kiplinger rates Wyoming the second most tax-friendly state for retirees, with no inheritance/estate tax. (Alaska ranks first.) Kiplinger rates Rhode Island, by contrast, with its 16 percent inheritance tax on the largest estates, as "tax-unfriendly" for retirees.

The Chafee couple's net worth was at least $60 million in 2007, according to financial disclosures, Yahoo Finance reported in 2015, adding, "The Chafees may be worth considerably more now."

As governor, Mr. Chafee championed higher sales taxes for the masses. We don't know if lower taxes played into his newfound affection for the Equal Rights State, but it seems clear that they do influence some people's decisions about where to retire. If you have significant wealth, any financial adviser will tell you that your family cannot afford to have you die as a Rhode Islander.

Rhode Island may well lose more than it gains through policies that make it wiser for well-to-do or middle-class retirees - never mind the fabulously wealthy - to go elsewhere. In such cases, the state loses tax dollars, charitable contributions, volunteers and people interested in the civic culture.

Meanwhile, we thank Mr. Chafee for his public service, not only as governor, but as U.S. senator, mayor of Warwick and Democratic candidate for president. We hope he and his loved ones enjoy the wide blue horizons of Wyoming without ever forgetting their many friends in Little Rhody.

Online: https://bit.ly/2MP8zfj

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VERMONT

The Caledonian-Record

Jan. 30

Governor Phil Scott this week took exception to media characterizations that he betrayed his long-time pledge not to raise taxes. His 2019 budget proposes new taxes on e-cigarettes, online retailers and mortgage brokers.

According to a VTDigger report, Scott told business leaders this week, "Let me be clear, my budget doesn't contain any increases on broad-based taxes like income, sales, meals and rooms. Adding a tax continues to be my last resort."

Governor Scott is specifically pushing back on headlines in VTDigger and Seven Days, respectively titled, "Scott changes course on taxes and fees in budget address," and "In Break From Past Pledges, Scott Pitches New Taxes and Fees."

According to the Digger report, Scott noted that his plan "to phase out a tax on military retirement, raise the estate tax exemption, eliminate the land gains tax and increase downtown tax credits," got much less play.

Regardless of media portrayals, we recognize that Governor Scott is stuck between a rock and a hard place. His cursed reality is that big-government, tax-and-spend central planners have complete veto-proof control of the legislature. As such, there's a better chance that you win Powerball than that Vermont democrats consider any cuts to state spending.

You needn't look further than our local downtowns to see how well that strategy is going.

So we admire Scott for continuing to try to wage an honest battle in a long-lost war.

Until voters restore balance to the legislature, our state will continue to die.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Tkg408

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MAINE

The Bangor Daily News

Jan. 31

It would be a gross understatement to say that Maine's relatively new rules for solar power generation and billing have not been well received, particularly by the solar industry, environmental groups and the Maine people turning to this source of renewable energy.

For years, Maine homeowners and others have received credits when they use alternative generation to produce electricity on their property and sell the excess into the power grid. The system, known as "net metering," has helped promote the development of renewable energy, particularly solar.

But a problematic new approach to the system, known as "gross metering," assess fees and requires a costly second meter to measure the amount of energy generated, not just used, on properties employing solar or other on-site generation. Gross metering was developed by the Maine Public Utility Commission, supported by former Gov. Paul LePage's administration, and adopted in 2017.

The gross metering fee for the transmission and distribution of that energy is charged even on power that never leaves the home or business where it is generated. And in order to collect the charge, utilities have had to update their billing systems along with adding the new meters - with those costs passed on to all utility ratepayers, not just those using solar and other alternative energy sources.

Gross metering pairs back the incentives offered to solar generators, hampering development of an important renewable resource at time when we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

In December, the utilities commission essentially acknowledged the shortcomings of its gross metering rule by rolling it back for medium and large scale solar installations. That decision came after Pittsfield-based InSource Renewables argued the cost of the new metering equipment and requirements far exceeded savings for ratepayers.

The Legislature now has an opportunity to address the very predictable problems of gross metering by extending that rollback to residential and small-business solar producers as well.

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, co-chairs the Committee on Energy Utilities and Technology and has introduced LD 91 to eliminate gross metering with what amounts to a reset to previous net billing. LD 91's move away from gross metering certainly is needed and can set the stage for a broader solar reform bill that proved elusive in past sessions.

The Legislature has repeatedly looked poised to improve Maine solar policy in recent years, only to meet resistance from LePage, who argued in one veto message that the previous net metering system of compensating small power generators "subsidizes the cost of solar panels at the expense of the elderly and poor." The commission, however, has found otherwise.

With Gov. Janet Mills in the Blaine House - and also looking to add solar panels to the residence - the chances of advancing good solar policy seem to have improved dramatically.

Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said that the governor "supports lifting the cap on community solar and the establishment of a net-metering policy that gives appropriate incentives for rooftop solar users who feed electricity back into the grid and help spur the growth of an industry in Maine that attracts young workers back to our state."

Ogden also said Mills hopes the Legislature will work on a comprehensive solar proposal, including consideration of Berry's bill.

This isn't necessarily a partisan issue. Berry's bill has several Republican cosponsors, including his energy committee co-chair Sen. David Woodsome of Waterboro, who has also been a leader on solar policy.

A separate solar bill from Republican Rep. Beth O'Connor of Berwick came before the energy committee this week. That legislation, LD 41, takes a different approach by attempting to craft a market-based credit system for solar. But like Berry's bill, O'Connor's would get rid of gross metering requirements. Clearly, there is at least some bipartisan agreement to be had on this issue.

Even testimony from the utility companies this week - which neither supported nor opposed the bills from Berry and O'Connor - recognized the role that solar can and should play in Maine's energy future.

The multi-million dollar question continues to be: How to we promote solar growth and fairly compensate and encourage alternative energy without piling costs on other electric ratepayers?

While there undoubtedly are diverging opinions on what the future of solar regulation in Maine should look like - lawmakers should be deliberate in shaping that future - both sides of the aisle should unite around a common starting point: the gross metering experiment has been a failure, and it's time to end it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2S1ecMX

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

The Concord Monitor

Jan. 31

There are nights, when the air is still, that their eerie howling can be heard in most parts of the city. Coyotes hunt the woods behind Concord Hospital and the edges of the corn fields in the Broken Ground. They roam the state, and by consuming mice, woodchucks and other rodents do far more good than harm. Nonetheless, in New Hampshire every day and night is open season on the cunning canids.

Count us among those who say it's time to cut coyotes some slack and ban coyote hunting during the months when, if their mother is killed, her pups would starve. Continuing the hunt between the months of April and September would constitute state-sanctioned cruelty. House Bill 442, which would close the coyote season during those months, deserves to pass.

We also think that, especially in the more populated parts of the state, the era of night hunting for sport should come to an end. Shots in the night these days rarely mean that hounds have treed a raccoon. They are more likely to signal a drug deal gone bad. They disturb the peace.

Coyotes are everywhere, from New York City's Central Park and downtown Chicago to nearly every American suburb. Hunting them has proven ineffective, or even counterproductive, because coyotes control their own numbers.

In years of plenty, litter sizes increase. In lean times, they shrink. Kill the dominant female in a coyote pack, the only one to reproduce most years, and the other females are freed to have litters of their own. Reduce the coyote population, and litter sizes will increase to fill the vacuum hunting created.

Coyotes are wild animals, potentially, though rarely, dangerous to livestock, pets and even young children. They should be treated with caution and respect, and never fed. They are a part of the ecosystem that's almost certainly here to stay. Coyotes should not be protected from hunters but neither should their pups be forced to die in their dens for want of the food their mothers provide.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RuIRgL

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