Great State Hamstrung by the New Hampshire Disadvantage
Sentinel, March 20, 1999)
PETERBOROUGH - The mantra for New Hampshire
politicians who want to keep the status quo and avoid any state responsibility
for funding education is "Keep the New Hampshire Advantage."
The idea is that by consistently underfunding all government activities,
the state maintains a low tax, pro-business, high quality of life culture.IN
reality, there is another side to this concept, what might be called the
New Hampshire Disadvantage.
Created by the underfunding of our state government, the New Hampshire
Disadvantage is a chronic lack of willingness to share resources. Although
New Hampshire is in the top ten states in per capita income, we are dead
last in contributions to charity. Property rich towns are baulking at
raising their property taxes to levels other towns only dream about. Many
citizens need to skimp and save even on necessities in order to get by
while property rich towns spend much more on roads, schools and services
and pay much less in taxes.
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is the reliance upon "sin" taxes.
What kind of message is it to require ever growing consumption of alcohol,
cigarettes and gambling in order to balance our state budget? The result
is that New Hampshire is one of the leading states in alcohol consumption
and spends very little on programs to limit its use. We have no idea how
many people we have who are addicted to gambling and spend food and rent
money on it. How can politicans complain about the lack of character and
family values in our society and also support a tax structure which encourages
the weakening of both?
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is the welcoming of the big-time gambling
industry coupled with an over-worked and underfunded attorney generals
office. Does it make sense to open our arms to gambling interests when
we have an attorney generals office that does not have the resources
in time, people or money to adequately regulate and supervise big time
gambling? I would think the gambling bosses are licking their lips at
getting into a state with New Hampshires lack of resources.
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is the highest in-state tuition for colleges
and universities in the country. While Massachusetts is building a new
Honors College on its Amherst campus, lowering tuition, hiring new professors
and adding programs, our state colleges and university are raising tuition,
laying off professors and scraping programs. Those professors who remain
receive wages too low to compete with other public colleges in New England.
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is inadequate retirement funds for state
employees, teachers and police. As retirees in these professions well
know, our state retirement plans pale in comparison to other states. Our
retirees must live with the fact that other states show they value their
retirees more by providing them with much more money and services than
New Hampshire does.
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is a poorly maintained infrastructure.
Not long ago, our director of transportation said that our bridges were
in such disrepair that he advised motorists to "drive fast and dont
look back" when crossing them. How long can we underfund our bridge
and road repairs before they crumble under all of the tourist traffic
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is underfunded and overworked social workers,
public defenders, health care givers and consumer advocates. How many
poor people are denied services, health care and legal aid because our
state government consistently squeezes these agencies? Whenever budget
cuts are needed, these departments are hit yet again.
The New Hampshire Disadvantage is parceling out of Youth Detention Center
offenders to foster homes, often in small, rural towns. How many parents
know that many small schools in New Hampshire have youths enrolled in
them who were taken from their parents and placed in foster homes because
of criminal or violent behavior? The troubled and violent of these YDC
offenders often rattle the schools discipline and drain funds from
special education programs. These YDC veterans come without state aid
or even warning. Yet, if the foster home is in the district, the schools
are required to spend what they must to remediate their educational and
Those of us born, bred and educated in New Hampshire surely feel our state
has an advantage. People from New Hampshire are wonderfully independent
and individualistic, but we arent unfair and we mean. Why then,
do we rely upon a tax system that pits the old against the young, town
against town and the rich against the poor and then say this is what makes
New Hampshrie great? Cant we be a great state without asking so
many who have so little to subsidize the lifestyles of the affluent?
Now is the time for that New Hampshire greatness to prevail, not for political,
knee-jerk ideology. Lets hope our representatives in Concord have
it in them.
(Michael OLeary teaches at Conval High School in Peterborough and
hosts a web site on education reform at: http://www.mv.com/ipusers/oleary/reform/)