A Great State Hamstrung by the New Hampshire Disadvantage
(The Keene 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 general’s office. Does it make sense to open our arms to gambling interests when we have an attorney general’s 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 Hampshire’s 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 don’t look back" when crossing them. How long can we underfund our bridge and road repairs before they crumble under all of the tourist traffic they get?

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 school’s 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 social deficiencies.

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 aren’t 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? Can’t 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. Let’s hope our representatives in Concord have it in them.

(Michael O’Leary teaches at Conval High School in Peterborough and hosts a web site on education reform at: http://www.mv.com/ipusers/oleary/reform/)