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Editorials from around New England

By The Associated PressMay 11, 2018

Editorials from around New England:

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CONNECTICUT

The Day

May 8

Connecticut would no longer award its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who won the state vote, but instead to the candidate who got the most votes in the national count, under the provisions of a bill recently passed by the House and Senate.

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 trouncing. 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.

Sounds like disenfranchisement.

It passed the Senate 21-14 and House 77-73, largely, but not exclusively, on party-line votes, Democrats in favor.

Connecticut is not alone in going down this strange road. It is the 11th state ready to award their electoral votes not to the candidate chosen by the voters in their respective states, but to the candidate winning the national vote.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would sign the bill. He shouldn’t.

The good news is that this scheme is unlikely to actually ever go into effect. We can only hope that’s the case.

Its intent is to do an end run around the rules for electing a U.S. president as outlined in the Constitution. Under the Constitution it is the electors, designated by the states, who elect the president. 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, such as 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.

Ironically, given that our elected leaders would give this small-state protection away, it is rooted in what is known as the “Connecticut Plan,” introduced at the Constitutional Convention. It provided for a lower House with representation determined by population and a Senate, with two members from each state. The plan recognized that since this is a federation of states, some degree of equal standing was appropriate, regardless of size and population.

The creation of the “Electoral College” and the assigning of electoral votes was the outgrowth of the same logic.

But this system sometimes elects a president who does not get the most popular votes. The most dramatic example yet came with the November 2016 election of President Trump by a wide electoral margin, though Hillary Clinton defeated him in the popular vote by nearly 3 million.

Out of such frustration was born the National Popular Vote movement. States agree to enter into a compact to award their electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes in the national election. The compact does not go into effect until the collective electoral votes of the participating states reaches 270, the electoral votes needed to elect a president.

This plan has several problems.

Imagine the chaos if the national vote was too close to call. The nation would be faced with recounts in 50 states and the accompanying legal battles. In 2000, a recount in only one state was determinative and became such a prolonged mess it ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

What happens if one or more state legislatures, under pressure from voters in a close election, withdraw from the compact on the eve of the vote or shortly after? Proponents say the compact prohibits that, but the courts could well see things differently.

It could result in multi-candidate races and a president winning with something like 35 percent of the vote, hardly a unifying outcome.

Then there are the serious constitutional questions. Will state or federal courts find it constitutional to appoint a state’s electors based on results in other states?

And, by the way, the U.S. Constitution states: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”

Why this effort to work around the Constitution is likely to never be tested is that states that have tended Republican show no interest. This remains a Blue State, Democratic movement unable to reach 270. With Connecticut’s entrance into the compact it would reach 172.

The same political realities and small-state opposition is why efforts to enact a popular vote the right way, by amending the U.S. Constitution, have not gotten very far. An amendment has to win two-thirds approval in both chambers of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.

The Democratic Party would be better off devoting its energy to figuring out why its policies are largely attracting majority support only in Northeast and West Coast states.

Online: https://bit.ly/2rt9NCw

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MASSACHUSETTS

The Republican

May 7

Is the age of political polling dead?

Not if one considers the record number of surveys being disseminated to the public. What polling has lost, however, is the credibility that its numbers reflect a true measure of public mood, which begs the question of whether polls today are worth anything at all.

Like the news itself, polls have become fractured as voters search for results that verify their own preferences. People don’t like disagreeable news. They like disagreeable theory even less, which is why the first instinct of many poll-watchers is not to see the result but to spot which agency took the poll — and often, which side the agency is on.

In its best days, political surveys were contained an unscientific element. Today, the old-style way to canvas voters by calling them on land lines is obviously obsolete, and pollsters have struggled to adapt their techniques to modern cellphone reliance, social media and shifting demographics.

There’s another variable that no data service can control: the voters themselves. It might help explain why so many recent pre-election polls in the United States and Britain have been wrong, almost always by underestimating the conservative right.

Many voters find polls a nuisance, a distraction or even an intrusion into their privacy. Many won’t participate. It’s likely some even answer untruthfully, just to throw a wrench into a process they distrust or find prying.

That’s one way to explain why the results from agencies with liberal reputations often tilt to the left, while those from right-wing sources favor conservative views.

Politicians use polls to plan campaign strategy and often to craft policy. For generations, newscasters have treated polls as factual news, which they have never been. President Trump has bragged when polls flatter him, though not when they don’t.

A recent study by British and American researchers concluded that poll accuracy has remained unchanged over the past 75 years. Skeptics will look at those results the way they look at polls themselves: the numbers fail the eye test and can’t be trusted.

Even if those results are accurate, it does little to discourage suspicion about polls. In this age of sophisticated technology people expect collection and analysis of data to be far better than it was 75 years ago, not simply “no worse.”

The 21st Century explosion of media puts polls in the news constantly. No longer are only a handful of surveys circulated periodically; rather, the public is bombarded with them.

Claiming the horse race element of polls was diluting their value and taking from more worthy studies, the famed Gallup poll group stopped handicapping the presidential race. With that decision was the acknowledgment that producing trustworthy numbers was more difficult and perhaps unattainable, which may help explain why Gallup predicted Mitt Romney to defeat Barack Obama in 2012.

Polls will never disappear, but rather than question whether they should exist, media and voters should take them for what they are worth — adjuncts to real news rather than news themselves. For instance, surveys that rank Charlie Baker as the nation’s most popular governor suggest the incumbent is just about unbeatable.

Both Republican challenger Scott Lively and the Democratic Party plan to run against Baker, anyway. They’re hoping the polls are wrong — and they know, as Baker undoubtedly does, that trusting theoretical numbers as pure fact can be a mistake, even if the polls are as accurate today as they have been in 75 years.

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

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RHODE ISLAND

The Providence Journal

May 9

Politicians seeking re-election in Rhode Island, from Gov. Gina Raimondo on down, have been quick to tout indicators suggesting the state’s economy is getting stronger. But one very reliable measure, using hard numbers, shows Rhode Island still has a long way to go.

The Pew Charitable Trusts reported last week that while state tax revenues nationwide were up 9.1 percent from their pre-Great Recession 2008 peak, a number of states — including Rhode Island — have seen a much slower recovery.

According to the Pew report, Rhode Island’s state tax revenues during the fourth quarter of 2017 were up just 1.6 percent above their pre-recession peak, when adjusted for inflation. By comparison, Connecticut’s revenues were 6.3 percent above their pre-recession peak, and Massachusetts’ were up 11.8 percent. Energy-rich North Dakota had the strongest growth, 31.6 percent.

Tax revenues reflect the health of an economy. When the economy is robust, tax revenues go up. When the economy is weak, tax revenues go down. So even as Rhode Island’s leaders tout subjective rankings such as CEOs’ impressions to show that Rhode Island has made great strides, tax revenues show it has barely recovered what it lost during the Great Recession.

In fact, the Pew numbers tell a familiar tale about Rhode Island. State revenues started to go down in 2007, before those in Connecticut or Massachusetts began to decline, and before state revenues began to decline on a national basis. And Rhode Island took longer than its neighbors, and most states, to get back to its pre-recession peak. In other words, by yet another measure, Rhode Island was one of the first into the recession and one of the last out.

On a positive note, Rhode Island’s leaders have taken several steps in recent years to energize the economy. They reformed unemployment insurance and reduced corporate taxes to make them more competitive with the rest of New England. Under the leadership of then-General Treasurer Raimondo, they reformed unsustainable public employee pensions to deal with exploding costs. Under the leadership of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, they began to eliminate the onerous car tax, which hits some of the state’s poorest residents especially hard.

But there is still a long way to go. Rhode Island continues to be hurt by sky-high property taxes and too much red tape, as well as second-rate public schools, with only weak and timid reforms contemplated.

Luring high profile businesses such as GE Digital, InfoSys, Johnson & Johnson, Virgin Pulse and others with taxpayer subsidies and tax breaks has helped to create some local jobs and burnish the state’s image, and many states employ that strategy. But to build their economies and help businesses, large and small, to thrive, states must have a solid economic foundation, with competitive taxes and regulations along with top-notch public schools.

Leaders in many states, including Massachusetts, understand this. Rather than rest on their laurels, Rhode Island’s leaders should apply themselves to the work that remains to be done to get the economy up to speed.

Online: https://bit.ly/2rBHfa6

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VERMONT

Rutland Herald

May 10

In a perfect world, the federal Medicare system that provides health care and prescription benefits for millions of older American would negotiate the prices of prescription drugs purchased from pharmaceutical companies.

With Medicare accounting for about 29 percent of the country’s retail pharmaceutical spending, officials could use their buying power as leverage to negotiate lower prices for many drugs relied on by older Americans.

It’s a model used by the Medicaid system that serves millions of low-income residents. Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs also use their buying power to negotiate lower prices from pharmaceutical companies, which have pocketed billions in profits lately while jacking up prices for many medicines to obscene levels.

Yet Congress refuses to allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate bulk purchasing prices for the Medicare program, leaving drug companies free to engage in profiteering at the expense of older Americans.

Gee, if only there were someone in power who recognized the problem.

Well, it turns out, there is. Several someones, in fact.

Shortly before he took office last January, President Donald Trump proclaimed drug companies were “getting away with murder” with respect to their price-gouging practices. He said the government should negotiate with the drug industry.

It’s a point on which Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Trump seem to agree.

“Even in the face of the opioid epidemic, a devastating national public health emergency, the price of naloxone, a lifesaving overdose-reversal drug, has been spiked by almost 600%. An effective drug is 100% ineffective when it is unaffordable,” Welch said in a news release issued Wednesday.

The fact that neither Congress nor the president has addressed this injustice is hardly surprising, given that the pharmaceutical industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to buy influence in Washington to maintain the status quo and keep their profits flowing.

But Gov. Phil Scott is now in a position to do at least a little something about it.

Vermont lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow the state to import drugs from Canada, where they cost about 30 percent less than in this country.

Scott’s spokeswoman this week said the governor is studying whether to sign it.

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and 141-2 in the House; when it comes to price gouging their constituents, Vermont legislators clearly know what’s up.

Vermont would be the first state to pass such a bill, though similar provisions are making their way through the legislatures in a few other states.

Even if Scott signs the bill — and we encourage him to do so — state health officials would still have to ask for a waiver from the federal government to import drugs. Getting that approval would be a longshot. Then again, the president himself has suggested it’s not the worst idea in the world, so who knows, especially given how he runs hot and cold on pretty much every issue.

The fact that drug company representatives think importing cheaper drugs from outside the U.S. is a bad idea probably means it’s a great idea, at least for consumers.

If nothing else, Scott signing the bill might mark the start of a movement in which states apply pressure on Congress or drug companies to rethink their opposition to allowing Medicare officials to negotiate prices.

And while Scott thinks over whether he’s going to sign the bill, here’s something for Vermont residents to think over: Scott took about $20,000 in money linked to the pharmaceutical industry in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Vermont secretary of state’s campaign finance database.

They include donations from Pfizer, Merck and the pharmaceutical industry trade group, PhRMA.

We think it’s important to at least make that known. That $20,000 isn’t a huge amount, but it’s not nothing, either. It’s enough so that, if the governor vetoes the bill, people have a right to question whether Scott is looking out for the interests of Vermonters or acceding to the wishes of the drug industry.

The same industry, by the way, which has engaged the services of 34 lobbyists to influence pharmaceutical policy in Vermont and would no doubt like to keep its corner on the U.S. market without interference from those pesky Canadians.

Online: https://bit.ly/2G7RSqm

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MAINE

Portland Press Herald

May 10

Some students look forward to their report cards, while others look for a place to hide. Either way, there aren’t many surprises when the grades come out.

The same is true when we grade schools instead of students.

U.S. News & World Report issued its rankings of the nation’s high schools this week, with results that no one in Maine could have found shocking.

Yarmouth High School ranked No. 1 in the state and 209th best in the country. Cape Elizabeth High School ranked second here, according to the magazine, and 459th nationally. Falmouth High School finished third in the state and 485th overall. By finishing in the top 500, the three schools were awarded “gold medals” by the editors, indicating that they were in the top 2 percent of schools.

Congratulations to Yarmouth, Cape and Falmouth. The honor is surely well deserved by the students and staff who have been working hard at the business of learning.

But can we take a moment to reflect on what else these rankings tell us? Because if we do, there is something we probably should find shocking.

It was no surprise to see these schools perform so well. They always do, whether it’s on standardized tests or in placing students in college.

They are also well above average when it comes to income, according to the U.S. Census. Maine’s median income is $50,826 for households and $28,473 per capita.

Yarmouth’s median income is $64,962 for households and $44,347 per capita. For Cape, the numbers are $105,925 and $52,536. In Falmouth, it’s $104,020 and $60,314.

The towns also rank at the top when it comes to home prices. According to Zillow, the national online real estate tracker, the median house price in Yarmouth is $412,017.

In Cape, it’s $409,198. In Falmouth, it’s $451,830. The statewide median home price is $219,000.

That matters, because school districts that have a strong property tax base have more control over what they spend on education. Even though the state tries to even the playing field by distributing broad-based tax revenue through the school funding formula, there is still an advantage.

The one ranking where these three districts are at the back of the pack is the proportion of children in poverty who attend their schools. Only 9 percent of Yarmouth students are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, and the other gold medal winners are the same. The state average is 45 percent.

It’s a complicated puzzle and there are many factors in play, but you can’t escape the fact that the school districts that have the most wealthy kids and the fewest poor ones are the highest performing. Unless you believe that kids with money are smarter than kids without it, you have to realize that there is more than just the learning that these report cards are assessing.

Almost every measure of school quality is as much about income as education. Ultimately, these rankings don’t tell us anything that Maine Revenue Services couldn’t.

For decades, we have punished underperforming schools in poor districts because they have not been able to overcome the advantage that wealth provides for students in other districts. Maybe it’s time we recognize that children from low-income families might get more done at school if social policy focused more on their health care, housing and food security than preparing them for standardized tests.

We should grapple with what these report cards tell us, and decide if we are comfortable with the disparities they reveal.

Online: https://bit.ly/2G8TyzJ

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Portsmouth Herald

May 10

The statistics on hunger in America are staggering. Here are just a few.

More than 43 million or 1 in 7 Americans is food insecure, meaning they live at risk of hunger and of not knowing where the next meal is coming from.

More than 13 million or 1 in 6 children is living in a food insecure household, a condition that threatens physical, intellectual and emotional development.

More than 5 million seniors (age 60 and older) choose between paying rent, utilities and having enough nutritious food.

On Saturday, we urge readers to support the 26th annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive being conducted by National Association of Letter Carriers.

All you have to do is fill a bag with non-perishable food items and leave it next to your mailbox Saturday morning before your local postal carrier makes his or her rounds. Letter carriers will collect these food donations on that day as they deliver mail along their postal routes, and distribute them to local food agencies.

The Letter Carriers’ food drive is held annually on the second Saturday in May in 10,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. It remains as important as ever, with many people facing economic struggles. Hunger affects about 50 million people around the country, including millions of children, senior citizens and veterans.

Letter carriers see these struggles in the communities they serve, and believe that it is important to do what they can to help.

“There are many people who assume they know who ‘needs’ a food pantry,” says Patty Borkland, a Newington resident who works at the Barrington post office, “and they would be so wrong in this assumption. It could be me or it could be you! So many people are working two jobs just to make the rent, pay the bills, get needed medication, etc. At the end of this budget the grocery money is left short in so many households. Any one of us could be a paycheck away from desperately relying on our local food pantry to feed our family.”

These are just some of the reasons the Letter Carriers Association has invested so much time and energy in making these drives a success.

“Over its first quarter-century, the food drive has only grown in importance and in impact,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said. “It’s an honor to be able to help people in need all across the United States -- and to do so in a way that brings out the best in so many Americans.”

The timing is important, with food banks, pantries and shelters running low on donations from the winter holidays and with summer approaching, when most school meal programs are suspended.

Last year, letter carriers collected 75.3 million pounds of food, the third-highest amount since the food drive began in 1993. That brought the total over the past quarter-century to almost 1.6 billion pounds.

On May 12, as they deliver mail, the nation’s letter carriers will collect the donations that residents have left near their mail boxes. People are encouraged to leave a sturdy bag containing non-perishable foods, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, canned meats and fish, pasta, rice or cereal next to their mailbox before the regular mail delivery on Saturday.

Carriers will bring the food to local food banks, pantries or shelters. ...

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

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