Friday, May 13, 2011
Who Needs Tourism Anyway?
The 2010 elections were full of talk about jobs, the economy, and balancing budgets. The NH GOP promised that job creation was their first priority. There was also a lot of talk about balancing the state budget, and “budget deficits.” Informed readers are aware that the NH budget is required by law to be balanced every biennium, and that the last one was no exception. The Republicans didn’t like that budget, so they spread a lot of misinformation, including using numbers that were outright fabrication.
The goal of the Teabaglican legislature is to cut as many funding sources as possible, so that the state doesn’t have any money to spend on anything. They are under the impression that a state that doesn’t generate any significant tax revenue, or regulate anything will be a big attraction for businesses that will flock to locate in a state where there is little taxation and little oversight, where everyone can carry concealed weapons – because that apparently is how jobs are created. That may have been true in the 1700’s. Given that these are people who dress up in tri-corner hats and revolutionary war drag, one can sense that these are not folks who have any kind of grounding in current reality.
Far from creating jobs and helping business grow, our legislature has taken the opposite approach. The budget passed by the NH House eliminates the shellfish program from the Dept. of Environmental Services. The shellfish program is responsible for testing the waters on the coastline, and in both Great and Little Bay. Without that testing, all of the shellfish operations in the state would have to be closed down, because the state would no longer meet federal guidelines for shellfish safety. The commercial oyster farms in Great Bay and mussel farms in the Atlantic would be shut down. This means families losing their businesses and employees losing jobs. It also means no recreational clam digging licenses would be issued. No testing for red tide means no one credible would be interested in purchasing NH shellfish. This would be devastating to the seacoast economy, and lose money for the state. This is the opposite of job creation – it’s wanton job destruction. It’s the destruction of an entire industry.
The budget for the Marine Patrol was cut by 20%. This would mean the number of officers would go from 80 to 48. The Marine Patrol covers NH’s 978 water bodies and the coastline. They also teach boater safety classes, which will be reduced considerably. Upkeep on their fleet of vessels will be deferred. The department has been funded mostly by user fees, but this year, the legislature took $1 million from the user fee generated fund to use in the general fund. This isn’t making boaters happy. The Marine Patrol gets some federal funding, depending on how much the state kicks in. This year the amount will be reduced from over $1 million to about $100,000. It’s also worth noting that the number of Marine Patrol calls more than doubled between 2009 to 2010.
Another cut to the Environmental Services budget would eliminate NH’s public pool and spa inspection program, which also oversees water parks. This will save $139,000. Our state is visited by 34 million tourists a year.
The state inspects some 1400 public pools and spas. Over the last five years, the state has reported 2,211 overall water quality violations. There were 725 safety violations and 313 were bacterial. There were 224 immediate closures. NH does not require pool operators to be certified. And of course all it takes is for one person to get seriously ill to have a devastating effect on NH tourism, especially since this particular bit of budget idiocy is now a nationwide story.
NH is the only state in the union that funds state parks by user fees, a decision made in 1991. There’s a reason other states don’t do it that way. It doesn’t work. In fact, it has led to 20 years of neglect. In 2010, State Parks Director Ted Austin was quoted in the Union Leader as saying, “There isn’t one state park that isn’t in disrepair,” and “most of our vehicles can’t pass state inspection.” The current House budget actually allots $2.8 million to the state park system, but that’s a drop in the bucket that will only start to undo the decades of neglect. Big ticket items include: the Hampton beach seawall, the Sherman Adams building atop Mt. Washington, fire tower repairs, and updating the public bathrooms in North Hampton beach. The $2.8 million isn’t going to go very far.
Are you starting to see a pattern yet? It’s clear that the current NH legislature doesn’t have any interest in protecting the natural resources of our state, which are our biggest source of revenue. The tourist industry is apparently of no concern to them. That lack of concern says a great deal about the kind of representation the northern part of the state is getting in Concord. Terrible is far too kind a word to describe it.
This also speaks volumes about NH media, and their position as standard bearers for the NH GOP. In a state that relies so heavily on tourist dollars, these budget cuts should be reported on and their ramifications discussed.
It’s going to take decades and billions of dollars to undo the damage being done by this legislature. Is this what you voted for?
© sbruce 2011
This was originally published in the May 13, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.
Posted by susanthe at 12:50 PM