The annual state-by-state health rankings are in from the United Health Foundation. NH is in 5th place nationally when it comes to the overall health of its residents. This places NH in the middle of the top ten, which is surely nothing to sneer at. That’s the message in every NH mainstream media story about the health rankings thus far. What the NH media isn’t pointing out is that in 2012, NH was in third place. In 2011 we were in second place. Fifth place isn’t terrible, but to get there we had to drop two places, something that one might think is worthy of media mention.
That kind of slippage is the new normal in NH. Our health isn’t as good; our child poverty rate has risen at what should be considered an alarming pace. Our roads and bridges are in terrible condition, our state parks are in increasing disrepair, some of our highway rest stops are still closed, and our telecommunications infrastructure is an embarrassment. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness are on the rise. But hey, NH has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation and THAT, my friends, is what is really important. So important that at least a dozen gun bills have been filed for the 2014 legislative session. Perhaps if we all go out and wave our guns at one of the hundreds of red listed bridges in our state, they will magically repair themselves.
NH has never been a forward thinking state, and now we’re sliding backward. Today’s NH GOP has been taken over by Tea Partiers and libertarians, who think MOAR GUNZ is the answer to everything. They hate planning of any sort, and are actively trying to prevent it on county and regional levels. The libertarians don’t believe in public anything, or that the state should be in charge of roads and bridges. The private sector would do a better job. The Free Staters have yet to volunteer to fix a bridge or repair a highway to show us how well this will work in the future, when they succeed in transforming us into Aynrandshire. Surely a network of differently maintained toll roads will be a real asset when one is attempting to attract business to the state.
Tourism is the #2 business in New Hampshire. Our Fish and Game Dept. is in trouble financially because of our regressive tax structure. Rather than address that, Republican Senator Bob Odell has filed a bill that would require canoe and kayak owners to pay an annual $10 fee for using their non-polluting vessels on our rivers and lakes. The best part of this (from a GOP standpoint) is that the bill (sponsored by a Republican) is being blamed on Democrats. This is right up there with last session’s bill sponsored by GOP Senator Nancy Stiles that would have forced senior citizens to buy a season’s pass each year to use our state parks. Currently, NH residents over the age of 65 are granted free access to state parks. This bill would have initiated a $20 fee for a senior citizen pass. Unfortunately, the NH GOP is far from being ashamed of the lengths that they will go to (gouging old people and canoe owners) to prevent NH’s 27,000 millionaires from paying their fair share of taxes.
NH Republicans made sure that there would be no state exchange system set up to handle the ACA. Now they complain about how things are working (or not working) without state exchanges. The states that created their own exchange networks early on are doing quite well with the ACA. NH Republicans also torpedoed the expansion of Medicaid that would have provided basic insurance coverage to some 50,000 low-wage workers in our state. This is the kind of thinking that caused NH to drop to 5th place nationally in terms of overall health. NH’s health ranking has always been a matter of pride for our state, and one that is used as an enticement for companies and families to move here. The Free Staters use it in their advertisements to entice more anarchists to move here to take over the state. Given how many states have embraced expanded Medicaid, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that NH’s numbers will continue to be on a downward spiral while other states will see improved health numbers.
We don’t care about the health of our residents. (Though to be fair, Representatives Neal Kurk and Laurie Sanborn do worry about subsidizing health care for NH’s substantial population of low-income yacht dwellers.) We don’t care about the health of our highways, roads, dams, and bridges. We don’t care about the health of our telecommunications infrastructure. We have a long history of not caring about education. NH ranks a firm 50th in the nation in state spending on our university system. What do we care about? Spending no money, and MOAR GUNZ!
Recent studies have also shown that NH is not bouncing back from the Great Recession as well or as quickly as our fellow New England states. We have no one but ourselves to blame. NH has failed to invest in the future for decades, and it’s begun to marginalize us and hurt our economy. Nothing short of a disaster is likely to turn that around. If one ever doubts the accuracy of the nickname “granite state” one has only to spend a Wednesday at the NH House of Representatives listening to floor speeches.
© sbruce 2013. Published as a bi-weekly column in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.