Thursday, April 26, 2012

Live Free and Porta-Potty

New Hampshire’s old tourist slogan: “You’re Going to Love it Here,” has been retired. We now have a new slogan, designed to lure tourists to NH where they can spend lots and lots of money. The new slogan: “Live Free and ____.” The advertiser can fill in that blank with the activity of their choice, “Live Free and Ski,” or “Live Free and Hike” – you get the idea.

This exciting new slogan was recently unveiled by the NH Dept. of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) and discussed last week on the NHPR call in program The Exchange. DRED is an appropriate acronym for this department, given the level of esteem our state has for our natural resources. Commissioner George Bald did a fine job of making this slogan seem like a great idea. Not everyone agrees. A commenter known as “elwood” at the blog Blue Hampshire quipped, “Live Free and… Sorry - No Budget to Complete Slogan.”

Tourism is the second largest industry in NH. Given that fact, one might think that the state would do all that it could to welcome visitors and provide amenities to ensure those tourists enjoyed their stay, and returned at every opportunity. One would be wrong.

Along the NH highways and byways lurk 16 rest areas /welcome stops. At this moment in time, 3 of them are closed, with no plans to reopen. Sorry visitors – if you expect a welcome in Rumney, Antrim, or Epsom, better make other plans. Four rest area/welcome stops are seasonal: open from May through October. Colebrook and Shelburne are seasonal rest areas. Lebanon and Littleton are seasonal rest areas and welcome stops. Apparently our winter visitors do not require welcoming. Best of all are the new hours at the Sanbornton rest area on I-93 south. It is now open Friday through Sunday, with the exception of 3 holidays: Independence Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. Since it’s a southbound stop, apparently the state assumes that we’ve wrung all of your tourist dollars out of you by that point, and you should just go home. For those who absolutely positively must empty their tourist bladders, porta-potties are provided at all of these sites. Nothing says “Welcome to NH, we value you” like a bank of porta potties at a closed rest area. Or, to use our sexy new slogan: “Live Free and Porta Potty!”

I learned a little about this first hand last week, as I drove to Concord, listening to the Exchange, hearing about closed rest areas. Being a female of middle age, drinking copious amounts of coffee, I elected to stop in Sanbornton as is my custom. I was surprised to discover the new hours, and the bank of porta potties lined up off to the side of the building. The building is in need of a new paint job, some of the shutters are broken, and the grounds are covered with dead leaves and litter. This is the NH idea of providing “services” to visitors and residents alike.

Tourism is our second largest industry. Hippo Press (a weekly NH paper) did a story called “Where NH Goes to Play” about our state parks. They interviewed interim Parks and Recreation Dept. director Gail Wolek. According to Ms. Wolek, outdoor recreation annually contributes $45 million directly to our state, and another $450 million indirectly – via restaurants, hotels, liquor stores, etc. That’s a big chunk of change for a small state.

NH is the only state in the union that funds its state park system solely by user fees. There’s a reason we’re the only one. It doesn’t work. The decision to fund the parks this way was enacted by the legislature in 1991. This means that for 20 years, our state parks have been consistently under funded. Generally the parks are about $400,000 a year over budget, and that is without fixing most of what needs to be repaired. A 10-year plan for the parks was written up in 2009. Doing everything that needs doing in that 10 year plan (which is available online) would cost about $75 million, or approximately 2 years worth of the direct monies brought in by outdoor recreation. Like everything else requiring maintenance, NH has been kicking that can down the road for decades. Now the road is covered with potholes, the bridge is out, and the parks are in disrepair.

People who visit our state never speak eloquently of the natural beauty that drew them to visit Salem. Some 31% of visitor traffic (the lion’s share) to state parks is to the White Mountains. Cannon Mountain (which our legislature is dying to get rid of) is one of the most visited attractions in the state. NH legislature eliminated about $1 billion in revenue streams to our government, thereby ensuring that education, infrastructure, and maintenance of all kinds goes undone.

As of July 1, NH is losing its Poison Control Hotline, which for some years now has been funded by the Dept. of Homeland Security. The hotline costs about $600,000 a year to run. NH’s Department of Health and Human Services doesn’t have the money. Mothers, school nurses, babysitters, and all who rely on that service to be there, should it ever be necessary, are out of luck.

Worst of all, at least for me, is that we aren’t embarrassed by any of this. NH has never been a state that provided any sort of responsible level of services, but we’re living in the land of ridiculous now. Some money is needed to run this state. Despite the fact that tourism is our second biggest industry, we don’t bother with our state parks, we provide smelly porta potties to the folks who come here to spend money, and we expect them to be grateful and return with even more cash.

A reminder: NH is the wealthiest state in the union. Chew on that for a minute, as you consider the fact that we have the 11th worst infrastructure in the nation, and we rank 50th in the nation for state spending on post secondary education. We don’t pay our legislators. NH is home to over 27,000 millionaires. We have no excuse for our lack of concern for our natural resources (and 2nd biggest industry). We have no excuse for our bad roads, failing bridges, and completely inadequate telecommunications infrastructure.

There are no excuses, but there is one simple reason for all of it:

“NH isn’t a poor state. NH is a cheap state.” Gubernatorial candidate Jackie Cilley

© sbruce 2012
Published as an op-ed in the April 27, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun


BobGillette said...

Brilliant, as always. Wondering where the figure of $1 billion in foregone NH revenue comes from.

Would very much like to be in direct e-mail contact. Mine is


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan, I always look forward to your essays in the Conway Sun, and can't resist chortling every time you refer to Tea-baglicans, and the NH House clown car. I wonder if you could put out an appeal to people tired of tea-party nongovernment in Concord, asking them to put their name on the ballot and see if we can't turn things around? Time is running out!
Stewart in Ossipee.

Katie said...

Love it! Live free and porta potty is hilarious!!!