Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pledge Politics Create a Moral Vacuum

In 2013, State Senator Nancy Stiles of Hampton sponsored SB 190, a bill titled: relative to admission fees for certain persons at state parks and historical sites. It turned out to be a bill to charge persons over the age of 65 for admission to NH state parks and historical sites. Seniors are admitted free of charge. The bill would “allow them” to purchase a Granite Parks Pass at a third of the cost of an individual season’s pass.

An individual pass cost $60. That means that seniors would be “allowed” to purchase a pass for $20. For $10 a US citizen aged 62 or over can purchase a LIFETIME pass to our national parks. Here in NH, Senator Styles and her cosponsors wanted to sell a SEASON’s pass to a senior for $20. Such a deal!

On the day of the hearing, members of the committee referenced the $400,000 budget deficit that the NH park system always has. The park system constantly runs at a deficit because it is the only state park system in the country that is funded by user fees. At the hearing, it was taken as a given that this is the way it is, so gouging old people is one way to fill the gap Apparently it never occurred to any of the legislators to do something about a failed system. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to them that there’s a reason why NH is the only state that does it this way.

I testified before the committee. I pointed out that this was gouging old people who already had property taxes to contend with. I mentioned that it was disproportionately unfair to women, given that they make less than men over the course of a lifetime.  I was asked how I would fund the national parks, given that they’re having some funding problems. I said that if we cut the Pentagon budget in half, there would be plenty of money to fix all kinds of things. They asked me how I’d fund the state parks and the state. I said that I’d support an income tax, so that our state’s 27,000 millionaires were paying their fair share, and not living here in tax-free splendor. I was even asked why I cared about this, why I was paying attention – which was the most depressing question of all.  

The bill didn’t go anywhere in 2013, but in NH, bad ideas never die. They return again and again. This year, Senator Stiles is sponsoring SB 471, an act relative to discounts and admissions without charge at state parks. This bill doesn’t call for charging a fee or  “allowing” seniors to purchase a season’s pass. This bill opens the back door so that in a year or two some fees can be slipped in without anyone even noticing. It also stipulates that seniors will pay full price for using the Tram at Cannon on weekends and holidays, and more importantly, the elderly con artists who have been gaming the system will be paying full price for parking.

According to the numbers compiled by the Dept. of Resources and Economic Development, nearly 20,000 seniors were granted free admission to NH state parks last year. There were 1500 that accessed the Flume. A whopping 49 seniors scammed free admission to the Tramway at Cannon last year. I’m guessing the real problem is the 7, 704 seniors who were granted free parking at two state beaches. Senator Stiles represents the seacoast. That free parking could have raked in $115,500 if it weren’t for those darned elderly grifters.

Thanks to the way we fund our state, we have some of the highest property taxes in the nation. One of my friends retired and had to choose between the upkeep on her historic old house or paying her exorbitant property taxes. She sold the house and moved out of state. And good riddance to her! That’s one senior swindler that’ll never take her grandchild to the park for free again!

Even if the elderly mountebanks pay full price, it only brings in about $200,000. That’s only half of the deficit, so perhaps the senate can find another marginalized group to fleece in order to make up the difference.

It doesn’t stop there. SB 471 is an act relative to parking for persons with disabilities. There is no cost for a handicaped placard at the present time. This bill would establish a $5 fee for both temporary and permanent placards. The permanent placards would be renewed every five years. The fiscal note attached to the bill estimates that this new fee would bring in $162, 285 per year.

It’s worth pointing out that at the same time these bills are being proposed, our legislators are working diligently to cut millions of dollars worth of revenue out of our state budget by decreasing business taxes. It seems they’re going to try to fill in the gaps by taking from the elderly and the disabled; people who are largely on fixed incomes.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I have a handicapped placard.)

The five-dollar fee isn’t even the issue, though it might be a hardship for someone who is getting a series of temporary placards, in increments of a few months at a time. This is just another illustration of the complete moral bankruptcy that governs our state, thanks to our ridiculous tax system, and our allegiance to pledge politics. If this bill goes through, it would make NH the only state in New England to charge for a handicapped placard. Now there’s something to be proud of.

This is what our legislators are willing to do - nickel and dime seniors and people with disabilities, rather than appropriate enough money to properly run our state agencies. In their desperation to come up with some cash, any cash, (to fill in the holes they’ve created) they’ve chosen to go after the vulnerable. After all, the vulnerable don’t have former governors lobbying for them.

That this is what we’ve come to, as a state should be a source of shame to us all.

This was published as an oped by the Conway Daily Sun newspaper, January 22, 2016

My notes  from the hearing in 2013. 


Idgiemiata said...

NH has the second highest MEDIAN income in the USA. $70,000+

Michael Herrmann said...

Susan, I wonder if you might put out a late post on an event at Gibson's Bookstore on Monday, Jan. 25. John Nicholas from The Nation is coming to talk about socialism, inequality, and of course Bernie. Details here: -- thank you for your consideration!

susanthe said...

Of course I will Michael - and I'll see you there!