Editorials from around New England:
Republican of Springfield
Our nation, President Donald Trump has been saying, is "full."
This is complete nonsense. It's an ahistorical, anti-American view that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding not only of basic economic theory, but also of what set America apart from the first. His message, if taken as truth, can lead only to decline. Nonetheless, his claim, intended largely for refugees from Central America, is meant to be clear. As clear as a "No Vacancy" sign hanging from the neck of the Statue of Liberty.
The famed poem at the iconic statue of Lady Liberty -- the one welcoming the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" -- would be gone in Trump's America. In its place could be erected a simple, hateful sign:
"Go away, you filthy vermin!"
Our nation isn't full today, nor will it ever be full. If people begin to believe that we are closed to newcomers, no matter their station, America is finished, both as an ideal and as a nation.
Anyone who knows the first thing about how and why our country was created, and what has allowed it to thrive, and to renew itself time and again, understands this well. And anyone who has even a passing familiarity with basic economics knows that if we are deemed to be full, we are going nowhere fast. A nation without an expanding population is a nation that cannot have a growing economy. There will first be stagnation, then ultimate decline.
One would think that even Trump, who is willfully ignorant about so much, would understand these fundamental truths. After all, he was a businessman before he turned to politics. Successful entrepreneurs don't generally look to see their empires shrinking.
There are cities large and small, many in the Northeast and industrial Midwest, that have seen their populations waning for decades now. From Baltimore to Buffalo, from Cleveland to Detroit, from St. Louis to Milwaukee to Chicago, shrinking populations have joined with greatly lowered expectations to create a cycle of decline and despair.
And it's not only been happening in big cities. Here was Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, writing on Twitter:
"South Bend sure isn't 'full.' Our economic future depends on population growth, and nearly all our recent population growth has come from immigration."
You needn't be a graduate of the London School of Economics to see the obvious truth in such a statement.
America was created on a pair of fundamentally revolutionary notions: that all are created equal. And that power should flow uphill, from the people to the officials selected by the citizenry.
If a land based on such radical premises is ever seen as full, the dream can only wither and die.
The Middletown Press
There are any number of easy arguments against the idea of giving criminals a clean slate, as is currently under consideration in the state Assembly. A bill now before the state Senate would expunge a conviction from many offenders after a set time without any further brushes with the law.
Many would argue that a criminal conviction is something that should and must stay with an offender for life. They might add that a conviction says something definitional about anyone who has one, that it's information that should be available under almost any circumstances.
Some of those arguments have merit. But they don't consider many real-world situations, where people are unable to escape the stigma of a long-ago conviction, who do not have opportunities because of something that is now impossible to overturn. For too many people, there are simply no options for the necessities of life, such as housing and employment, if they have a criminal conviction on their record.
The predictable outcome is that people who are unable to get by legitimately end up returning to crime. Clearing their past convictions helps not only the offenders, but society at large by reducing crime in the future.
The idea behind Clean Slate legislation is not new. The state has a system for expunging criminal records for people who stay out of trouble after a certain amount of time and anyone who is eligible is free to apply. But it's not an easy system to navigate, and the new law would make the expunging automatic.
Importantly, it wouldn't apply to violent crimes, and the Judiciary Committee made the restrictions tighter in forwarding the bill this week. To many supporters, the new language doesn't go far enough. But it's an important start on a necessary change.
As state Sen. Dennis Bradley accurately pointed out, there's a strong element of racial justice in the bill. "What we don't want to see, because you are a person of color and because you are poor, that a conviction follows you forever," the Bridgeport legislator said.
Expunging a record does not mean destroying data, but it does mean it would be hidden to anyone doing a basic background check. An expungement would also leave intact media reports from websites written at the time of an arrest or a conviction.
But there are automatic barriers put up for people with a criminal past that the bill would remove.
Passing the bill would also do nothing to change sentences handed down by judges. "(T)hese are already people who have served their time as determined by a court, by a jury with input from victims and all appropriate safeguards," Rep. Maria Horn said. "We are talking about what happens to people after they have served their legitimate criminal terms."
What happens too often now is a return to a life of crime. Passing Clean Slate would help change that. The Legislature needs to make it happen.
RHODE ISLANDThe Providence Journal
It is a long-established truism of Rhode Island politics that special interests call the shots at the State House. Accordingly, taxpayers and the common good often get short shrift, leading to some of the nation's most oppressive property taxes.
The House offered a textbook example in a 62-9 vote on Tuesday, dictating that communities pay firefighters overtime for any hours above 42 per week. This is dramatically more generous than under federal law, which holds that firefighters — because of their unusual schedules and working conditions — are not required to receive overtime unless they have worked more than 53 hours in an average week.
Leaders of the state's cities and towns, fearful of losing the ability to negotiate sensible contracts and worried about the burden on their citizens, begged the House not to do it. In some of the Rhode Island communities that had adopted the 42-hour standard, overtime costs had spiked by as much as 30 percent.
But House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and his minions blocked their ears to the public's pleas.
One reason may be found in an April 10 news article by Journal Staff Writer Katherine Gregg ("House OKs firefighter OT after 42 hours"): Since 2007, the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters has spent more than $290,413 on political efforts, "with most of that money going to help state lawmakers win reelection and ward off challengers."
Clearly, this powerful interest wields a great deal of clout. Rhode Island had the highest per capita spending on fire protection services of any state in fiscal 2016 — more than double the national average, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council reported last December.
House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi insisted firefighters deserve more. "It's a fairness issue. ... It's a respect issue," he said.
His interest in fairness or respect did not evidently extend to taxpayers and their local representatives, even though he represents a city, Warwick, that confronts crushing pension costs, massive firefighter payouts and cascading financial problems.
The outcry was immediate. Fred Gralinski, president of the Central Coventry Fire District's Board of Directors, warned that the district, driven into bankruptcy several years ago, will face the threat of bankruptcy again if the House legislation becomes law.
The cost to the little district would be "at least" $721,000 annually. The additional overtime would blow out the existing budget, increasing it by 15%, Mr. Gralinski said. And the legislation would virtually destroy management's authority to control anything through contract negotiations.
Brian Daniels, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, cautioned in an April 7 Commentary piece ("Labor interests dig into your wallet") that the change would also thwart the ability of local leaders to balance spending among many pressing needs.
Taxpayers who have had enough should call the office of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio at (401) 222-6655 and ask the Senate to reject this measure. If the very pro-labor Senate joins the House, Gov. Gina Raimondo should veto the legislation. Her phone number is (401) 222-2080.
It is bad public policy for the state to put its finger on the scale of local negotiations in favor of an interest group. The time has come for someone at the State House to recognize: Rhode Island cannot go on this way.
The Rutland Herald
Jenga is a maddening game. It requires a steady hand and steady nerves. You really want to believe it takes strategy to pull one rectangular, wooden block out at a time and not have the tall stack of blocks collapse into a dramatic heap. But there really isn't much strategy involved; it comes down to luck against Newton's various laws.
At some point, however, luck runs out.
On Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr may have pulled the wrong block on the Trump administration.
He told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that he thought "spying" on a political campaign occurred in the course of intelligence agencies' investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
"I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It's a big deal," said Barr, noting there are long-held rules to prevent intelligence agencies from collecting information on domestic political figures. "I'm not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it's important to look at that."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, asked, "You're not suggesting that spying occurred?"
"I think spying did occur, yes," Barr replied, adding that the key question is whether law enforcement officials had a proper legal justification to open such an investigation and gather intelligence.
"I need to explore that ... I want to say that I am reviewing this. I haven't set up a team yet," Barr added. "I also want to make clear this is not launching an investigation of the FBI. Frankly, to the extent that there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that's endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there in the upper echelon.
"I feel I have an obligation to make sure that government power is not abused," he continued. "I think that is one of the principal roles of the attorney general."
That's a refreshing statement.
Up to this point, many Americans have been dismayed by the Mueller report's alleged findings. Barr himself released a summary in the days following its delivery to his office, indicating there were no additional indictments expected in the handling of the investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election.
Those statements appeased and emboldened the president, who has repeatedly denounced the FBI's former director, James B. Comey, and some of his top aides for their handling of the Russia investigation. Shortly before Wednesday's hearing, Trump called the Russia probe "an illegal investigation." He added, "It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked. Every single thing about it was crooked."
Later in the hearing on Wednesday, though, Barr offered a more tempered description of his concerns, saying he wanted to understand whether there was "unauthorized surveillance" on political figures.
"I believe there is a basis for my concern, but I'm not going to discuss the basis for my concern," said Barr. "I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I am saying I am concerned about it, and I am looking into it. That is all."
At another point, Barr said he did not understand why, if intelligence officials believed there was a danger of Russian figures trying to make inroads with Trump's associates, the FBI did not warn the campaign about those specific risks.
"If I were attorney general and that situation came up, I would say, 'Yes, brief the target of the foreign espionage activity,'" Barr said.
Barr also said a redacted version of Mueller's report is imminent, even though Democrats have suggested Barr is trying to hide damaging information about the president. Redactions in the report, Barr said, would be color-coded so people would know why specific sections were being kept secret. Barr told Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, and the committee's Democratic vice chairman, that he hasn't discussed any particular redactions he will make to the Mueller report with the White House.
It remains to be seen whether the teetering tower succumbs to the principles, not of physics, but of honesty, integrity and truth. Trump's pick for attorney general may be the very person who runs out this president's luck.
Foster's Daily Democrat
Pease Air Force Base, a strategic air command base and pillar of the U.S. Cold War defense system, closed in 1991, but its toxic legacy still threatens today.
Upon closure of the base, now a bustling tradeport with more than 10,000 workers, it was deemed a Superfund cleanup site by the Environmental Protection Agency due to widespread contamination. The 2014 discovery of PFAS chemicals in the city of Portsmouth's Haven well at the tradeport, and its subsequent shutdown, proves contamination is far from removed.
The impact of contamination at the base, which opened in 1956, is still being realized.
Among preeminent concerns is the health of former Air Force and Air National Guard personnel who worked at the base, heightened by growing information about elevated cancer rates among men and women who worked at Pease.
Doris Brock, widow of Kendall Brock, who served 35 years with the 157th Air Refueling Wing of the National Guard at Pease, continues her fight to have the federal government address those concerns. Kendall died from bladder and prostate cancer. Doris wants the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve disability claims for "presumptive diseases" for all retired and active guardsmen who get sick, along with anyone who served at Pease Air Force Base.
Key among this is the provision of VA disability benefits. Brock, for one, filed her husband's request for disability benefits in 2016, but still has not received a final answer.
It will not be easy to achieve this goal, but the federal government should be compelled to do what is right for veterans who dedicated much of their lives to protect the United States during and after the Cold War. The efforts of Brock and other guardsmen's widows gained strength from the involvement of New Hampshire's U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and Congressman Chris Pappas.
Pappas and a group of bipartisan lawmakers this past week introduced the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act, which would require the VA to cover treatment of any health conditions caused by PFAS exposure, and will make veterans and their families eligible for VA disability benefits.
Shaheen has led the way in passing legislation to conduct the nation's first health study on the impacts of PFAS contamination that would be based on the population of workers and children at day cares at the tradeport.
The willingness of the widows to continue their fight, coupled with legislative leadership of the state's congressional delegation, can see this tough issue through so impacted military personnel receive the care and support they deserve. They served the nation and may have put themselves in harm's way here on U.S. soil.
According to Military.com, the VA does presume specific disabilities for specific veterans were caused by their service. A pertinent example is Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, related to contaminated water at the U.S. Marine Corps Base. Presumptive conditions for those stationed there from Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, include esophageal, breast, kidney, lung and bladder cancers, among other health issues. The main chemicals involved in the contamination were volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser, and perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning solvent.
Pease Restoration Advisory Board member Peggy Lamson of Newington, during a RAB meeting in early March, pointed out the Haven well at Pease was closed before the 2014 shutdown due to TCE detection. TCE has also been detected at the long-shuttered Hangar 227 at Pease.
Remediation of contaminated military installations across the nation was the first step. However, assuring veterans are properly cared for in the event contaminant exposure caused serious and fatal health concerns, is the most important step in moving forward. Only with remediation and proper health and benefit coverage can the nation do what is right to correct this mistake.
Portland Press Herald
If there is one day a year when it should be better to poor than rich, it's Tax Day, April 15.
The way the system is supposed to work is that the more you make, the more you owe, so Americans with high incomes have to hire expensive lawyers and accountants to fill out their tax returns, and then cut big checks to the government. Meanwhile, people with lower incomes, who have tax deducted from their paychecks throughout the year, don't have much paperwork to fill out and can usually expect a refund.
But somehow, even Tax Day has been turned around to favor the rich. Billions of dollars of income are estimated to go unreported every year, and some individuals have been known to use their resources to evade paying what they owe. However, they are less likely to be audited by the IRS than the poorest people in the country.
That shocking fact has been established through reporting by ProPublica, the investigative journalism nonprofit. They found that someone who earns $20,000 a year would be more likely to be audited by the IRS than someone who reported a $400,000 income. Another study, first published this month in the trade journal Tax Notes, found that some of the poorest counties in the country had the highest audit rates.
The analysis showed that Humphreys County, Mississippi, with one-third of its population living below the federal poverty line, was the most audited county in the nation. The authors found that people living in Humphreys County, which has a median annual household income of $26,000, were audited 51 percent more often than people living in Loudoun County, Virginia, where the median family income is $130,000 a year.
This pattern holds true in Maine, where the two counties that have the highest tax audit rates are the state's poorest - Washington County, with a median annual income of $40,000, and Piscataquis County, with a median income of $39,000 a year. Maine's median family income is $53,000.
Something is clearly wrong with this picture, sparking a demand for information from Maine Sen. Angus King, who called the frequency of audits in these counties "unacceptable."
"It causes severe economic hardship for those who can afford it least," King said in a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig. "I am deeply concerned for the financial well-being of my state's most vulnerable citizens."
King and ProPublica say the reason for this upside-down policy is an attempt to police the earned income tax credit, a program designed to help the working poor that began under the Reagan administration and was expanded in the 1990s. The credit is fully refundable, so even people who earn too little to owe any federal income tax can get a refund if they file a return.
The EITC is considered the most effective anti-poverty program for low-income families because it rewards work by supplementing income. No one is getting rich off this program: The credit starts to phase out at $14,450 a year for a married couple. But even so, as King points out, people who receive it are more likely to be audited than all but the richest group of taxpayers.
These audits are a burden even if the low-income taxpayer is ultimately cleared. Unlike the millionaires, poor families can't pay lawyers to represent them, and they probably don't have the savings to wait for their refund while they go through an audit.
And this kind of effort won't generate much income for the government. In his letter, King cites the National Taxpayer Advocate to say that EITC overpayments account for 6 percent of gross individual tax noncompliance. Meanwhile, individuals who underreport business income account for 51 percent.
The IRS is clearly wasting resources going after pennies in places like Washington and Piscataquis counties when there are dollars going uncollected elsewhere. Everyone should pay what they owe.