Editorials from around New England:


Tough medicine needed for pandemic-driven fiscal sickness

The New London Day

May 8

It took a long time for Connecticut to dig out of the fiscal hole created by the Great Recession and exacerbated by decades of failing to adequately set aside funds for its pension obligations. But a corner had been turned and, showing some monetary discipline, a record $2.5 billion budget surplus — a rainy day fund — was accumulated.

The good news is that Connecticut will have that surplus to mitigate the fiscal damage it faces due to the pandemic. Revenues have plummeted across the board. Sales tax revenues have dropped because no one is out buying. Gasoline tax revenues have plunged because driving is down by half. And income tax revenues have dropped as unemployment spiked and investment income declined.

The bad news is the surplus won’t be nearly enough to cover the losses. Analysts foresee a $7 billion revenue decline over the next three years.

The state anticipates a $934 million deficit this fiscal year, a projected $2.3 billion gap in the budget that begins July 1, and another $2 billion in each of the next two fiscal years that follow. And the numbers may be optimistic.

Everything will have to be on the table to address this. Everything except once agan pushing off pension obligations.

State workers must again be asked for a wage freeze. Yes, that’s been demanded of them repeatedly over the past decade, but given how the private sector is being hammered we don’t see how state worker raises can be justified.

We don’t see layoffs as a good option. The state workforce has been thinned by past efforts to control spending. Services must be provided. And layoffs can be self-defeating by deepening the economic damage.

Like Gov. Ned Lamont, we have previously resisted calls for an income tax increase on highest earners because of its potential to drive those taxpayers elsewhere. Now it may be unavoidable. The rich are most insulated from the economic damage. And other states will be raising taxes too.

The gas tax will have to go up, the sharp drop in gasoline prices lessening that blow.

Municipal aid will suffer too, with regional approaches to trim costs demanded, not suggested.

And our elected leaders in Washington must fight for federal help.

Unlike the federal government, Connecticut must balance its budget. There will be no easy means to that end. Anyone suggesting otherwise is self-delusional or lying.

Online: https://bit.ly/2WhtNJ1



Receivership working, but more work to be done

Daily Hampshire Gazette

May 8

If there’s one thing both sides in the debate over state receivership of Holyoke Public Schools can agree on, it’s this: Five years into an experiment that has no fixed blueprint, there’s no clear finish line in sight for when the city will regain control of its own school system.

While opponents of state receivership decry that a local superintendent and school committee members elected by Holyoke residents have been denuded of their authority to lead, it’s premature for the state to hand back authority when the job isn’t finished — no matter how bad opponents want it. Despite some successes, Holyoke’s school system is not fixed after a half-decade of receivership.

To get a glimpse of how the issue divides the community, just listen to how two prominent politicians summed up their feelings about state receivership for the Gazette’s three-part series, “Receivership in Holyoke,” which ran last week. The series, by reporter Dusty Christensen, examines five years of receivership and was published a week before the state named a new receiver/superintendent to replace Stephen Zrike, who is set to depart in June.

“They made a big play to take us over and then provided us basically no resources, and five years later the schools are no better off than they were five years ago substantively,” former City Council president Kevin Jourdain said.

To Jourdain’s point, former educators have spoken up at council meetings about high teacher turnover — some 600 veteran teachers, administrators and staff have left the district since 2015, they say — and questionable test scores. Others say the state is to blame for a failed effort to bond for the construction of two new middle schools.

Not all believe receivership is a bad thing, however. State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, said he believes the district “is in a much better place than it was five years ago.”

Vega and other supporters say receivership has brought improvements for the 12-school, 5,350-student district. Among those are better graduation and dropout rates, fewer student suspensions and more opportunities for students.

The school system is heading in the right direction, especially when compared to the grim statistics that led the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to step in five years ago.

Some of those figures included a four-year graduation rate in 2015 of 62%, the lowest in the state, and a dropout rate of more than 7%; 12 years of being designated as underperforming; a decline in test scores since 2011; an out-of-school suspension rate during the 2013-20014 school year of 20%, which was five times higher than the state average; and nearly 29% of chronically absent students during the two school years preceding receivership.

These troubling statistics came amid a backdrop of racism, with black students and Hispanic students getting suspended in higher numbers than white students — though it should be noted that 80% of the district’s students identify as Hispanic.

Mayor Alex Morse, a graduate of Holyoke schools, says receivership has helped initiate conversations about equity in the district, both for students and for the diversity of its staff. “I think one of our biggest faults in Holyoke Public Schools has been our inability to confront racism,” he said.

So how do things look today? The graduation rate is now about 72%, and the dropout rate is 3.6%. The suspension rate dropped to 9% in 2019, including significant drops among black and Hispanic students. Chronic absenteeism is now at 25.7%.

Work in other areas is showing progress, including the Opportunity Academy, a set of alternative high school pathways for students not succeeding at Holyoke High School’s North and Dean campuses. Created in the second year of receivership, the Academy lets students continue or restart their work toward a diploma in three programs: Gateway to College, the Success Center and LightHouse Holyoke.

There’s a long way to go. While there has been some improvement on MCAS standardized testing for English language arts, math and science scores haven’t improved.

Then there’s teacher retention. Only 36 school districts out of the 403 in the state had worse teacher retention rates in 2019 than Holyoke, whose retention rate of 67% is 20 percentage points below the state average.

We agree that steps need to be taken to retain quality teachers, and to acknowledge some of the reasons why experienced teachers are leaving — a loss of seniority, longer work days and school year, a cutting of pay and sick days, and a new district approach that is more hands-off with students in the areas of behavior and discipline.

The last point is a drastic change in philosophy, one that calls for a more give-and-take relationship with students through so-called restorative justice programs that rely on meetings and reconciliation between victim and offender as opposed to punitive measures. Some teachers say this has led to a “drop in standards for behavior,” but such programs are having success in Holyoke and are being use in other districts in the region.

We agree with Morse, who says the way to build a stronger school system is not to “suspend and expel our ways out of these challenges.”

Under receivership, the district has made significant progress in hiring teachers who are more reflective of the students they serve. The number of teachers of color in the building has climbed 9 percentage points to 22% across the school system.

The state should not bow to the demands of those who want back local control. Why? Because we haven’t heard enough in the way of solutions from this group to warrant taking that chance. Receivership should stay the course, and local control will come.

Online: https://bit.ly/2YJYmbI



A frame-up of General Flynn

Providence Journal

May 3

Lavrentiy Beria, the infamous prosecutor for the murderous dictator Josef Stalin, boasted of his system of “justice” in the Soviet Union. “Show me the man,” he said, “and I’ll find you the crime.”

It is horrifying that several leading figures at the Federal Bureau of Investigation evidently adopted this standard in going after three-star General Michael Flynn, who has Rhode Island connections.

New documents finally disclosed under pressure from General Flynn and his lawyer, Sidney Powell, showed the FBI plotted to set up Mr. Flynn and bring him down.

He was driven out of his job as national security adviser to President Trump, and eventually pleaded guilty to lying to agents. Prosecutors had made clear they would target his son for prosecution unless he did so, Ms. Powell contends.

Mr. Flynn is trying to withdraw that plea, given that loads of exculpatory evidence has come to light.

The FBI decided to use the chaos surrounding the presidential transition to send agents to interview General Flynn at the White House in January 2017. Agents told him at the time he would not need a lawyer. Mr. Flynn, believing he was not a target, brought them in and talked openly with them.

Documents that the Justice Department unsealed late Wednesday revealed that top FBI officials pondered whether their “goal” in interviewing the general would be “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”

In other words, it was a frame-up.

In America, that’s a no-no. There must be probable cause for investigations, lest the government abuse its powers and go after its political enemies, negating our core values of equal justice and our cherished First Amendment right to oppose the government politically.

It is possible now that some of the agents could be charged by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is looking into an alleged conspiracy by members of the Obama administration against the incoming president.

The notes were taken by the FBI’s former head of counterintelligence Bill Priestap after meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey and then deputy-Director Andrew McCabe. Both Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe have made clear their animosity against President Trump since those events.

After the interview, new documents reveal, the FBI was ready to close its investigation of Mr. Flynn, having found nothing “derogatory.” But FBI official Peter Strzok, whose text messages also revealed anti-Trump animosity, urged against it.

General Flynn, who once served President Obama, had been a critic of his policies toward Iran and Islamic terrorism after leaving that administration.

We supported Hillary Clinton for president and hold no high regard for Mr. Trump.

But more important than our political differences is making sure that our justice system is not politicized. That could very quickly turn us into a banana republic or worse.

Questions swirl around the Flynn case. Why did his original lawyers so badly advise him? Why did the FBI hold on to exculpatory evidence it is required to present to the court in the interests of justice? Where was Director Chris Wray?

Online: https://bit.ly/2SNxjZf


Spray paint the wrong tool for correcting Brattleboro’s history

The Brattleboro Reformer

May 4

We are willing to bet that most residents of Brattleboro would agree the Soldiers Monument at the Common should be amended to include the 65 people of color from greater Brattleboro who fought for the union in the Civil War, many as part of the famed Massachusetts 54th regiment, but were not honored in stone when the monument was dedicated.

An article about the missing names, written by the Brattleboro Historical Society, with research conducted by Brattleboro Area Middle School students, was published in the Reformer in December. Through that story, we learned some of these soldiers’ names: Charles P. Smith. Daniel Green. Benjamin Loney. Hayworth Matthews. All had important stories to tell, and courageous service worth saluting.

Some were born here; others escaped bondage in the South and settled here. All joined the fight. Sadly, many of their comrades’ names are lost to the ages, though the Brattleboro Historical Society has been working to fix that.

These men risked their lives, and in some cases gave their lives, for a nation that did not love them back the way it should have. Unquestionably, they all deserve to be honored.

But we also think these men would be appalled by petty vandalism recently scrawled upon the nearby Veterans Memorial Monument, which honors those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as a means of promoting their remembrance.

We think the Civil War soldiers of color who charged into the teeth of rifle fire and mortar shells would, given the chance, confront the injustice of their exclusion in the same manner as they fought: Head-on, heads held high, with their names attached to their words and deeds. It’s difficult to imagine them anonymously defacing a marker honoring fellow veterans with spray paint.

Some might deem this vandalism an act of civil disobedience. But people who get themselves arrested for a cause, or purposely violate unjust laws to raise awareness of that injustice, do so in public, unafraid of the consequences.

It’s our hope that future action intended to support this cause will respect public property and reflect the values of the very people whose honor and remembrance is much overdue. We hope those committed to addressing this injustice will instead take their case to the Brattleboro Select Board, to the media, and to Main Street. They will be heard.

In the meantime, this community owes a debt of gratitude to the Brattleboro Historical Society and to the students who assisted their research. They have made the case that our history is incomplete without recognition of Brattleboro’s Civil War soldiers of color.

Online: https://bit.ly/2WgD2t1



Solution must be found

The Nashua Telegraph

May 8

Hundreds of thousands of hogs raised by farmers to provide Americans with ham, bacon and other meat products will not make it to the slaughterhouse unless ways are found to cure a nasty side-effect of COVID-19.

It is that a number of meat processing plants have been shut down because of the disease. A few were closed after they became coronavirus hotspots with numerous workers coming down with the disease. At one giant plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 640 employees reportedly became infected with COVID-19. The facility was shut down — as have been other meat processing plants.

That has resulted in a break in the food supply chain, involving not just hogs but also beef cattle and poultry. With no processing plants to accept their livestock, some farmers already have begun killing them.

Why not just keep them on the farm? Because our ultra-efficient agriculture sector has become something of a victim of just-in-time production schedules. Farmers plan in terms of feed, pasture, veterinarian services, livestock pens and shelters and a variety of other factors to ship stock ready for slaughter out as soon as they are ready. Then, another generation of animals comes in. Some farmers simply cannot handle retaining a large number of animals that were supposed to go to a processing plant.

That inflicts a crushing blow on some farmers, of course. It affects processors’ finances adversely.

And it interrupts the flow of meat products to consumers. Shortages of some meat products already are being felt.

The very scale of the meat industry is an obstacle. The Sioux Falls plant cited above normally ships about 100 million servings of pork products every week. Closure of that one facility took a giant bite out of the nation’s meat supply.

And keeping hundreds of meat processing workers packed into a single plant safe from COVID-19 presents a challenge.

Thus far, no one seems to have come up with a good solution. Clearly, one needs to be found, with federal government financial assistance, if necessary. This is a COVID-19 disaster that, if not beaten, will have both immediate and long-lasting adverse effects.

Online: https://bit.ly/2xQnP8y



New testing capacity comes at just the right time

Kennebec Journal

May 8

As people’s tolerance for staying at home appears to be waning, and the subject of stay-at-home orders begins to put the country at odds, we end the week with some welcome good news.

Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday announced a partnership with Idexx, the Westbrook-based world leader in animal diagnostics, that will triple state capacity for COVID-19 testing, a critical component of the state’s plan to allow businesses to reopen safely.

It has been clear for months now that widespread testing nationwide was going to be necessary to reopen businesses and restart activities after social distancing was used to “flatten the curve.”

It’s been frustrating then to watch the Trump administration abdicate all responsibility for securing the testing kits and supplies necessary for a robust program. As of Friday morning, it’s been 63 days since President Donald Trump said, “Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is,” and it remains as untrue now as when he said it.

As the president pushed states to end stay-at-home orders and open businesses, an analysis last month by Harvard University researchers found that only 19 states were conducting the bare minimum of tests to safely do so. Maine was not one of them.

But with the Idexx partnership, it appears that the state will have the capacity it needs. Mills said the new tests, which could be available as soon as next week, would allow the state to remove its tiered testing system, which limited tests mostly to health care workers and people in congregate settings.

Now, truly, at least in Maine, everyone who wants a test should be able to get one. (Some of those tests may be taken with swabs made by Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products, recipients of $75.5 million in federal funding last week.)

It will also allow the state to more quickly identify possible hotspots and move to suppress them. As a result, Mills said she and her cabinet are discussing adjusting the timelines and protocols in her reopening plan — great news for everyone in the state, whether you think the business restrictions have been too onerous, or you’re more worried about the virus rebounding.

For an example of the usefulness of testing, look no further than President Trump, who along with his staff has started to travel and hold events — all because they have access to frequent rapid testing.

Under a more competent and focused federal administration, that would not be a luxury, nor would the good news announced Thursday make Maine such an outlier.

But here we are. President Trump in the early weeks of the outbreak said he didn’t want widespread testing because he feared how the higher case numbers would look. After more than a million confirmed cases and 70,000 American deaths, and with consensus among experts that testing is woefully inadequate, he repeated that view just this week. In between, he failed to use the power of the federal government to produce enough tests and necessary supplies.

Instead, the president left states to fend for themselves, and in many cases compete against each other.

That left Maine in a bad position. The Mills administration, with the help of a local business that has grown into a global behemoth, appears to have made the best of it — just in time.

Online: https://bit.ly/2YJZcW4