The headline on the press release read: "American Tradition Partnership drops phone bomb on Bob Odell."
Calling itself the "nationís leading grassroots advocate of rational energy policies," the Washington based American Tradition Partnership group telephoned 4,000 households in Senate district 8 last Monday. The message was to call me and urge me to vote to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a 10-state program that has ratepayers pay a small amount of money each month to fund energy efficiency efforts for businesses, public buildings and homes.
The lobbying of legislators is an acceptable and valued part of the democratic process. Using "phone bombs" on a Senator in New Hampshire is also accepted. It is interesting, however, that the American Tradition Partnership has money from out-of-state interests to spend to persuade me to vote their way yet they canít find the money or the courage to pick up the phone and call me themselves.
Hiding behind computer driven phone calls known in the trade as "robo calls" and press releases from a Washington, D. C. organization no one has heard of, it looks like operatives of big money interests are trying to move one State Senator in their direction on an important issue for our state.
While the 4,000 "phone bomb" calls were made, only about a dozen residents picked up the phone and called my office. If the American Tradition Partnership, whoever they are, wants to have an impact on my votes, they need to show up in person so we can have a real conversation. Thatís the democratic way. "Phone bombs" are not the New Hampshire democratic way.
On the other hand, democracy in the New Hampshire tradition was very evident at a public meeting held last Monday in Charlestown. The issue was whether or not the rebuilding of Route 12 between Charlestown and Walpole will begin in fiscal year 2012.
No one disagrees on the importance of relocating and rebuilding this stretch of highway. Police, fire and other local officials met with State Representatives and me to emphasize the importance of the new road. Attendees wanted to raise the question about whether or not money would be available for the project in the next biennial budget if the legislature does not keep the current $30 automobile registration surcharge in place for the next two years.
Concern was raised, in part, by meetings in Concord at which the Department of Transportation pointed that without the surcharge the department would not have money to do upcoming projects that are already scheduled and are part of the stateís 10-year highway plan.
The legislature, especially the Senate, is committed to supporting the highway plan. But on close examination we find that proceeds from the unpopular registration surcharge have only been partially used for road projects. Other surcharge monies have gone to the Department of Safety to fund state troopers and other expenses which has raised questions in the Senate Finance Committee.
All of us are concerned about long term highway funding even though the Senate voted to repeal the surcharge this year. That would mean that by the time the law became effective, possibly in early June, the department would lose a month of revenue before the fiscal year ends of June 30. But the bill will never become effective as it will be placed "on the table" this week. Senators had a symbolic vote to demonstrate their lack of appreciation for the registration surcharge without impacting the current budget. The surcharge will end on June 30 unless the legislature reinstates it in the upcoming budget.
One result of the Charlestown meeting was a "thumbs down" editorial paragraph in the Eagle-Times last week criticizing the "scare tactics" of the Department of Transportation.
When I saw the Commissioner of the Department, George Campbell, in a State House hallway, I told him about the Charlestown meeting and the editorial. He was not pleased with my presentation and explained that all he was doing was trying to explain the consequences, in his opinion, of budget decisions being contemplated in the House and Senate. It was last week that there were suggestions in the House to lay off hundreds of department employees as well as other draconian measures that certainly were worrisome to department officials. These are tough times for Commissioners as the budget process heats up.
Money for highways is scarce. The gas tax we pay at the pump has not been increased since 1991. And with more fuel efficient cars and miles driven each year stable, there is not enough money coming in to pay for the increased costs of maintaining our state roads. Stimulus money from Washington helped us complete many projects over the past two years but that revenue stream has ended.
Funding for highways is a major issue for the legislature and it is being addressed in the Senate Finance Committee. And legislators are becoming increasingly familiar with funding options and the impact budget decisions will have on the Transportation Department. We understand the Commissioner has a responsibility to explain the departmentís positions on funding matters, but there should be respect for the legislative process that will hopefully produce good results Ö including adequate funding for the maintenance and the rebuilding of state roads.
This is a reminder of my meeting Tuesday night, March 22, with state AFL-CIO leaders and local union members. The meeting will begin at 7 pm at the Claremont Seniors Center, 4 Acer Heights Road, Claremont.
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