Katy Burns: Take the money and run!
Senate President Peter Bragdon, presumably speaking on behalf of his Republican cohorts, has grave misgivings about accepting the $2.5 billion the feds want to give New Hampshire to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured Granite Staters.
But he might, he said, be open to “a New Hampshire solution.”
. . . surely you know that taking the money – any money, from anywhere, as long as it’s not from our pockets – is the “New Hampshire solution.”
And you, Peter, are old enough to remember this. If only you and your fellow GOP politicians, both here and elsewhere, weren’t afflicted with what has clearly become a downright pathological hatred of virtually anything even remotely connected with Barack Obama and his administration. Especially that dread demon “Obamacare.”
You are losing your perspective, your ability to keep your eye on the main issue: Getting the money.
As a state, we darned near invented the art of sponging off others.
For a glaring, 800-pound-gorilla-in-the-room example of our unparalleled shamelessness in grabbing the dough, look no further than what folks call Mediscam. That’s the wonderfully complicated scheme, concocted under Gov. Judd Gregg, for siphoning multitudes of millions of dollars from Medicaid – yeah, the same program Bragdon is shying from now – and throwing them into the state’s general fund to balance the budget.
That went on for a number of years – and was emulated by a number of other states – even as the feds tightened the screws and made the larceny less lucrative. Now, although Mediscam itself has technically ended, we still make a bundle from its remnants.
But if Mediscam – which one writer cheerfully called “wholesale embezzlement” – was particularly egregiously larcenous, we are ready, willing and quite able to snatch any other federal money that’s
out there. That includes but is hardly limited to the Medicaid money we already get, plus funds for education, transportation and community development, and a whole alphabet soup’s worth of targeted grants for any of worthwhile projects.
And we certainly lapped up every cent we could from the Obama administration’s stimulus act – which so many New Hampshire Republicans deride to this day, even as they ride on roads repaired by stimulus money.
Of course, we don’t stop with picking the federal pocket. We waste no opportunity to exploit the innocent souls who venture across our borders. We pioneered the state lottery, in part to extract money from those passing through. We specialize in peddling booze and butts to outlanders. For heaven’s sake, we put massive liquor emporia on our borders and our interstate highways! I don’t think any of the other 49 states do that.
I’m not sure exactly when New Hampshire’s addiction to others’ money began. It might have been when a 19th century governor gazed out on a state of rock-strewn hills increasingly dotted with vacant farms and old houses as younger generations here heeded the siren call from further west (good soil, no rocks!) and skedaddled to the fertile valleys of Ohio and beyond.
And so the state began aggressively advertising the availability of “country retreats” among the moneyed class in eastern metropolises. At the same time, we had the rise of the great hotels and resorts on our mountains and lakes. All were designed to separate city folks from their money and replenish various New Hampshire coffers.
We’ve been doing that ever since. And we’re eager to expand ways to take others’ money. Witness our recurring attempts to finance our schools, highways and heaven knows what else by siphoning cash from outsiders with high-stakes gambling, which offers a real free lunch to high income inhabitants who don’t gamble. It is a brilliant idea, even if it so far hasn’t worked.
And our whole first-in-the-nation primary is not only a noble exercise in democracy but, perhaps even more importantly, a dandy way to make our state’s cash registers ring big time. Even if they don’t, technically, ring anymore.
But my favorite New Hampshire scheme to make others pay for our government is the commuter income tax. You never heard of it? Well, now you will. In the early 1970s our lawmakers – overwhelmingly Republican and overwhelmingly anti-income tax (for us) – had a brilliant idea. They would tax the income of people from other states! At least if those people were so unfortunate as to work in the Granite State. And so they enacted a 4 percent income tax on said sorry souls.
Really. I am not making this up. And it stood until 1975 when the U.S. Supreme Court told us that we were little more than pickpockets and we had to cut it out. Okay, their language was a little more judicial, but you get the idea.
There are those eager for Medicaid expansion who think they can shame the obstinate senators with pathetic tales of sick people choosing between medicine and food. These bleeding hearts are flooding newspapers with letters pointing out that expansion means some 58,000 Granite Staters will finally have the medical coverage so many desperately need at almost no cost to the state. So far, though, it’s not working, at least not with our well-off senators, who are, after all, among the fortunate who can afford to hold an office that pays $100 a year and who likely have their own health insurance.
So I suggest that Medicaid expansion’s supporters turn to a different tactic: Simply say that this refusal to take federal money – big-time money, offered by a federal government to which we are donors rather than recipients, with others reaping the benefits of our taxes – is dumb. And it is most assuredly not the New Hampshire tradition.
As that famed philosopher and cinema d’auteur Woody Allen once advised: Senators, just take the money. And run!
(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)