Thursday, September 30, 2010

DWT banned in MA

Texting, Internet surfing, and playing games on your smart phone/iPod while driving in Massachusetts is officially illegal as of today. Of course, distracted driving as a result of doing any of these things was already illegal and has been for years, so not much has actually changed—for adults, that is.

For drivers under the age of 18, the new law is much worse. Apocalyptic. The end of the world as we know it.

Junior drivers cannot use cell phones at all. Not for tweeting, not for texting, not for facebooking, not for gaming… Oh, I almost forgot. Not for talking. (Like kids have ever used a cell phone for talking.)

With one exception.

The only allowed use of a cell phone by minors is calling 9-1-1, though I’m pretty sure that texting anything to 9-1-1 is now banned.

What to do? What to do?...

Here’s my solution for addicted texters, who 135 years ago would, no doubt, have been employed as telegraph operators, dot dot dotting and dash dash dashing messages across the country, relegating the pony expressers to the unemployment line.

Coordinate with all your bff’s, jump out of bed a few minutes early, and queue up your tweets and texts. Then, just before you turn the key in your ignition, send them all to each other.

The result won’t be any different than any other day.

@barb couldn’t sleep last nite thkg about todd

omg lol

what r u doin

@barb joey is such a jerk

holy crp rotflol

@barb no way

@joey jerk

cul8r

@9-1-1 just ran into a tree-send help

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Question 3: Rhetoric versus fact

There is no doubt in my mind that 90% of the rhetoric we’ll hear regarding Question 3 on the Massachusetts November 2nd ballot will reference teachers, police and firefighters. Just go to VoteNoQuestion3.com and you’ll see their opening line starts with “We all want good schools, police and fire protection…”

It is very effective to argue that your “Yea” vote will overcrowd classrooms, requiring the fire marshal to be called (who just got fired), necessitating a police officer to respond to the commotion (who is in line at the DUA with the teacher and fire marshal).

What is Question 3?

Question 3 is Carla Howell’s latest attempt to control the bloated state budget. Remember Question 1 from the 2008 ballot? That one asked for voters to eliminate the personal state income tax. It didn’t pass. In 2002, a similar petition also failed.

This time, we’re being asked to roll the state sales tax back from 6.25% to 3%. Here’s the secretary of the commonwealth’s summary that you’ll see on your ballot:

Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?

SUMMARY
This proposed law would reduce the state sales and use tax rates (which were 6.25% as of September 2009) to 3% as of January 1, 2011. It would make the same reduction in the rate used to determine the amount to be deposited with the state Commissioner of Revenue by non-resident building contractors as security for the payment of sales and use tax on tangible personal property used in carrying out their contracts.

The proposed law provides that if the 3% rates would not produce enough revenues to satisfy any lawful pledge of sales and use tax revenues in connection with any bond, note, or other contractual obligation, then the rates would instead be reduced to the lowest level allowed by law.

The proposed law would not affect the collection of moneys due the Commonwealth for sales, storage, use or other consumption of tangible personal property or services occurring before January 1, 2011.

The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

A YES VOTE would reduce the state sales and use tax rates to 3%.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state sales and use tax rates.
Impact on local aid

Since teachers, police and firefighters are on the payrolls of our cities and towns, the effect of the sales tax rollback on these professions would be seen through a reduction of local aid from the state.

This reduction in local aid has been calculated by the Mass Taxpayers Foundation in their white paper entitled “Heading Over the Cliff,” released yesterday. In it, they project a local aid reduction of $473 million in fiscal year 2012 if Question 3 passes. That extrapolates to $3.9 million in lost aid for the four towns in the 5th Barnstable District.

I have calculated the impact of this reduction in local aid on an average taxpayer whose home is assessed at $350,000 if we voted for an override to replace that lost aid. It amounts to $66/year, ranging from $21/year in Barnstable to $116/year in Sandwich. This ignores the fact that there are probably other ways to replace the lost aid without resorting to an override.

See my analysis here.

Those are relatively modest numbers compared to claims by the proponents of the rollback that each family, on average, would save over $800/year. Click here for their FAQ page. I’m skeptical of claims like this, but if your family spends $10,000/year on taxable goods, then you’d save $325, which is still well above the amount we’d pay in additional property taxes to save the jobs of teachers, police and firefighters.

Other impacts

Opponents list the following areas of pain (those in italics are related to local aid cuts):

Public educationPublic schools and colleges would absorb a huge share of the cuts.

Health care – Cuts will hurt community hospitals, school nursing services, public health initiatives, and community health centers.

Quality of lifeLocal aid to cities and towns would be slashed.

EconomyLaying off teachers, firefighters, police officers, social workers, and others could halt the economic recovery.

Property taxesCities and towns would be forced to raise property taxes and seek overrides simply to maintain basic services.

I think you get the idea that the opponents are angling to generate a visceral reaction by focusing almost exclusively on cuts that the average taxpayer would not support.

The rest of the cuts

The Mass Taxpayers Foundation estimates that we’ll be dealing with a $4.8 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2012, $2 billion already attributed to the state’s structural deficit, $2.5 billion resulting from a successful sales tax rollback, and $300 million in federal aid cuts.

The MTF projects that $470 million would come out of local aid, less than 10% of the necessary cuts. The rest of the $4.8 billion would come out of spending for health care ($1.3 billion), human services ($1.3 billion), public safety ($630 million), and other cuts ($1.1 billion).

My position

I believe that we should roll back the sales tax to 5%. However, given that the 5% scenario is not one of the choices on the November ballot, I have to ask you this fundamental question:

Do you want Beacon Hill to tell you how much of your money they are going to spend, or do you want to tell Beacon Hill how much of your money they get to spend?

It’s time to send a message to Beacon Hill that we are tired of our legislators not listening to the electorate. Remember the 5% income tax we voted for in 2000?

I support the rollback because it will force the legislature to get serious about real reforms, cost cutting, and restructuring. Reforming the pension system, giving cities and towns control over health insurance plan design, and restructuring the myriad of state agencies would be good places to start.

The areas that we should protect from drastic cuts include local aid and public safety. Cutting local aid is like tossing the hot potato over the fence. And our district attorneys’ offices, sheriffs’ departments, and state police are already under attack from a funding standpoint.

Finally, the MTF ignored the boost to the economy that $2.5 billion in the hands of consumers would generate, not to mention the improvement in sales that New Hampshire-bordering businesses would instantly enjoy.

Your position

Everyone needs to assess their own position on the tax rollback, but please don’t fall for the rhetoric that involves less than 10% of the cuts. Think about your reliance on state programs, how your family is likely to be affected, and keep in mind that $66/year would keep your teachers, police and firefighters in place.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Going postal?

I was confused when confronting this new sign at the post office.


If I'm not driving a mail truck, can I park there?

Or do I have to move from space to space after parking for 10 seconds in each one?

Or is it only for people who are going postal at the time they're parking?

Adjectively challenged,

Randy

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wastewater one-question survey

UPDATED WITH NEW COMMENTS: September 13, 2010

I'm a numbers guy and when I hear $6 billion, I know it's a lot. When I hear that a sewer system is going to cost $50,000 to $80,000 per house to hook up to, you have my attention. Where do you stand on the issue of wastewater management on Cape Cod?

To gather your opinions, I created a simple, one-question survey:

Managing wastewater is a key issue for all of us living on Cape Cod, one that will be on the front burner over the next several years.Given that the cost of hooking up each household to a sewer system, on average, will be in the range of $50,000 to $80,000, how do you feel this issue should be handled?
  • The Cape should be sewered and Title 5 septic systems eliminated.
  • We should focus on known "hot spots," using septic systems elsewhere.
  • We should finish the scientific studies, then develop a plan.
  • Do nothing. The Title 5 systems are working fine.
  • Do nothing. I can't afford $50,000 to $80,000, even over 20 or 25 years.
Take the survey by clicking here.

See the results so far by clicking here.

From Randy Hunt: A couple of the comments discuss the possibility of requiring more frequent pumping of septic systems. I don't claim to be an expert on the topic, but I did play one on TV when I video'd an A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing episode about septic system monitoring. My understanding is that liquids flow through these systems and dissipate across a leaching field. It is urine that is particularly high in nitrogen content, so more frequent pumping would have a negligible effect on reducing nitrogen loading.

Here are some of the comments made by survey participants:

Perhaps better standards for inspections could be implemented.
My septic failed and my next door neighbor's passed. Same low elevation, same soil types, same ground water. - it seems they were smart enough to have the inspection done in hot weather not the wet Spring. or they hired a "sympathetic" inspector. I don't know.
Crack down on the crooked inspectors and realtors who collude.
A master plan that includes a rating inventory with from worst case failure areas, to high, medium, and low potential failure areas is necessary. Funding the sewer system needs to be handled via a number of methods including impact fees and providing incentives for donors. The Cape is not the first to have this problem. Solutions in other coastal communities should be studied, improved upon and implemented here. Thurston County, Washington has been working on a wastewater plan for many years.
It is not like we don't know how to or are not maintaining safe drinking water and acceptable habitat life quality currently.
Replacing adequately functioning septic systems, disturbing animal habitats, and further burdening existing owners are our only options? These all further an urban vs rural environment.
Where are the options to prohibit adding fertilizer to lawns or pets from living on the cape? Shouldn't we be looking at those "soft and non-structural" mitigations first.
50 to 80k, even spread over 20 years, is far too costly for the average homeowner. Half or less would be more reasonable if worked into property taxes. The study should include cost effective ways to accomplish this massive undertaking.
Your cost estimates appear to be very pessamistic. Isn't $40,000- $45,000 as an average more realistic?
NO ONE CAN AFFORD TO PAY WHAT IS CURRENTLY CIRCA 100 USD PER YEAR TO EMPTY THE SEPTIC SYSTEM. USING YOUR BEST CASE OF 50K OVER 20 YEARS IS 2,500/YR WITHOUT INTEREST AND OTHER ANCILLARY FEES AND CHARGES. A 100 YEAR CONCESSION MANAGED BY THE BARNSTABLE COUNTY/CAPE COD COMMISSION MAY BE THE BEST OPTION USING SATELLITE SYSTEMS SIMILAR TO BEST IN OPERATIONAL PRACTICE WITH MANDATED FEES NOT TO EXCEED 120 USD/YR FOR RESIDENTS. THE BUSINESS MODEL IS VIABLE WITHOUT A GOUGING FEE POLICY THAT IS THE NORM.
If the budget can cover it, septic systems should be eliminated. The cost would be spread over a much larger group thereby being less expensive to each individual. The cost could be collected from each person at the sale of their property. BUT, I am not dogmatic about this.
SOMETHING SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN 1970 WHEN SEPTIC SOLUTIONS WOULD HAVE BEEN MANAGEABLE. NOW WE HAVE INSTALLED CENTRAL SYSTEMS AND ARE ASKED TO FINISH THE REMAINDER. COSTS WILL ONLY INCREASE AND OUR GREAT GRANDCHILDREN WILL BE STRAPPED ALONG WITH THE NATIONAL DEBT TO PAY.
Develop a plan once the science is peer reviewed. Maintain Title 5 sysytems as much as possible. Find the most cost efficient method to remove the nitrogen emphasizing decentralized systems as much as possible.
Avoid the perfection goals that heavily drive cost.
To be truthful, I have no idea about the wastewater situation. I quess I should do some research! I am sure it is something we should address for our future on the Cape.
Many of us probably don't have an adequate understanding of the issues. One thing, however, seems clear:there must be some way to mitigate the huge burden on individual homeowners. One might be to structure the financing to allow funds paid by individuals to be tax deductible.
measure twice cut once - we need more study
My first approach would be to examine what other, similar, areas have done. Long Island comes to mind. Long Island doesn't have a sole-source aquifer, but it has dense development in many areas, and is rural in other areas. Perhaps, since their water is pumped in, septic isn't an issue, but it might be good to know what they've done.
In order to answer this question I would need to understand the numbers, ie, cost per average household per year in new taxes. If that number is $1000 or less for 10 years, OK. if it is $5000 per year, I'll sell my house and move.

I believe a second opinion on the short 5 year study, and questionable computer model extensions being used to evolve DEP & EPA demands to sewer are NOT correct and do not reflect longer, previous studies by MBL scientists and others. Recent waffling by the CC Commission on whether or not to take the National Science Foundation up on its offer to review the models only leads to more questions if their motives are science driven.

$50,000 to $80,000 is an insane expenditure, given the state of the economy and other public needs. Nitrogen in the ocean is just not that serious a problem. Contaminants in drinking water which are causing the breast cancer epidemic should get more attention. Isn't there some less labor-intensive way to sewer a town?

The science that DEP paid for has never been vetted by an independent third party. Also, it is not at all settled that even if a town did what the DEP says should be done that there will be any improvement made in the waters. For this billions should be spent?

Until a real peer review is completed I'm not convinced that outflow from title 5 systems is the largest culprit. Nitrogen and phosphorus based lawn and farm fertilizers could be contributing as much or more. It's analogous to global warming. It's certain that people are contributing something, but, how much is unclear.

If it can be determined that certain areas (N Falmouth and related beaches) have systems that are polluting, owners should be brought into compliance even if they have to build pump-able systems at critical shore areas - owners expense..a sewer system across Cape would be another rotten State bureaucracy in time...enough!

Maybe we are broke and can't do everything that we want to. There are wants and needs and maybe this isn't a need when the country is broke and surrounded by enemies. Also the CLF suit mentions that the EPA did not consider Global Warming. That alone should demand a dismissal of the suit.

I would like to know where these problems of nitrogen loading exist, to what extent and available solutions before investing in unneeded infrastructure solutions.

I'd like to say let's take a commonsense approach to this and make sure every home has a Title 5 first and proceed from there. The studies I have read show that municipal wastewater treatment plants break nitrogen down to, on average, 5-7.5 mL N/L H20. The average Title 5 breaks nitrogen down to 5 mL/L-the same results or better. However, the environmentalists are starting to file lawsuits against municipalities for not moving forward with these plants.

Title 5 systems are doing a great job. The hoopla is thus far eco-fear without known scientific basis. Yes, complete the studies, but make sure they are valid and do not reflect the anti-PAVE PAWS type of pseudoscience all over again.

The reality is that we can't afford nor should we foolishly create an MWRA-Cape Cod. There are private de-nitrification systems that are available which remove up to 80% more N2 than standard Title V. What I can't seem to find at this point is a definitive study by a group that doesn't have a dog in the fight which concludes that we have a serious problem.

I just replaced a failed system two years ago. I'm not up for spending 50 - 80 thousand to hook up to sewer.

One size fits all is a stupid way to approach this problem.

In the past (the MMR cleanup, for example) science took a back seat to environmental campaigns, as somebody else paid. In this case we pay, so scientific data (a formal category) has a chance and actually seems to be winning in some areas. Various peer review groups have countered selectmen, state departments, commissions, even the CLF. In reserve is a large exposure to conflict of interest on the part of the campaigners.

Doing nothing is probably going to make the ultimate solution be more drastic and cost even more. Planning now will give more options.

I think that the estimates are low. Regional waste water systems would be best

Given that the average citizen cannot afford the estimated cost to hook up, I wonder if an at least temporary solution might be to require home owners to have their septic tanks emptied every two years with the waste going to a proper sewerage disposal plant, at a general cost of about $150 - $200. (Many go decades without such service.) That might drastically reduce contamination while a united Cape group could come up with a more permanent and far less costly resolution.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sandwich Town Hall Rededication Ceremony

The Sandwich Town Hall Rededication Committee (Ever notice how government and nonprofit-related committees adopt really long names? It's like government bureaucrat titles. I digress.) proudly announces the date and time of the rededication ceremony:

Saturday, October 2, 2010 at noon
On the steps of the seriously spruced up Sandwich Town Hall (originally completed in 1834)

After the obligatory speeches from politicians, we'll all get a chance to tour the first floor offices and rifle through Bud's personal files. Then (and this is the greatest part of the project) we'll tour the hall upstairs that's been closed to the public for many years.

With all due respect and total seriousness, I want to congratulate all of the people of Sandwich who supported this project. A good friend of mine, Dick (The Cranky Yankee) Bradley, dreamed of the day when actors and dancers would be performing on the stage once again. I believe he will be smiling down on us that day.

Planning, selling, executing and celebrating this restoration project has been a huge effort by many people and I look forward to seeing the hall booked solid with all kinds of community events.

Don't miss the fun.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Town of Sandwich suggestion box

One of my blog readers suggested that the posts under Selectman Pierce’s article, “A simple five-point plan,” are mostly critical and lack a constructive component.

The objective of this post is to create a suggestion box, rather than a complaint box, to allow people to weigh in with their cost-cutting and revenue generating suggestions for the Town of Sandwich.

The blog reader says “I gotta believe there are some worthwhile ideas out there.”

As you know, I publish comments unless they are obscene, use vulgar language, or are libelous, but for this post I will only publish comments that provide ideas for saving money or generating additional revenues.

If you want to rant, continue posting under Selectman Pierce’s article.

So, what do you say? Does anyone have any ideas out there?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cell phone use while driving can save lives

I’ve long been convinced that blabbing on a cell phone while driving is a serious distraction. Compared to carrying on an intense debate with a passenger, cell phone conversations are much worse because the person on the other end of the call is unlikely to scream “Stop!!” when you’re about to run a red light.

And what about these hands-free devices? Does anyone really believe that having a Bluetooth thingy jammed in your ear makes your cell phone call any less distracting? I’ve used hands-free devices and experienced the same phenomenon as I have when holding a cell phone to my ear: “Wow! I’m already at the Sagamore Bridge? I don’t even remember going through Rockland, Hanover, Pembroke, Kingston and Plymouth. Son of a gun…”

Read up on a recent study showing no benefit from hands-free cell phones.

Here’s one I don’t think the university psychologists have studied: How many lives have been saved by people who called 9-1-1 on their cell phones to report another motorist driving erratically?

Anecdotally, I’ve heard many stories about drunk drivers being outed by cell phone toting vigilantes. A veritable second police department reporting every line crossing, every weave. It’s like Neighborhood Watch on wheels.

Measuring the number of people who did not get killed by drunk drivers is similar to measuring the number of people whose jobs were saved by the stimulus bill. In fact, so similar, that I’ll just use the same figure and declare that 3.5 million people’s lives were saved by cell phone snitches.

Unfortunately, there are some studies that complicate my plan to combat laws that ban the use of cell phones while driving. A 2006 study by the University of Utah equates the danger of driving while chatting to driving while drinking.

Damn. That really does take the wind out of my sail.

I’m not one who’s big on common sense laws. I never smoked. I never streaked at a Major League Baseball game. I don’t eat a lot of Monte Cristo sandwiches. But I’d like to reserve my right to run naked through the outfield at a Red Sox game with a deep fried sandwich in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt