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The Professional Firefighters of NH Are Pleased With Today’s Decision Against LGC

The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire are pleased with today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision regarding the ex- Local Government Center and their regulator, the Bureau of Securities Regulation. 

“We applaud the decision of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. This has been a decade long journey to demand transparency from the organization that the public entrusted with their money,” said David Lang, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire.

Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire Logo (Via Facebook)Today’s decision validates what the members of the PFFNH organization has always known. Over a decade ago, the PFFNH began to shed light on what they believed to be questionable financial practices at the LGC by filing a series of “Right to Know” requests.

“The board has spent millions of dollars in an attempt to prevent the public from getting their own money back. It is my hope that this decision finally ends the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. This unanimous decision goes far in making all members whole: both active and retired employees and the taxpayers,” Lang continued.

The PFFNH is pleased that millions of dollars has been returned to cities and towns, taxpayers, and public employees, and will continue to fight to ensure that all members are made whole and tax dollars are spent for the appropriate purposes.

This decision solidifies the Bureau of Securities Regulations authority, under the Secretary of State, to regulate public risk pool entities. The PFFNH applauds their due diligence in protecting the taxpayers of this state.

Voter ID Impact on NH Taxpayers

When New Hampshire voters went to the polls this year they were asked to show an ID due to the new Voter photo ID bill. On September 1, 2013, that law changes and becomes more restrictive by limiting the list of ID’s that will be accepted in order to cast your vote. The law removes the ability to use most forms of photo ID including those issued by a state, county or municipal government, a valid student ID, an ID determined to be legitimate by local election officials, and simple identity verification by local town officials. Voters without acceptable ID’s will not only have to sign an affidavit but will be required to have a poll worker take their photo before being allowed to vote. The poll workers will then have to print a color copy of the photo in real time and affix it to the voter’s signed affidavit. Not only will the number of individuals who get caught up in the process increase but so will state expenditures to implement the changes.  How much more will this cost the state? Roughly a quarter million dollars was requested by the Secretary of State’s office for FY14 & FY15.

America was founded on the principle that we’re all created equal.  Inside the voting booth, all Americans have an equal and unencumbered voice in our democracy. But instead, some want you to believe it’s a privilege to vote and not a right and those people are willing to make it harder for some to cast their ballot. That’s the real reason why they want to limit the number of ID’s that are acceptable. They will try to convince you that voter impersonation is rampant in New Hampshire, but we know from thorough investigations that this just is not the case. There have only been three cases of voter fraud according to fraud reports issued by the SOS and AG’s office since 2006. The most recent case at the polls in NH was that of James O’Keefe, the conservative activist who was attempting to make a point that voter impersonation is possible, but fell short of proving anything about actual voter impersonation; instead all he proved was his unfamiliarity with New Hampshire voting law, landing himself in hot water. We all agree that protecting the integrity of our elections is vitally important—that’s why we already have strict laws and protections in place.

Proponents of Voter photo ID will also try to convince you that Voter ID laws are no big deal – that you need an ID to get on an airplane or buy a beer. The problem is that neither of those actions is enshrined in our Constitution – voting is. And contrary to their belief, not everyone does have an ID. Just this past election 5,424 people in New Hampshire didn’t have an ID to vote. That’s 5,424 people who might not  cast a vote next election year because they lack ID – no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like and who they vote for, that’s 5,424 too many.

If those reasons alone don’t give you pause to think twice about the real implications of voter photo ID, then I hope the financial implications will. It is just too expensive to implement when there have only been three cases of voter fraud as reported by the Secretary of State’s office and the Attorney General in the last 8 years. More people get struck by lightning than impersonate another voter at the polls. Is a quarter of a million worth those odds? I think not.

Jess Clark
Political and Field Director
America Votes

If you are on the Daily Kos, click here to Comment and Rec.

NH Professional Fire Fighters Union (@PFFNH) Use Right To Know To Get Millions For Local Governments

Many of the right wing media like to tell everyone that unions are only out for themselves.  The truth is that unions are are out for everyone (and yes that means themselves too).  They are advocates for the middle class and a protector of the people.

In the corporate world, unions are the counter balance to corporate greed and worker abuse.  In the public sector their roles are similar only not only do public sector unions protect the workers (and the public) they work to protect their employer.  This is exactly the case when you look at the Professional Fire Fighters of NH (PFF-NH) and the ongoing case with the Local Government Center.

The case between LGC and the PFF-NH has been going on for over a decade now.  Most of the issues brought to light came from specific questions raised through “Right To Know” requests filed by PFF-NH President David Lang.

In todays Portsmouth Herald (SeacoastOnline.com) they praised President Lang for his work on this case.

“The next time you hear a government official complaining about annoying Right to Know requests, remind them of this: Thanks to New Hampshire’s Right to Know law, and the tenacity of David Lang and the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, local cities, towns and public workers are about to receive no less than a $77.5 million refund from state pooled insurance providers. SchoolCare has agreed to pay $8.5 million and Primex between $16 million and $21 million, and the Local Government Center has been ordered by the courts to refund $53 million.

And the amount the LGC owes cities and towns for overcharging and misappropriating health care payments could be as high as $100 million, according to investigators for the state’s Bureau of Securities Regulation.”

Thats right, nearly every town in New Hampshire owes a special thanks to Pres. Lang and the PFF-NH.  Many town and local government will be getting something back from the LGC.

“The LGC protested, fighting our attempts at openness, and after two trips to the Supreme Court, the Court ultimately agreed with our position and the LGC was forced to open its books,” Lang explained to a packed house at the Concord Civic Center, where he and his union received this year’s First Amendment Award from the Nackey Loeb School in November. “Our suspicions were confirmed, and what followed was an exhausting and frustrating multi-year campaign for public recognition of LGC’s funding scheme.”

The seacoast newspaper was quick to point out some of the money coming to area towns.

“Shortly before Christmas local cities and towns learned just how much they’d be getting in a round of payments this month covering just 2011, and some of the figures were significant:

  • Portsmouth: $643,462
  • Hampton: $143,103
  • Exeter: $106,833
  • Rye: $33,139
  • Newington: $23,067
  • Stratham: $20,169″

That is only the first round of payments.

“Then, in August 2013, there will be a second round of payments, including: School Administrative Unit 16/Exeter school district: $362,386, SAU 21/Winnacunnet: $244,485, Portsmouth School District: $192,070 and SAU 50 (Greenland, Rye, New Castle, Newington): $77,480.”

This article does not show the money that the LGC owes all local governments however using these towns as a baseline you can see where the chips are going to fall.

In an effort to protect the workers, Lang and the PFF-NH ended up saving the taxpayers $50 million dollars.

“As public employees we found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of publicly defending the rising cost of health insurance at the bargaining table and in the media, when we knew that the cost did not need to be that high,” Lang said. “Compounding the issue was that cities, towns, taxpayers and the media were calling upon firefighters to work for lower pay and benefits in order to compensate for the rising costs of health care. The dynamic had serious potential to reduce the number of firefighters on duty, which leads to increased response times to fires and medical emergencies and ultimately leads to reduced safety in our communities.”

Be sure to read the full editorial from the SeacoastOnline, then stop by the Professional Fire Fighters of NH Facebook page and say ‘THANKS’ to President Lang and all the members of the PFF-NH for all the do in protecting the public and serving the taxpayers.

Going Behind the Rhetoric on Public Employee Pensions

Wow.  Last week there was yet another out-of-state special interest group trying to tell New Hampshire how to run OUR government.  “State’s ‘stunning pensions’ called lavish by taxpayer group.”

There are so many things wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, consider the source of the story.  “Taxpayers United” is actually a tiny organization based in Chicago.  It has only one full-time employee:  its president, James Tobin, a former Elmhurst College economics professor who reportedly founded the organization back in 1976.

Since that time, the organization’s focus has wandered from issue to issue.  According to the marketing pitch for anyone who wants to purchase their mailing list, Taxpayers United is now focused on “the repeal of the 16th Amendment and doing away with the income tax in favor of a consumption or flat tax.”  But it must be easier to generate headlines by attacking public employees than by proposing to amend the US Constitution.  Last month, Taxpayers United was making headlines attacking public employee pensions in North Carolina.  Before that, it was attacking pensions in Minnesota, Kansas, and Indiana.

Odd, how this tiny organization keeps making headlines about something that is so far removed from its goal of changing the Constitution.  Is it because headlines are a good way for the organization to attract the donations necessary to keep it in business?  Free publicity is sure a good way to find those donors who are described in the mailing list pitch as “highly responsive and are vigorous financial backers of any effort to reduce the size of government and cut taxes.”

Now, the actual facts. 

In New Hampshire, public employee pensions aren’t exactly “paid by taxpayers.”  Step away from the right-wing rhetoric and think about this for a minute.  City of Manchester retirees don’t get their retirement checks from the City of Manchester.  Retired Concord teachers don’t get a monthly direct deposit from the City of Concord.

In actual fact, these pensions come from a retirement system that is primarily funded by long-term investment returns. In fact, about 75 cents of every dollar paid in pension benefits comes from investment returns.  Most of the rest is attributable to workers’ contributions to the system. The employer’s contribution – the taxpayers’ portion – represents only a few pennies of each pension dollar – and even that amount was contributed by the employer many years (or even decades) ago.

One very important part of the New Hampshire Retirement System is that some of the public employees are not eligible for social security (group II).  This means that their pension is the only income they will get in their retirement.  This is also why Group II pay a higher contribution rate.  Group I members pay both Social Security and NHRS but get less in retirement payouts from the NHRS.

Public employers used the New Hampshire Retirement System to push wage costs off into the future, because the lower pay offered by government agencies was balanced by promises of retirement security.  It only took a few percentage points of payroll – contributed to the New Hampshire Retirement System – to make up for large disparities between government wages and pay levels offered by the private sector.

In some ways, it was like bonding a school construction project – where a municipality gets the benefits immediately, but pays for it in the future.  As Mitt Romney might say, it’s “kicking the can down the road.”

But then Wall Street led the economy astray.

As recently as 1999, the New Hampshire Retirement System was more than 100% funded.  But then the Trust Fund lost 10% of its value in the recession of 2001.  It lost another 25% of its value in the 2008 recession.

It happened all around the country.  At the same time that public pension funds were losing value due to Wall Street greed, new accounting standards were focusing public attention on the systems’ unfunded liabilities.  Anti-government pundits used the situation to attack public sector pensions and call for pension “reform”.

Lost in all their rhetoric was one basic fact: the trillion dollars in unfunded public pension obligations were the same trillion dollars of public pension funds lost to Wall Street.

In June 2007, before the Wall Street meltdown, the NH Retirement System had $5.9 billion in investments, including

  • $29.7 million of stock in Citigroup, Inc.
  • $23.5 million of stock in American International Group, Inc. (AIG)
  • $14.0 million of bonds issued by Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (Freddie Mac)
  • $13 million of bonds issued by Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae)

Two years later, when the recession was in full force,

  • Citigroup stock had plunged to only about 6% of its former value
  • AIG stock was worth only about a penny on the dollar
  • Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had both been placed into federal conservatorship

and the anti-government pundits were getting lots of headlines attacking public employees’ pensions.

Since then, employers’ contributions have increased significantly, to make up some of the money that was lost to Wall Street.  And the NHRS Trust Fund has in fact recovered a lot of ground —it is now almost back to where it was in June 2007.  Give it another decade of steady investment returns, and the System might be back to 100% funded.

But the Republicans are trying to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed to prevent the worst of the Wall Street abuses from happening again.  In the meantime, the financial industry is spending $100 million a year on lobbyists trying to create loopholes in the regulations.

And anti-government pundits are still making headlines attacking public employees’ pensions.

What’s that old saying about “those who don’t remember history”…?

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