National Perspective: The Great Disrupter

By David M. Shribman
If the early controversies of the Reagan administration are any indication — the contretemps over whether the Agriculture Department should count ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches and whether Interior Secretary James Watt's view that Americans should "occupy the land until Jesus returns" was national policy — the current furors swirling around the Trump administration are mere distractions.
It will not matter a decade from now whether Education Secretary Betsy DeVos believes pupils need guns to protect them from grizzly bears at school or whether Donald J. Trump believes his 304 electoral-vote majority is bigger than Barack Obama's 365 in 2008. Far more important issues are at stake, vital questions of national philosophy and governance that will shape the profile of the nation for the remainder of the first quarter of the 21st century, perhaps beyond.
  • Category: Columns

Karen Umberger: Governor presents proposed budget

On Thursday, Feb. 9, Gov. Chris Sununu addressed a joint session of the House, Senate and Executive Council to provide information about his proposed budget.

The total budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins July 1, was just over $6 billion dollars and the FY 19 budget was also just over 6 billion.

The proposed budget includes: federal funds, general funds, highway funds, turnpike funds, the Fish and Game Fund, sweepstakes fund, liquor fund and other funds.

The total of these funds make up the budget that House Finance began reviewing on Feb. 14, to be completed by March 21.

The budget recommended by the House will then go to the Senate for its review and recommendation. If the House and Senate have different results, the budget will then go to a Committee of Conference in June.

In his overview, Sununu stressed creating a fiscal and regulatory environment that promotes greater job growth, job retention, workforce development and economic opportunity for all.

His second emphasis was to enhance and strengthen opportunities and services for children and families.

Finally, he wants to improve the safety and wellbeing of New Hampshire’ citizens.

He plans to accomplish this using only projected revenues for FY 18 and 19.

I am sure many of you are aware that the last two years have provided more revenue to the state than was budgeted. As a result, Gov. Sununu will increase the Rainy Day Fund to $100 million, and any money over the $100 million will be used for one time programs. In other words, he will not be adding dollars to the budget that may, over time, not be sustainable.

One highlight of the budget is the creation of a Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

The purpose of this department is to improve our economy, spur job growth and provide opportunities for business and workers.

The department will have a small business advocate which will represent small business owners before state agencies during the design and discussion of any new rules and regulations.

The Department of Revenue Administration will now have a Division of Taxpayer Services to improve the experience for taxpayers.

Turning to education, Sununu will set up a program to target money for full-day kindergarten. The targeted money would be allocated based on relative need, with factors including a community’s relative property wealth, participation rates for free and reduced lunch program and communities with high percentages of English language learners.

Other highlights include a new method of computing funding for charter schools to ensure schools are sustainably funded. Sununu is also proposing $5 million dollars for a governor’s scholarship program to directly assist the state’s high school students attend New Hampshire colleges and universities.

In the area of health and wellbeing, the governor is proposing an increase of $57 million for the funding of the developmentally disabled. There is a $5 million workforce fund that will be used to for care givers.

The budget establishes within the Office of Substance Abuse a specialist to coordinate policy focused on treatment, recovery and prevention to assist individuals battling addiction.

The budget doubles the alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund and increases the staffing levels at the Division of Children Youth and Families, based on a quality assurance review recently completed.

The budget will use 20 percent of the renewal energy fund to supplement the current electricity relief programs for low-income families.

The Public Safety, Security and Infrastructure portion of the budget  funds enhancements to the cyber security programs, provides $250,000 to help curb online predators and Internet crimes against children.

Ten new state police will be hired to focus narrowly on drug interdiction.

The budget also provides the necessary funding to complete and open the new women’s prison.

The governor has established an infrastructure revitalization fund that will use one-time revenues to double the grants to towns and cities for roads and bridges.

The budget will provide grants to assist local schools with addressing health and safety issues.

Finally, the budget will fully reinstate Granite Hammer (drug interdiction) and provide targeted student loan forgiveness for clinicians and nurses working the front lines of the opioid crisis.

The next step in the budget process is the House Finance Committee.

If you have questions please call (603) 356-6881 or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Karen Umberger is a state representative for Carroll County District 2, Conway, Chatham, Eaton, Hales Location. She lives in Conway. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Category: Columns

Tom McLaughlin: Snow woe


Stories of rooves collapsing under weight of snow give caretakers the shivers. Last week, the rush was on to find people willing to trek on snowshoes into regions where snowplows don’t go, carrying ladder and shovel.

I don’t have to do that anymore, but I’ve done my share of it over the years. When heavy storms come fast on the heels of other big storms, demand for shovelers goes through roof, so to speak, and those willing to do it can almost name their price.

As a teacher who had week a off in February, it was often a good way to pick up some quick cash. Driving from Lovell to South Portland last Thursday, I noticed the few other vehicles on the road with me were pickup trucks, either with plows on the front or ladders tied on the top. Those were guys heading somewhere to shovel a roof.

It’s exhausting work, better suited for young men but I still do a small roof of my own, much to my wife’s consternation.

“Why don’t you just hire someone?” she says, but it’s an aging guy thing. If I stop doing that, what else will I stop doing? I intend to keep it up as long as I can.

I hire people to shovel the properties I manage though. I call myself a property manager instead of a caretaker because I do very little of the physical work anymore. I take care to find good people to do it and make sure it gets done properly. That’s my stock in trade now.

Guys with shovels in their hands sometimes resent the managers who hired them, thinking managers don’t have to work as hard for their money as they do. Those thoughts passed through my mind more than once when I was starting off, but now I know that managers earn their pay too.

Roof shoveling is an entry-level position. Not a lot of skill is required, mostly just a strong back and a willingness to use it. There is some thinking required though because each roof is different.

Most of the remote camps on the back side of the lake are small with shallow-pitched rooves. A small ladder reaches them and they’re not dangerous if you should fall off. The job is done quickly and most of the work is getting there and back.

Some, however, are larger with two or even three stories and steep-pitched rooves. For those, it’s best to start at the ridge line and work downward because the danger of falling off is greater near the eave. If you started at the top, then by the time you get to the eave there’s a deep pile to cushion you where you’re likely to hit bottom.

Several times snow gave way under my feet near the eave. Down I went feet first into the pile up to my shoulders.

I was grateful to be unhurt, but it took enormous effort to get myself out. It’s a helpless feeling being stuck in deep snow.

Last week, for example, I was on snowshoes packing down a path for the delivery man to my oil fill pipe in Lovell, which is on the other end of my house from the driveway. The first 40 feet or so was easy because it was already packed by snow that had slid from the metal roof, but when I got to the gable end and stepped down, one snowshoe slipped off I fell backward into about four feet of loose snow, some of which had gotten up onto the bare skin of my back.

When I tried to right myself, I discovered my arms weren’t long enough to find solid ground. I felt around for the lost snowshoe then used it to pack snow around me enough to push off and get vertical again.

I bought those snowshoes at a yard sale and thought I’d gotten a good deal. I changed my mind while trying to get the snow out from under my sweater that was melting against my skin. The bindings were poorly designed and the shoes themselves were too small. I think they were meant for following behind someone on bigger snowshoes breaking trail.

I have some bigger ones I used for many years but they’re older than me. They were made in Norway, Maine, by Snowcraft, Inc. sometime between the 1920s and 1940s, back when Norway called itself the “Snowshoe Town of America.”

They have curved ash frames and netting of shellacked cat gut. Leather bindings have dried out and are tearing in a couple of spots.

I’d been meaning to have them repaired but kept putting it off. For that, I’d have kicked myself in the butt but the snow was too deep to accomplish that maneuver.

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine.  He can be reached on his website at


  • Category: Columns

William Marvel: Chionophobia

Language has always intrigued me. As the child of a sailor and a former waitress with a penchant for literature, I picked up a lot of words at a relatively early age. Some of them must have been quite amusing, judging by the reaction of my mother’s bridge club the night she dropped me in my playpen and closed the door, to keep me out of the living room.

The greatest short-term infusion for my vocabulary may have come on the winter evening when my father and I went off the road in his 1954 International Harvester pickup. It was snowing heavily, and the only end of Davis Hill Road that was then open made a 90-degree turn just before the steep climb up the hill. The truck was rear-wheel-drive, as were nearly all vehicles in those days, but there were 400 pounds of oak in the bed for traction. A set of chains hung off the backboard, but they were a trial to put on in the biting cold with bare fingers, so — after a day of work in the woods — my father made the turn at the best speed he could, hoping to gun it up the hill. Instead, we skidded off into the snowbank. That kept us out of the swamp, but it must have taken an hour to dig out, back out, and mount the chains. I held the flashlight the whole while, listening attentively to the foreign-sounding soliloquy spilling out of my father. Some words I recognized but most I didn’t, and when I tried a few of them out at recess the next day some little snitch went streaking for the office, where I was soon called by special messenger.

I learned another new word just last week. “Chionophobia” isn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary, or even the Merriam Webster, but it seems to be a buzzword common among therapists on the lookout for some marketable ailment to treat at $100 or more per hour. When the profitable Greek suffix “phobia” is hung on the Greek word “chioni,” the concept of a morbid fear of snow is born.

Now, I’ve never liked snow. The first storm that sticks is always a little depressing to me, and in winters as bad as this one I really grow to hate it, but I can’t say that I’ve ever actually been afraid of it. Unfortunately, there are obviously quite a few people hereabouts who are terrified of the white stuff. Just ask them to drive somewhere or send their kids somewhere during a storm — somewhere, that is, besides the ski slopes, which is usually OK.

Here in the North Country, a phalanx of parents and their allies in the employ of the school district usually force their neighbors to fund a generous array of programs. That might serve as evidence of their high regard for education were it not flatly contradicted by their support for — and even demand for — speedy cancellations, delayed starts, or early releases at the slightest accumulation of snow. A truncated day will bomb instruction, especially in the upper grades, and makeup days in late June are useless. Blizzard bags seem little more than a euphemism for vacation, and defending them weakens the argument that classroom teachers are the most important part of the entire system.

The budget proposed by the Conway School District for next year will cost taxpayers over $200,000 per school day. A couple of weeks ago local superintendents salvaged one of those enormously expensive days by actually holding school while snow was falling, and for that effort they were absolutely excoriated. Their primary critics appeared to be parents who could have chosen to keep their kids at home, if it was so perilous.

Sometime, somewhere, the first precedent of canceling school for snow turned it into a litigable decision. Thanks to that, superintendents who should be focusing on pedagogy, curriculum, and budgets are now also expected to be fortune tellers. Superintendent David Appleton refused to cancel school in the 1950s and ’60s, when four-wheel-drive was uncommon and front-wheel-drive virtually unknown. In the dozen years I attended Conway schools, I don’t recall a single snow day. There was at least one early release, memorable to me because I had to walk the last mile of unplowed dirt road in knee-deep drifts.

My father was still driving that International when he became the only custodian at Conway Elementary School. He had to be there early every day, without fail, to tend the boiler and clear the walks. The parents of kids who lived on other back roads might give up on trying to get out, but there was no hope for me.

This winter pales alongside those of 1957 or 1969, and our roads are better maintained than ever before. A salt-heavy bare-pavement policy robs each of us of half the life in every car we own, and most of those cars are more nimble in snow than anything available half a century ago. But we have an Achilles heel — a class of people who specifically chose to move to northern New England, despite living in abject horror of a snowstorm.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns