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Sunday, January 30, 2011

We’re going to focus on these issues in ’11

Telegraph Editorial

Earlier this month, the six members of The Telegraph editorial board sat down to develop Focus 2011, six issues we believe deserve particular attention in the new year.

As such, you will find us coming back to these issues during the course of the year – commenting on related news developments, advocating for our point of view and tracking any progress over the next 11 months.

 • The New Hampshire Advantage: For years, state officials, politicians and others have touted the New Hampshire Advantage, a reference to the state’s absence of a statewide income or sales tax, friendly business climate and a quality of life that consistently is ranked among the best in the nation.

But in the wake of the Great Recession, coupled with a projected state budget deficit of $800 million or higher entering the next two-year budget cycle this July, is that advantage slipping?

More to the point: Is New Hampshire losing its so-called advantage as a place to do business?

Consider: While a 2010 study by CNBC ranked the state 19th based on 40 different measures of competitiveness, New Hampshire placed 47th in access to transportation, 39th in the cost of living, 38th in the quality and availability of its work force, and 34th in the cost of doing business.

New Hampshire businesses and residents also pay among the highest health insurance rates and energy costs in the country.

 • Education reform: It’s been nearly 30 years since “A Nation at Risk” – the result of President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education – concluded the U.S. education system was being “eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”

Since that time, reform efforts have led to passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and, more recently, Race to the Top, a federal competitive grant program to encourage state reforms to grades K-12 education.

The Telegraph is planning a multipart series this spring examining education reform efforts in the region, possibly coupled with a public forum.

 • Commuter rail: This is a holdover from Agenda 2010 for one reason and one reason alone: We are convinced that the establishment of commuter rail service between Concord and Boston would be good for the economy, jobs, the environment and our quality of life.

In October, the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which was established by the Legislature in 2007 to oversee the project, secured $2.2 million in federal stimulus funding. That money will be combined with $1.9 million from the Federal Transit Administration for planning and environmental work.

We are scheduled to meet with Peter Burling, chairman of the authority, soon and will be checking the progress of an ill-advised bill that would repeal the authority altogether.

 • The graying of New Hampshire: There is no question our state is getting older demographically, which is having a major impact on jobs, the economy, housing, health care and other issues.

In 1990, the state ranked 31st with a median age of 32.7; as of two years ago, that figure had risen to 39.8, the fifth-highest in the nation – in part because young people can’t afford to live here because of housing prices.

The release of new 2010 census data will give us an opportunity to explore the aging trend in greater detail.

 • Open government: Another holdover from Agenda 2010, we once again will monitor efforts to make government information more accessible to the public. That will include tracking potential legislative changes to the state Right-to-Know Law and participation in Sunshine Week (March 13-19), which may include a Telegraph-sponsored citizens workshop on the state and federal open government laws.

 • Civility in politics: We’re not sure when civility became confused with censorship, but we do know this: The tone of midterm election campaigns was a national embarrassment.

With a new Congress and state Legislature in place – and the New Hampshire presidential primary campaign right around the corner – we’ll be watching closely.