Editorial: As always, the question is, What’s Next?

Editorial: As always, the question is, What’s Next?

Newspaper editors can’t predict the future any better than Tarot card readers. We shouldn’t try. Plus, although the editorial writer’s powers of moral and political suasion may be regarded as considerable by some cherished readers, most of these believers have forgotten the frequency with which they have carefully studied the writer’s calls to action and, with a cheery sort of heedlessness, done other than was proposed. Or taken no action at all. And maybe we were all better off as a result.

The editorialist’s ability to see trends in community behavior, to know the public mind, to unmask the scoundrelly public officials or exalt the diligent ones, may be regarded as uncanny, but it is all just luck, and paying attention. It’s a happy fact that sitting to one side closely observing the activities of one’s neighbors is the newspaper’s job.

Editorialists have constitutionally unlimited resilience. Helplessly, they will form and deliver opinions long after the merry, heedless forces of evolution have deleted the newspaper reading gene from humankind. One hopes, naturally, that that ghastly moment is yet a distant eventuality.

Anyhow, even today, as 2013 ends and innocent 2014 debuts, here are a few choice and oft-repeated views on topics of general and vital concern:

First, health care. What continues to be missing, and by its absence puts Island health care in doubt, is a community plan for the health services it needs, wants, and can afford. We mean a plan that is financially sound and one that is conceived in honest bargaining among providers, insurers, and the community, taking each and all into account. The Martha’s Vineyard Hosptial and Windemere, thanks to their affiliation with Partners, have become a stable, capable centerpiece of Island health care. The state’s expansion of insurance access has put health care within reach for almost the entire Massachusetts population, though rising costs for coverage and services, untamed, may yet compromise that valuable mechanism.

What remains unresolved is the question of how to organize and fund the range of non-medical services that an aging Island population requires. The struggle facing the Vineyard Nursing Agency brings the chaos of uncoordinated, inadequately supported providers into focus. The decades-old question remains. What shall we do about it? The familiar obstacles rooted in fragmentation and territoriality remain. But, these services we need must be economically integrated and supportable over the long term.

The Steamship Authority. The Vineyard’s transportation link to the mainland will enter 2014 with a big budget and little growth to support it. High costs, especially for labor and fuel, declining traffic volumes, private competitors who sip (and sometimes gulp) revenues that might otherwise help fund SSA service, plus changing travel patterns in the market and increasing demands by Islanders who have become wealthier and more itinerant: the list is long and unforgiving. Tough, sound choices will be needed. The go-to solution of rate hikes will not serve forever.

Housing. Despite the effects of the nation’s long recession, house prices here remain high, well out of the reach of ordinary Islanders. Affordable housing efforts continue heroically, but they have been battered, and in some cases dismembered, by poor management, duplication, and diminished philanthropy. Ordinary incomes will not support home ownership across the income spectrum, and rental opportunities are limited and expensive. Huge and varied efforts represent a heartening, community-wide commitment to address this problem before it wounds our community. Two impediments to reasonably priced housing persist, and housing efforts have failed to confront them. One is that town zoning is hostile to the sort of housing development that can have a substantial effect on affordable shelter’s availability. The other is that the ability of ordinary folk to find and finance ordinary housing depends on economic growth. This Island plans and regulates development but rarely with an eye to expanding economic opportunity. Must all ordinary-income Islanders from now on live in subsidized housing with limited opportunities for accumulating wealth? Will the economy be encouraged to expand to offer good jobs and growing wages to neighbors we need and want? Will all the new affordable housing created from here on be publicly funded?

Oh, and government. We waste so much time and so many resources. The school system needs streamlining, the county government needs a decent burial, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission needs to consider the Vineyard’s future in more comprehensive terms, paying particular attention to the economy as an engine of housing, jobs, wages, conservation, education, and general community good health. We need results-oriented leadership to get this work done.

It’s a familiar list. We’ve never gotten everything done that we meant to get to. Maybe we should simply acknowledge that 2013 has been a year, like so many others, of good and bad. We are scarred and uncertain, as truculent as ever, but we know that there is a very great likelihood 2014 will be better.

And we know there is always smiling promise and opportunity — especially in your neighborly, encouraging, indulgent, and enthusiastic company.

A happy and prosperous New Year to all.

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