Nashua Telegraph: NH budget compromise didn’t mean negotiating was over
By Kevin Landrigan
It sure liked there was a bipartisan deal in the works at the Statehouse not only on the state budget compromise, but also on other ancillary issues.
By any objective measure, Senate Republicans got more out of the two-year spending plan than House Democrats did, and this came as no surprise.
After all, the Senate budget didn’t cut spending to higher education or to human services, which left House negotiators little to argue about.
Meanwhile, the Senate had all the cards and pulled a straight flush – no tax increases, no inflated estimates for revenue and no expansion of Medicaid in the budget, but instead pushed off to the fall.
So what does House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, and her Democratic leadership team get in return?
It sure looks like the Senate caved on some issues of lesser importance to them that the House Democrats wanted. All three of them were negotiated the morning after the budget compromise had been reached. Coincidence? Forget about it.
Voter ID: Senate Republicans and House Democrats had been at an impasse on this one, but a compromise was revived in the final days just as the budget was starting to come together.
Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, had negotiated the final agreement, but ultimately opposed it along with nine other Senate Republicans.
The bill passed, however, because Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, went along with it, as did Lempster Republican Sen. Robert Odell and Hampton GOP Sen. Nancy Stiles.
Childhood immunizations: There was little Senate GOP opposition to this one, but they had wanted to attach a change in the voter registration form that a Superior Court judge had already set aside as confusing, if not discriminatory against new voters.
Affordable Care Act changes: For months, Senate Republicans fought against making any accommodation to their small group and individual insurance market rules to comply with Obamacare.
Ultimately, they went along with a much smaller change, which essentially retains the state’s form of insurance underwriting.
This is often what happens at the close of the session as bills unrelated to the budget but still desired by legislative leaders get pulled into the mix.
They didn’t get as much attention as proposed tax hikes, but GOP conservatives are hailing new business tax credits that take effect Monday.
Gov. Maggie Hassan and House Democrats had wanted to put off those credits for two years, saving $13 million.
But Senate budget boss Chuck Morse held firm, and the House gave this one away as one of its final concessions.
Americans for Prosperity director Greg Moore said it’s one significant piece of good news for business owners who continue to recover from the recession.
“The business tax relief that our employers, and particularly small businesses, will get from these savings will help grow our economy and create jobs,” Moore said.
“The expansion and indexing for inflation of the business enterprise tax exemption means that fully one-third of New Hampshire businesses won’t need to file a tax return, saving administrative costs for both business owners and the state.
“The expanded loss carry forward and BET tax credits to the business profits tax will help our employers move out of recession faster in the future so that we don’t lag other states in recovery, as we have seen recently.”
It’s worth noting New Hampshire’s business tax structure continues to lag behind as one of the worst in the country. The National Tax Foundation ranks New Hampshire’s effective tax rate on business as the third worst.
New higher education Chancellor Todd Leach may have the Legislature and Hassan to thank for getting a vote of confidence from the University System board of trustees on Friday.
Leach took over on an interim basis for retiring Chancellor Ed MacKay last winter and managed to navigate the system through some pretty troubled waters in the battle over the state budget.
Higher education advocates didn’t get everything they wanted, but the $153 million in state aid over the next two years was a big victory, along with $8 million for maintenance projects contained in the two-year public works budget.
Leach was a strong advocate for the system, but didn’t grandstand or try to ask for more than what lawmakers were willing to give him.
All of this likely convinced the trustees that the right person to lead them was in their own backyard.
Mayors group off target
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., should be sending New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg a thank-you card.
Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns really stepped in it over the last few weeks with rallies that featured organizers reading the names of a Boston bomber and other notorious killers as victims of gun violence.
By week’s end, the state’s law enforcement leaders had abandoned the group with an angry letter to Bloomberg from Chief Michael Sielicki, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, and Scott Hilliard, president of the New Hampshire Sheriff’s Association.
“It is deeply shameful that your organization listed these criminals as having been ‘murdered’ and used them as examples of gun violence,” they wrote. “Law enforcement here in New Hampshire and across the country put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. We are deeply offended that your group suggested that a terrorist and these criminals, who tried to injure or kill our brother officers, are victims.”
Bloomberg’s group spent more than $1 million on attack ads against Ayotte trying to convince her to change her mind and support expanded background checks for gun purchasers.
Bills face tough road
The score sheet is in for the 2013 session, and once again it became much easier to kill a bill than to pass it.
It’s looking as if the session will create about 200 laws, although final numbers haven’t been put out.
The House and Senate killed 297 bills this year. Both branches haven’t finished work on another 167 measures.
The House retained 137 bills in committees, while the Senate voted to refer 30 of its own.
Among the topics still up for study are Bragdon’s bids to close an exit-ramp tollbooth in Merrimack, to create a recovery fund for the victims of the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal, to amend state election laws for more disclosure of independent spending by special interest groups and to better define push polling.
Ready, set, go
This week, we’ll get to find out who’ll sit on the commission that will study Medicaid expansion.
The Democrats have the upper hand on the membership with five picks to the group, while Republicans get four.
Under the new budget, the commission must hold its first meeting by July 8, so they’ll be getting down to work soon.
Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, is a likely choice, since she chairs the Senate Health and Education Committee. Stiles has said the commission should hold long days of meetings to give them enough time to examine all of the issues.
Tracking the bucks
Fiscal conservatives have been jumping on the Local Government Center now that it has been ordered by state regulators to return $53.3 million in surpluses to member cities and towns.
Americans For Prosperity New Hampshire did an email alert at week’s end to its members to get the word out.
“If you live in one of the over-paying communities, you need to be vigilant and ensure that these funds are returned to you and not used by local officials to grow government,” the email said.
“It will be all too easy for politicians to view this windfall as ‘found money’ and use your taxpayer dollars to expand the size of local government. Don’t forget – this is your money and you deserve to have it returned to you!”