Nashua Telegraph: NH casino vote rides on House money
By Kevin Landrigan
At long last, we have arrived.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will finally answer the question of whether this is the year for legalizing casino betting in New Hampshire.
The debate may not be over depending on the outcome, but take this to the bank: If the House passes some version of the Senate-passed casino bill (SB 152), Gov. Maggie Hassan will get the signing ceremony that she desperately wants.
We are by no means there yet, though.
Despite losing in the supercommittee by a razor-thin margin, 23-22, the pro-casino forces came out with some much needed momentum.
In every tough public policy campaign, you can do everything right but still need some breaks to win.
House Finance Committee Chairman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, handed the casino team one on Thursday.
Wallner, a longtime casino opponent, may have panicked when she recognized Stratham Democratic Rep. Patricia Lovejoy to recommend the supercommittee killing the bill that snuffed out debate or any vote on 17 amendments.
Did she believe going through that process would weaken her anti-casino camp?
One thing it did was fire up the other side, and it may have caused a least a couple on the supercommittee to go against her, making it that much closer.
Two weeks before the pivotal vote, I had a fix on 36 among the 45-person panel. My count was 23 against and 13 for.
Well, in the stretch run, the anti-casino forces stood still, while the pros picked up everyone else on the supercommittee.
Now, will that happen with all of the undecideds in the House? Of course not. I believe pro forces will pick up more in the final days than the other side, and they have to make this a fight to the finish.
Keep in mind the parliamentary difference here. The first vote is about whether to kill it, and a small number will oppose that to hear the debate and ultimately vote no.
I have the utmost respect for the prognostications of WMUR and Republican Rep. Steve Vaillancourt – a venerable nose counter – which both see the opponents holding the clear upper hand.
That isn’t the call from here; the opponents may have an edge, but it’s fragile.
The House has never approved a genuine expansion of legal gambling since the lottery, but this cause has something it has never had before: a motivated governor who has already used some of that precious political capital and made enough one-on-one appeals to get within striking distance.
There’s no argument the group of new House Democrats who aren’t giving away their intentions will decide this thing, and the undecided bloc is about 40.
House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, said he’s a veteran who is still on the fence. He will tell the caucus there is no leadership position and it’s a “vote of conscience.”
“I sense what has been speculated is dead-on that this is going to be a close vote,” Shurtleff said.
Bring it on.
Another key question about the casino fight is how it’s handled by the Senate leaders of the plan.
There has been plenty of private and public talk among supporters about whether Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, should endorse the 45-page amendment being carried by Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough.
The amendment makes scores of changes, but not to the structure of the investment – $425 million; tax rate – 30 percent for slots, 14 percent for table games; or the split – 45 percent from slots for higher education, 45 percent for Interstate 93 and infrastructure, 10 percent for North County economic development.
What if Hassan got behind it, as well, as the top Senate authors of the casino bill?
Would some rank-and-file House members resent being told by the upper chamber chieftains for which of the 11 amendments they had to vote?
Have you ever seen a cat try to step into another feline’s litter box? It isn’t a pretty picture, and many believe that’s how it might come across.
It’s a dicey call, and through the weekend, the strategic what-ifs are all being weighed.
When the smoke clears
The fight for legislation to legalize medical marijuana for seriously ill patients isn’t over.
Rep. Donna Schlachman, D-Exeter, has been clear that she will seek a committee of conference to try to salvage some of the provisions in the wildly popular House-passed bill.
But the fight in the Senate is over before it has begun.
On Thursday, the Senate will deliver what Hassan wants: a bill that legalizes its use, but only from state-licensed dispensaries and not from homegrown plants.
Then it will be horse-trading time.
One powerful member of the anti-casino camp won’t be there Wednesday.
Former House Majority Whip Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, will be in Las Vegas for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association conference.
For years, Eaton has been on the industry committee for the National Conference of State Legislatures, and he’s among a few from New Hampshire who can claim to have been in the home of and on the same panel stage with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
He’s leaving for the conference Monday and won’t return until Thursday morning.
Eaton offered a casino-friendly amendment that the New Hampshire Lottery Commission wanted in the bill, and then cast a decisive vote on the supercommittee in favor of recommending to kill it.
“If it’s a tie vote, I’m going to shoot myself,” Eaton joked.
Raising the bar
The Senate has a different take on whether to let bars stay open an extra hour.
A House-passed bill would extend closing time for all bars from 1 to 2 am unless a city or town panel opted out.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, has turned it inside out; now it wouldn’t take effect in any community unless the governing body votes it in.
Let’s consider these:
Concord? At best, maybe.
Rye? Forget about it.
Lincoln? Could be.
Waterville Valley? Yeah, right!
Milford: Why not?
Amherst: What, are you crazy?
We’ll see how it shakes out, but the Senate’s version certainly would be a more entertaining scenario.
The state’s hospitality industry tried to kill it quietly, but decided to go public and wage war against the new interpretation by state tax collectors that restaurant owners have to pay Business Enterprise Taxes on tips.
Sen. Robert Odell, R-Lempster, moved quickly on legislation to block this tax treatment, and all five members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee agreed with him.
Odell decided to fine-tune the plan to perhaps include a plain English purpose statement so there is no ambiguity, since this controversy arises from a 2008 state rule that was being enforced only recently.
This isn’t like the LLC tax in one respect. Watch Senate Democrats sprint to get out of the way of this effort to block the tax.
The House may be a different story. Ways and Means Chairman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, has told hospitality agents that she’s inclined to agree with the Department of Revenue’s take on this.
Taking the initiative
The changes to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to strengthen the emission restrictions in order to make the pollution credits more valuable stands a decent chance of clearing the Senate, but it’s no slam dunk.
Odell and Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, have signaled to Senate Democrats that they could go along with the bill as amended.
Bragdon has some war wounds on this one. The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, under different directors two years ago, hounded Bragdon for his opposition to repealing the RGGI.
In some respects, fans of the Senate boss feel the whole episode helped trigger a primary challenge for Bragdon in 2012, which caused the incumbent to lose Merrimack to the local town councilor who had run against him.
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, a potential U.S. Senate candidate, joined in the pig pile on U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in the wake of the Internal Revenue Service scandal over targeting the tax-exempt status of tea party, Patriot and 9/11 groups.
Brown’s comments on Fox News came after Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, had called Shaheen’s letter to the IRS “troublesome.” Shaheen and six other Democratic senators asked the IRS to look into so-called social welfare organizations.
“With a letter like that, they are actually saying, Do it or else,” said Brown, who mentioned Shaheen as one of the letter signers.
“No liberal groups were looked at or audited to their scrutiny. … There is a whole bully mentality.”
Shaheen’s letter came two years after the internal IRS process began. She has since called the IRS scandal unacceptable and demanded a full audit of the agency.
The letter Shaheen signed made no distinction of the ideological leanings of the organizations.
“Senator Shaheen believes the IRS should develop clear guidance and look at all groups – regardless of their partisan leanings – that might be exploiting the tax code for political purposes,” Shaheen spokesman Shripal Shah said.
Republican State Executive Director Matthew Slater wrote Shaheen on Friday, calling on her to denounce Organizing For America as a social welfare organization.
“You have responded to these concerns by claiming that you are troubled by the practice of both liberal and conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status,” Slater wrote. “However you have never spoken out against any liberal ‘social welfare’ group and reports indicate that you are actively working with OFA to bolster your reelection effort.”
New Hampshire Democratic Party communications director Harrell Kirstein said the OFA was a campaign organization in 2012, and it became a 501(c)(4) entity only since President Barack Obama took office for a second term.
“Stooping to echo Karl Rove’s dishonest attacks is pretty desperate even for the New Hampshire GOP,” Kirstein said. “This is merely the latest pathetic partisan attempt to distract voters from the never-ending series of scandalous and vile comments made by Republican elected officials.
“It is impossible to read any NHGOP press release about the IRS with a straight face when their current chair owes more than $92,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS.”
Calling out Kuster
Increasingly, the two most likely candidates for congressman from the 2nd District are competing for attention and the sharpest elbows fired at Democratic U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.
Former New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, went after Kuster for opposing the GOP House’s 37th attempt to repeal or put the body on record against Obamacare.
“Rep. Kuster had the opportunity to stand with the hardworking taxpayers of New Hampshire and her constituents in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District by repealing Obamacare,” O’Brien wrote in a statement.
“Instead, she chose to stand with Nancy Pelosi and against our citizens and even against members of her party who have said that the full implementation of Obamacare will be a ‘train wreck.’ ”
Then it was former Nashua GOP Sen. Gary Lambert’s turn, as he chided Kuster’s failure to criticize Obama.
“While a bipartisan effort is underway to root out the rot and scandal in the executive branch, Annie Kuster says we are playing more political games,” Lambert wrote. “Still nothing from her media center about the Benghazi, IRS and Justice Department criminal activity and cover-up. Oh, and here is the understatement of the day in her ‘press release’ below, just out: ‘The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law …” At least she got that right. Annie – we are still waiting for you to do your job and ask some serious questions.
“And, by the way, when are we going to see your tax returns?”
Kuster called the actions of the IRS “outrageous” last week.
Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, the loyal opposition is listening.
Since Sununu hasn’t hidden that he’s thinking about a run for governor or Congress, he’s getting even more scrutiny.
Democratic Party officials released a transcript of Sununu’s questions about a child welfare center training grant that appeared to show the District 3 incumbent was at best ill-informed.
When a state agency official pointed out that what Sununu was asking was in the material given to him, Sununu said, “I usually stop (reading) by Page 2.
“I know what you are thinking, why couldn’t he be here today, why couldn’t he take Sununu’s nonsense? Ok yeah that would be good. It’s fine I guess. What I am really getting to on this item is who goes to the trainings, and more in particular how many people are we really servicing, and therefore I can see that it is adding (thousands of dollars). But what I don’t see in here is really what the product is on the back end. Is it servicing, is it 100 people coming to these trainings, 200 private citizens coming, or are they employees or what is it for.”
No one can bring the A game to every council meeting, or more important, to every single item in a 250-piece council agenda.
Onward and upward
Talk about a rising bureaucratic star.
A few years ago, John Beardmore, of Hopkinton, was a rank-and-file analyst in the Legislative Budget Assistant’s office.
Some of them, by the way, are among the most analytically keen minds in the building.
But Beardmore seemed bred for bigger things.
First, it was budget director for then-Gov. John Lynch.
On his way out the door, Lynch had Beardmore placed as director of administration for the Department of Safety.
Last week, Hassan nominated Beardmore to take over the Department of Revenue, which has seen some rough days because of budget cuts.
Safety Commissioner John Barthlemes said he wasn’t surprised that Beardmore got plucked away from him.
“John is smart, he’s got great people skills and had this uncanny ability to get up to speed on some real complex issues at a very rapid rate for someone as young as he is in this business,” Barthlemes said.
“I always say that if you train good people, don’t be surprised if they get noticed and go on to greater heights. He’ll do a fabulous job at Revenue.”