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Dan Tuohy's Granite Status: Governor's budget proposal should keep legislators busy

February 02. 2017 12:59AM

The governor proposes, the Legislature disposes.

There are 11 billion reasons why the executive and legislative branches may not see eye-to-eye on the budget address that Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, delivers a week from today. We know this much: there will not be even a whiff of a new broad-based tax in it.

Sununu took “The Pledge” to veto a state income tax or sales tax. On the campaign trail, he cited job creation, reducing onerous regulations, addressing drug abuse, and infrastructure improvements among his priorities. He called for a reorganization of the Office of New Hampshire Economic Development, support for continuing a “gradual decrease of the BET & BPT,” and pushing for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, with alternatives to include insurance across state lines and increasing market competition.

Look for Sununu to talk more about a potential “New Hampshire solution.”

But state Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, maintains the Granite State already has a state-based solution in the “New Hampshire Health Protection Program,” aka Medicaid expansion, which was passed with bipartisan support.

Rosenwald, a former chairman of the state Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, argues repeal of Obamacare and Medicaid expansion “would be nothing short of devastating for New Hampshire, especially to those who are suffering from the opioid crisis.”

As the House Deputy Democratic leader, Rosenwald will focus on Sununu’s response to U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who in December reached out to governors and state officials to share concerns and goals for achieving lower costs, improving quality, and empowering states and individuals. Rosenwald scoffs at Sununu’s letter, which she says did not even mention the opioid crisis. In his letter, Sununu said the “brevity is intentional.” He says there are two guiding principles that should be considered at every step:

• “We urge Congress to untie the hands of the States, Let us have the flexibility to design a New Hampshire system for New Hampshire Citizens.”

• “We urge the creation of narrowly focused market-based solutions, rather than onerous regulations. Let us regulate our own marketplace and then hold ourselves accountable.”

Sununu’s budget recommendations, which will be a two-year plan to the tune of about $11 billion, will keep legislators busy for the next five months. The next fiscal year begins July 1. How much will he try to set aside for the fight against the opioid crisis?

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THE SHERPA REPORT: Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, was quickly introduced as the “sherpa” who would guide Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia, who died a year ago this month. Ayotte got right down to work, escorting Gorsuch for a sit-down meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, and senators. McConnell has publicly promised that Gorsuch, a judge in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, will be confirmed. Ayotte, who is a fellow this year at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, congratulated President Donald Trump for the pick. “I am honored to work with Judge Gorsuch during the confirmation process,” she said. It was quite a turn of events for Ayotte, who clashed with and broke with Trump a month before the election. After Trump won, he was asked about the prospects of Ayotte in his administration. “No, no thank you,” he told the New York Times. Still, this was a wise choice for Trump. Ayotte is a former attorney general. She’s got cachet in the club, as she networks with her former colleagues. One of her old friends, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wasn’t slow-playing this one. He declared, “This is a home run pick by President Trump.” New Hampshire Democrats were in the chortling mood. “I absolutely support and endorse Kelly Ayotte getting to fulfill her wish of working for her role model Donald Trump,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

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A BILL to appropriate $500,000 to the state Attorney General’s Office to enforce election and lobbying laws was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, but a public hearing on it has yet to be scheduled. This is Senate Bill 197, and one of the sponsors is Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield. “Put your money where your mouth is,” he said, a dig at GOP legislators who say the state has a problem with voter fraud.

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ADVICE AND DISSENT: New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both Democrats, promised additional opposition to President Donald Trump’s nominations. Both will oppose Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education — Hassan voted in committee against the Michigan Republican. Both say they will oppose U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when his nomination to be attorney general comes to the Senate floor. Hassan announced Wednesday that she will oppose U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Hassan cited reports of potential conflicts of interest and Price showing, in her words, “his unwillingness to commit to protecting key Affordable Care Act provisions including Medicaid expansion.” Shaheen and Hassan voted against Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be the next Secretary of State.

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THERE IS more chatter about prospective GOP hopefuls to challenge the incumbent Democrats in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts. At one point before the Republican State Committee’s annual meeting commence last weekend, state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, former state Health and Human Services chief John Stephen, and former police chief and state senate hopeful Eddie Edwards were seen making the rounds. They reside in the 1st District. Stephen, who ran for Congress in 2008, currently runs a prominent business and government consulting group. Rich Ashooh, who ran unsuccessfully for the past nomination in 2016, said another run is off his radar, but he’s keen on public service, including supporting the new governor. A seasoned political observer tells Granite Status that the would-be bench in the 2nd District includes 2016 nominee Jim Lawrence, Jack Flanagan and Chuck Morse, the Senate President, who seems to be mentioned as a prospect for higher office every other term.

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• The New Hampshire Liberty Forum opens today and goes through Saturday at the Radisson in Manchester. The conference features a number of speakers on a range of subjects, from President Trump’s impact on liberty, to updates on the Free State Project. Darryl W. Perry, chairman of the Libertarian Party of NH will speak about 2018. One session on Friday that caught our eye: Carla Gericke, president of the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence, will talk about a vision for an independent state that separates itself from the federal government.

• Former New Hampshire House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, is a candidate to be the next chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party — and will seek the job if Ray Buckley wins the DNC chairmanship. Norelli is a guest this Sunday at RiverRun Bookstore’s new weekly discussion group, “Sunday Morning Civics.” Norelli will speak about how best to communicate with state officials, and answer any questions in the session, which starts at 9 a.m., at the Portsmouth store on Fleet Street. It’s billed as a nonpartisan series.

• On a partisan note — Norelli took to Twitter to complain that Ayotte, who’s guiding the Supreme Court nominee around the Senate, declined to support a hearing for Merrick B. Garland for 293 days, but “now wants to shove Gorsuch through.”

• The DNC meets the last week of February for its officer elections. Buckley tells Granite Status that it does not appear that any of the candidates at this point will get it on the first ballot. He sounded an upbeat note. Earlier this week he posted online that he has proven to be a neutral party chairman, notably with support for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary ballot.

• RightVoter has hired nationally known political operative Alexandra Russo. She will be director of operations for the firm, which specializes in campaign services for candidates and political organizations. It has a presence in four states, with a headquarters in Manchester. Russo, a former operations director for the Tea Party Express, has in the past worked for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s PAC, for the Kentucky Republican’s presidential campaign, and for Paul’s re-election campaign.

• Quote of the week: “There’s not the collegiality of what we’ve seen in the past. I hope it’s not a reflection of what’s going on in Washington.” — NH House minority leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, on the first month of the legislative session.

Dan Tuohy covers politics and government for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Email news and information to

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