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Kevin Landrigan's Granite Status: Double-dippers: Done deal or room for horse trading?

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 21. 2018 8:45PM

The New Hampshire Legislature is very close to approving another crackdown on so-called double-dippers, those who retire from state or local government jobs only to re-emerge on public payrolls on a part-time basis.

And if they do, it will fall to Gov. Chris Sununu to decide whether he’d rather please the municipal lobby that opposes this reform or certain fiscal hawks in both the House and Senate that badly want it.

Currently, those collecting a local or state pension can come back and work for government as long as they don’t exceed 32 hours per week.

A unique amount of bipartisan support occurred in the state Senate, endorsing a cut in that work limit to 25 hours weekly.

Public employers could get permission for these workers to make up to 32 hours a week, but the kicker is those employees (3 percent) and the government employer (5 percent) would pay a surcharge to the New Hampshire Retirement System.

“These folks are not paying into the system. In 14 states, they do not allow them to go back to work; once you are retired there, that’s it,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

“We realize this is a critical need for the state of New Hampshire, but is it wrong to put rails around it?”

Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said it’s unfair to single out these employers since cities and towns face chronic labor shortages and special difficulty filling vacant law enforcement positions.

“We are penalizing our cities and towns by taxing retirees because they want or they need to work more than 25 hours,” said Daniels, a longtime Milford selectman. “This suppresses local control without regards to the financial needs of the community.”

Daniels’ panel recommended killing this House-passed bill (HB 561) but this failed in the Senate, 13-11.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead and Carson joined all Democrats in support of the measure.

This heads back to the House to decide whether it will agree with an amendment to delay this new surcharge to Jan. 1, 2019.

House GOP leaders could agree to this change quickly and have the issue go to Sununu, who has yet to weigh in on whether he supports the policy.

They could decide not to agree so that this issue becomes part of the inevitable horse trading that will go on at the close of the 2018 legislative session.

Double-dipper reform is an important cause for House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare.

Even Senate GOP leaders who don’t like this change know full well that giving Kurk a “bone” like this one could be important for them as they seek the House budget writer to embrace some of their pet projects, including Medicaid expansion.

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State Republican leaders are feeling better about their prospects of breaking through with a special election victory next Tuesday.

Since Trump’s election in 2016, Democrats have won eight of 10 legislative seats — one in the Senate and seven of nine in the House.

The voters in all Laconia wards will choose between Republican Les Cartier and Democrat Phil Spagnuolo.

The winner will replace the late Republican Rep. Donald Flanders.

Cartier is a retired hazardous materials coordinator with the state Fire Marshal’s office.

Spagnuolo is a licensed recovery coach who told the local media that Medicaid expansion helped him become “substance free.”

According to the latest voter registration numbers, Laconia has 3,908 Republicans, 2,767 Democrats and 4,206 undeclared voters

But last September, Democrat Charlie St. Clair beat Republican Steve Whalley, 1,052-786 in Laconia on the way to winning a seat representing that city and Belmont.

Cartier has spent $1,237 of his own money on mailings and other expenses.

Spagnuolo raised $1,190 from others, including $300 from the Granite State Teamsters and $400 from former state Sen. Andrew Hosmer of Laconia.

The liberal Let America Vote Victory Fund has spent nearly $2,000 on behalf of Spagnuolo for online ads and mailings.

In recent days, Gov. Sununu and GOP congressional candidate Eddie Edwards of Dover have sponsored meet-and-greets with Cartier and the state GOP has also put up web videos promoting him.

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Steven Negron of Nashua, Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat, will host a grand opening of his headquarters March 2.

The 7 p.m. event is at 71 Spit Brook Road in Nashua.

Negron showed off his organizational muscle by winning the Hopkinton GOP straw poll with 49 percent of a light turnout vote to 27 percent for Dr. Stewart Levenson of Hopkinton and 22 percent for Lynn Blackenbeker of Concord.

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The Status has learned that like President Trump, GOP congressional candidate Levenson wants to fix a “broken” criminal background check system

“Dr. Levenson is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and believes that our current background check system is broken,” said Tom DeRosa, Levenson’s campaign consultant.

“Rather than new laws, we need to fix our broken system and Dr. Levenson is the only candidate who has a proven record of delivering results where others make empty promises.”

This view is likely to contrast Levenson with GOP primary rivals Negron and Blackenbeker, who to this point have opposed any changes in federal gun laws or regulations.

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The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy has made its interim president permanent.

Drew Cline of Bedford, chairman of the state Board of Education, took over on a temporary basis last July to replace Charles Arlinghaus after he joined Sununu’s staff and later became commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services.

The board of directors voted recently to make Cline’s naming official.

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Supporters of Medicaid expansion tried this week to force Americans for Prosperity to release the names of state lawmakers who signed their pledge to oppose it.

Good luck with that.

The state AFP in every election from 2010 to present sent all candidates for state office a five-part pledge that included opposing Obamacare and Medicaid expansion.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, state Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, asked Senate GOP leader Bradley and then AFP State Director Greg Moore to reveal how many legislators signed that pledge.

“And in the interest of transparency, we urge Americans for Prosperity to release the names of those legislators that have signed the pledge. Granite Staters deserve to know whether or not their elected officials have pledged to end Medicaid expansion in New Hampshire,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield.

Bradley and Moore said they didn’t know the answer and Moore referred questions to Tom Thomson, state board chairman, who was the driving force behind the AFP pledge as it exists today.

The group has never revealed its list of pledge signers, Thomson said.

Those who sign one are free to promote it publicly at any point, he said.

“Many have signed it but I’m not going to expose who has and who hasn’t,” Thomson said. “Everyone gets an opportunity to sign it. If they choose to do that, it’s their prerogative.”

One thing is known. Bradley and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, have their work cut out for them to change the minds of incumbent GOP senators.

The two of them and state Rep. James Gray, R-Rochester, as a member of the House in 2016, are the only GOP senators who in the past supported Medicaid expansion.

“We’ve got to have a safety net but I’ve said it before and still believe it to be true that unless we repeal this down the road, it’s going to take a state income or sales tax to support it,” Thomson added.

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Commuter rail supporters must think the honeymoon in the Republican-led Legislature and Sununu administration was nice while it lasted.

On Wednesday, the House Public Works and Highways Committee voted along party lines to strike a $4 million grant for commuter rail from the proposed 10-year highway program.

Gov. Sununu requested the grant since it was a critical part of the state’s application to try to lure Amazon to locate its second national headquarters here.

After the state was bounced from that competition, leading GOP legislators said Sununu told them he “wouldn’t lose sleep” if the House took it out.

Sununu’s about-face played a role but also important was the past opposition to commuter rail from House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett.

As the former longtime chairman of this House committee, Chandler was one of those most responsible in the Legislature for opposing any investment in commuter rail.

Chandler publicly has said committee members were in charge of deciding what was in or out of the 10-year bill.

But the Speaker did make an impromptu visit to the committee just before the panel took two hours of positive testimony on commuter rail being part of the package.

Now the committee has spoken, it’s going to be an uphill battle for supporters to get back in the bill.

One thing is for certain; supporters won’t be giving up and they’ve put together a broad cross-section of businesses that are on board with this request.

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In an election-year session when the two political parties come together on anything to do with campaign finance laws, it’s an unusual event.

Last Thursday both sides in the Senate had a moment of consensus, embracing legislation to outlaw contributions from foreign nationals.

Woodburn said while some contend it’s not necessary, the legislation would send a “clear message” that foreign money isn’t welcome.

Sen. Birdsell, chairman of the Senate’s election laws panel, said there’s already a federal law that makes these donations illegal in all American campaigns, including state races.

“It’s not necessary but there is no harm in adopting it on our own,” Birdsell said.

The Senate passed the Democratically-authored bill (SB 363) on a voice vote and its heads to the House for its review.

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