Gary Rayno's State House Dome: House and Senate battling to bitter end
On Wednesday, things exploded as the Senate failed to pass four abortion-related bills House members wanted and effectively killed a bill that would allow communities accepting refugees — such as Manchester — to institute up to a one-year moratorium on resettlements.
It was bad enough senators tabled the right-to-work bill earlier this month with the intention of leaving it there to die, sent bills expanding gun rights to interim study and added their versions of school-building aid and school scholarship bills onto House bills.
The House has done its fair share of the same thing, sending to interim study one of the major business-law rewrites the Senate did and considerably changing the other.
So Wednesday afternoon, after the Senate had gone home for the day, the House attached several right-to-work-related bills to a Senate bill sponsored by Senate President Peter Bragdon and added the refugee resettlement bill to a bill dealing with business-tax deductions.
Similar action was taken attaching a bill that would require a woman seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours before the procedure could be performed — which the Senate had just killed — to a bill that would double the research-and-development tax credit, wanted by lawmakers and Gov. John Lynch.
And for good measure, the House tabled six Senate bills it was about to pass, singled out mostly for the sponsors, along with one needed by the Department of Corrections to save the money lawmakers directed it to save last year.
Bragdon was watching from the House Gallery and later issued a statement with Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, saying: ';At a time when we should be focused on helping New Hampshire employers and supporting hard-working families, the House's actions today will ensure the defeat of critical legislative initiatives. We are appalled the House has chosen to play political games with legislation widely recognized as being important to the state's economy and job creation.';
The senators were not the only ones checking in.
The Business and Industry Association issued a statement from President Jim Roche about Senate Bill 295, the research-and-development tax credit increase, saying: ';The action by the full House to add controversial, non-germane language that has already been turned down by the Senate puts a bill that is critical to New Hampshire's advanced manufacturing and high-technology companies in jeopardy. This sector, led by businesses of all sizes throughout the state, drives New Hampshire's economy and creates outstanding and high-paying jobs critical to New Hampshire's future prosperity.';
Roche urged House members to either find another bill to attach the abortion bill to or to strip it from the bill.
The New Hampshire High Technology Council also checked in, strongly opposing the House's action.
The council's president, Fred Kocher, said the bill, which would increase the cap on the credits from $1 million to $2 million, is important ';especially to the growth of small technology companies engaged in research and development of new products and processes and new jobs.
To date, applications for the credit have far outstripped its availability.';
The Senate does not want to go through the debate over the 24-hour waiting period again and would likely not agree to the amendment, killing the bill, but would find another bill the tax credits could be attached to.
House Chief of Staff Greg Moore said, ';Obviously, this is the time of year when the House and the Senate take their opportunities to make their case for their priorities.';
In the end, he said, the leadership of both bodies will get together and discuss what the priorities are and work on legislation that will help the state.
';This is not an atypical process,'; Moore said. ';It's like watching a football game and trying to predict the outcome in the third quarter. There's still another quarter to play.';
For a group of lawmakers who say their top priorities are jobs and the economy, the last thing they should want to do is step into a hornets nest of business organizations angry about what they've done.
In the end, the tax credits are likely to survive, but then again, with the ill will and ugliness rampant in the State House right now, you never know.
MOVING ON: The Senate Finance Committee last week took the teeth out of the House's attempt to do away with the University System of New Hampshire's Chancellor's Office.
Led by Rep. Robbie Parsons, R-Milton, and with the backing of the House leadership, House lawmakers approved a bill that would eliminate the office and move the duties and responsibilities to the system's board of trustees and the four presidents at the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, Keene State College and the Granite State College.
The office's elimination would have done away with about 70 employees and saved several million dollars, which the bill's sponsors wanted directed to tuition reduction.
However, on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee gutted House Bill 1692 and replaced it with a requirement that the trustees file an annual accountability and transparency report detailing actions taken to cut costs and improve education quality.
The Senate proposals also would require a November report on the trustees' work to make the four colleges more autonomous, including the possible fiscal effect of the board's efforts.
Several senators noted the Chancellor's Office may need to be more efficient, but it was too important to eliminate.
This is one more thing that is not going to sit well with House leadership. For its part, the USNH Board of Trustees approved a plan developed by its executive committee to restructure the university system and give greater autonomy to the four colleges and their presidents while more clearly indicating what is expected of the Chancellor's Office.
Under the plan approved earlier this month, the college presidents would have full authority to make all academic and student affairs decisions and far greater latitude in negotiating collective bargaining agreements, although the final product would still need board approval.
The presidents are now able to hire their college administrators without going to the board or the chancellor for final approval.
The board of trustees would still hire the college presidents and the chancellor under the memorandum.
But perhaps the most important change is the four college presidents now report directly and solely to the board of trustees, not the chancellor.
';The board's strongest commitment to our statutory responsibility is that the ';institutions are to be permitted to operate with the highest measure of autonomy and self-governance, subject to the supervision of the board of trustees,' and in that spirit have each of the presidents report directly and solely to the board,'; the agreement reads.
The board also expects to hire outside help to restructure the USNH. The issues to be reviewed include:
';What services each president and the chancellor feels would be financially advantageous to his/her institution if centralized or decentralized.
And ';What changes in board policies and/or procedures and statutory changes would enhance autonomy and implement the above restructuring.';
The House may have lost the battle, but it hasn't yet lost the war.
REVENUE SHORTFALL: Revenues for April are not looking too good as the month winds down.
The big drag on April, which is the second-biggest revenue month of the fiscal year, is the business-profits tax, which Friday was $14.4 million below expectations. That was somewhat offset by the business-enterprise tax, which was $6.3 million more than anticipated, but still leaves business taxes about $8 million below estimates.
Overall, with two business days to go, revenues were $12.4 million below projections for April.
However, the tobacco tax, which tanked the last couple of months after a brief rally at the end of the calendar year, is up for April, as is the interest-and-dividends tax, which has been abysmal.
The rooms-and-meals tax is up, but liquor revenues are down. Lottery sales driven by the record-setting MegaMillions jackpot were up more than a $1 million for the month.
Another longtime problem, the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, which hospitals pay, is down due to $2.6 million in rebates the Department of Revenue Administration had to issue.
The hospitals, with advice from federal officials, changed the method they use to calculate their liability.
The state made some changes and now expects the hospitals to ante up, but probably not before July, which is the first month of the next fiscal year.
With some of the other issues such as a $35 million settlement with the Center for Medicaid Services, a $13 million court agreement and other issues, budget writers do not want to see a hole blown in the revenues as the fiscal year nears its end.
HOT DOG DAY: Freshman Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, on Wednesday is hosting Rep. Burt's Hot Dog Day for lawmakers, the governor and State House staff.
He proposed such a day during some heated debate earlier this year on the House floor and went about trying to raise the money for it by soliciting donations from lobbyists and fellow representatives and seeking in-kind contributions.
But when he asked the Legislative Ethics Committee whether raising money for the day would be a problem, he was told it would be.
';While we commend efforts of legislators to promote fellowship and comity among their colleagues, we are concerned that direct solicitation and receipt by legislators of cash contributions for the proposed event, from any source, would violate the prohibitions set forth in RSA 15-B:3 and Ethics Guidelines. Section r, I(b),'; committee Chairman Martin Gross wrote.
He said similar activities have been allowed as long as there has been no direct solicitation or if the donations were directed to a charitable organization that sponsors the event.
So Burt's Hot Dog Day will be sponsored by New Hampshire Foundation for Companion Animal Care, and all money donations for the day will go to the organization.
Garry Rayno writes State House Dome every week for New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.