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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: They won the election, now for the hard part
The new House and Senate have yet to be sworn in, but lawmakers attending the Governor's Budget Hearings this week will get an idea of some of the most difficult decisions they will have to make during the next session.
The hearings kick off Monday with outgoing Gov. John Lynch likely telling budget writers they will need to keep a tight grip on the state's fiscal reins. He will be followed by Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan, who will have to make the difficult decisions on what to present to lawmakers in February as her budget for the next two fiscal years.
At the hearings, which will continue on Tuesday and Friday, agency heads will state how much money they will need to provide the same services they offer now - nothing more, nothing less. Because of anticipated inflation and population growth, the officials will almost certainly request more money than they received in the current fiscal 2013 budget.
The exercise is called developing the maintenance budget. You can argue with the word "maintenance,'' however, when the increase for maintaining current services is in double digits, as it is this year.
The agency directors will, with heads bowed, say they could live with the bare-bones increases, then explain why they really couldn't. That is when budget writers will hear the wish lists describing what departments could do if they had a little bit - or a lot - more money.
Some of the things can you count on being said this week:
University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustee Chairman Richard Galway will ask budget writers to restore the $100 million cut from the system's budget during the last cycle. He will promise a tuition freeze if the money is restored, but the problem for lawmakers will be finding the additional money without raising taxes or creating new ones, something Democrats may be reluctant to do this time.
A request will likely be made to restore the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program. Funding for all but the most severe cases was eliminated in the last budget.
More money will be requested for the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for settlements with the federal Center for Medicaid Services dating back to 2004 for the misuse of federal funds and for a court order concerning nursing home reimbursement rates.
The Department of Corrections is likely to ask for more personnel so the agency can reduce overtime costs resulting from staffing cuts prompted by lawmakers.
The list goes on.
The University System will make its presentation at 1:45 p.m. Monday; Health and Human Services will appear at 3 p.m. Tuesday; and the Department of Corrections will be heard at 2 p.m. the same day.
For the first time, department heads this year will have to develop budgets with 10 percent less money than they received in the last two-year cycle.
The current Legislature approved the 10-percent reduction requirement last session. Although it was a good idea, what departments have done in the past when asked to make significant budget reductions is put up their most critical and popular programs for the ax knowing full well the programs will not cut.
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RECOUNTS DONE: The Secretary of State's Office wrapped up 23 recounts just before Thanksgiving.
House races accounted for 20 of the recounts, the Senate two and Cheshire County Sheriff the other.
In all but two of the races, there were no changes, although the Senate District 16 recount was called off by Democrat Kathleen Kelley after half the ballots had been counted and her prospects dimming.
Only one of the two House contests that changed winners affected the partisan makeup of the House, the Rockingham District 17 race. Republican incumbent Adam Schroadter of Newmarket picked up 24 votes to overtake Democrat William Hudson Connery III of Newmarket to claim the third and final seat in the district.
After the recount, Schroadter had 2,470 votes to Connery's 2,455. Before the recount, eight votes separated the two candidates, with Connery the winner.
The other change in winners was an intraparty contest between Lyle Bulis and Ralph Doolan Jr., both of Littleton. Only two votes separated Bulis, the apparent winner, from Doolan on election night for the second spot in the two-seat district.
After the recount, Doolan was the winner by four votes for a six-vote switch to represent the towns of Bethlehem and Littleton.
In the recount, Bulis received 1,658 votes, Doolan 1,662.
As of Wednesday, the last day the State House was open last week, no one had appealed the recount results to the Ballot Law Commission, said Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan. So with the two changes, the partisan makeup of the House is 221 Democrats and 179 Republicans.
The State Senate has 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
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PROTECTING THE INVESTMENT: The Executive Council held a special meeting on Wednesday morning. Although the discussion was conducted by phone, you might ask what crisis would cause the council to meet the day before Thanksgiving.
At the last council meeting, Nov. 14, Councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, refused to approve a $223,225 contract with Greene & Russell Inc. of Concord and instead tabled the request. The contract was for work to protect the foundation on the National Guard's new Pembroke training site and the materials stored there.
Last summer, with little but the foundation work done, state Administrative Services officials pulled the plug on a $26.6 million contract with TLT Construction Corp. of Wakefield, Mass., to construct the site. The department issued the stop-work and default-of-contract order, claiming the company falsely certified it had paid a concrete subcontractor.
Officials also said a significant portion of the concrete foundation poured to date failed stress testing.
Councilors had expressed concerns about the company before awarding the contract last year because of work it had done at the Nashua Community College. But the National Guard was facing a deadline to accept the money or lose it, and the council reluctantly went along.
Since work was stopped at the site, in May, Administrative Services and the attorney general have tried to determine how best to go forward with the project. However, the site sat there and sat there, and now winter is coming on.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, Wheeler said he wanted to wait until the next council meeting, Dec. 5, and wanted to inspect the site.
State Plant and Property Director Michael Connor told the council the work would protect the state's investment on the site, which he put at $3.5 million.
Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon told the council she had "very significant concerns because of the weather. That's why we brought this as a late item."
Sununu and Wheeler visited the site early last week, then asked Lynch to set up the special meeting Wednesday to approve the contract, which the council did.
However, just how the new facility will be built - given the legal issues - is still far from decided.
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Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
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