Dave Solomon's State House Dome: A tough week for SununuBy DAVE SOLOMON
April 28. 2018 6:30PM
New Hampshire governors have never had a smooth glide path through the state Legislature for some of their big policy initiatives, even when they've had majorities from their party in the House and Senate.
Gov. Chris Sununu is experiencing some of that legislative intransigence, which was much in evidence last week.
It might be an overstatement to call it "Gov. Sununu's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week," as the state Democratic Party did on Friday, but even from a more sympathetic perspective, things did not go as Sununu had hoped in some fairly big ways.
He made himself the face of Marsy's Law, the proposed constitutional amendment for victims' rights, but could not get more than 51 votes out of 335 cast, and most of them were Democrats. Only 11 Republicans voted in support of the bill. That's not just a defeat. That's a rebuke.
Someone in the governor's office grossly miscalculated the direction that bill would take in the House, because no politician wants to go that far out on a limb only to have it sawed off by his own party members.
Sununu could not have been more clear on his support for the death penalty and his promise to veto the bill to repeal it, yet the repeal measure passed the House and Senate. If opponents of the death penalty can sway a handful of lawmakers in both chambers, they could have the votes for an override, should it come to that.
Other Sununu favorites, like tax credits for first-time homebuyers and "recovery friendly" workplaces also failed.
"He seems incapable of effectively tracking the progress of legislation," says Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. "It's the worst kept secret in Concord that Sununu is completely out of the loop on legislation. He is unengaged, uninterested and unhelpful as his own party burns him at every turn."
Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt accused Democrats of cherry-picking a few issues for political grandstanding.
"This week, the governor saw several pieces of his legislative agenda pass with large bipartisan support, including in the areas of economic development, clean water, lowering electric rates, educational choice and critical reforms at the Division for Children, Youth and Families," said Vihstadt. "The Democrats are free to continue grandstanding and pushing toxic partisan talking points, but Governor Sununu remains focused on the issues that are important to making the lives of Granite Staters better."
The "educational choice" success that Vihstadt alludes to was the Senate vote along party lines to pass HB 1686. The House-passed bill would expand an education tax credit passed in 2012 for businesses that donate to a scholarship fund for students who want to attend private schools.
The bill expands the tax credit to individuals who claim interest and dividends taxes in New Hampshire, and allows them to deduct donations to the scholarship fund.
The real test for Sununu's school choice agenda will come later this week, when the House is scheduled to take up SB 193, the Senate-passed bill creating "freedom scholarships" for parents who want to send their children to private schools or home-school.
This is another initiative that Sununu has championed. He needs this win, but the outcome is uncertain.
The bill goes to the floor with a 14-12 vote from the Finance Committee in favor of further study. Getting the votes to overturn that recommendation and pass the bill is going to be an uphill battle, especially with Finance Committee Chair Neal Kurk, R-Weare, expected to argue for further study during the House debate.
Dome going dark
Work to "spruce up" the State House complex continues in preparation for a series of events to mark the bicentennial of the state capitol building, which opened in 1819.
Except for a single lantern, the State House dome will go completely dark for approximately a week beginning Monday, according to House chief of staff Terry Pfaff.
The lights will be turned off to set the stage for installation of a new lighting system for the dome sometime over the summer. The lighting project is the finishing touch on a $2.4 million dome restoration project that was completed on time and on budget.