MANCHESTER — The New Hampshire Legislature’s legal challenge to Gov. Chris Sununu’s authority to spend federal money to battle COVID-19 without its approval went down to complete defeat in Hillsborough County Superior Court Tuesday.
In his ruling, Judge David Anderson cited legislation passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that gave the state’s chief executive broad powers to declare and respond to a state of emergency.
Unlike other civil emergency laws already on the books, Anderson said this post-9/11 law does not require the governor to get permission of the Legislative Fiscal Committee to spend money to address the emergency.
“Had the Legislature intended for the Fiscal Committee to have blanket oversight over expenditures above a certain amount in all circumstances, it could very well have done so at that time,” Anderson wrote.
The Fiscal Committee meets every month to approve the acceptance of federal grants and to make any adjustments to the two-year state budget adopted by the Legislature and governor.
Anderson’s 18-page ruling released Tuesday denied the legislative lawsuit on three counts. The judge rejected the other two claims last June.
In that June decision, Anderson also said the Democrat-led Legislature could have changed state laws to check the governor’s power as lawmakers in other states had done in 2020 amid the pandemic.
Gov. Chris Sununu said the lawsuit would have slowed the state’s response to the pandemic. He created more than 40 programs to spend much of a $1.2 billion block grant New Hampshire received under the CARES Act that Congress adopted last spring.
“Had the Democrats won this case six months ago, our COVID relief efforts would have stalled, negatively impacting every citizen of our state,” Sununu said in a statement. “I am thankful for the superior court’s ruling in this case, but it is unfortunate so many state resources were wasted defending this failed lawsuit by Democrat leadership.
“In this unprecedented public health emergency, it is paramount we get relief out to New Hampshire families fast, and I am proud that New Hampshire stands as our country’s gold standard for rapid relief.””
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” said state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, chair of the House Finance Committee, in a statement.
“Today’s ruling is a blow to our Constitution’s promise of balanced government, which guarantees that the Legislature, as the people’s representatives, transparently decides how taxpayer dollars are spent. It is unfortunate that Granite Staters will continue to have no voice or oversight over how state and federal coronavirus relief funds are allocated and spent,” they said.
“New Hampshire is stronger when we all work together; that’s why it is disappointing that Governor Sununu continues to cut the Legislature out of New Hampshire’s recovery efforts. Regardless, as legislative leaders, we will continue to do all we can to ensure the remaining funds provide effective and efficient relief for Granite Staters.”
No mention of appeal
Lawyers for the Legislature could appeal this outcome to the state Supreme Court, but there was no mention of that option in its response.
Last March, Sununu created a legislative advisory board to advise him about spending priorities. He said the fiscal committee process was too slow for the state to respond to the firstname.lastname@example.org