AFTER A WEEK of partisan backbiting are we really at the point of settling this ongoing state budget impasse?
There’s been some movement for sure, but it’s hard to be sure all the differences can get resolved in a matter of a few days.
We reported more than a month ago that part of any global deal was going to have to keep the business tax cuts in place but with a trigger that removes one tax cut if state taxes crater.
The parties have also tentatively endorsed an outline for how much education aid to give school districts. As Gov. Chris Sununu wanted, it will include a chunk of some one-time and non-permanent aid.
There are still many natty details to work out including how much to lower that tax trigger so there’s a real shot state revenues will hit the target and the tax cut will stay in place.
Medicaid provider language remains another talking point.
Sununu still wants to give more than the flat, 3.1% hike to some and less to others while Democratic budget writers prefer they all get the same.
The two-term governor must also agree to include earmark cash in the plan for a still-to-be-negotiated state employee contract.
The State Employees’ Association of NH put up a 4-by-8-foot sign on the lawn in front of its Concord headquarters that reads, “Fair Contract. Now, Gov. Sununu.”
City and town property tax rates must be set next month and that’s clearly working as leverage to push all sides to the table to hammer this thing out.
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff set a session for Wednesday starting at 1 p.m. to give those negotiators a few more hours of space to talk.
There’s no white smoke, but some cause for optimism.
County attorney fight
It’s clear some in the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives are ready in the 2020 session to enter this brewing controversy over Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s moves to oversee Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Conlon’s office.
Two proposed bills are being drafted.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Marge Smith, D-Durham, has crafted a committee to study the AG’s authority over “certain county and municipal officials.”
State Rep. Andrew Bouldin, D-Manchester, has gone further with a proposal to strip the AG of his authority to remove or take over any county office.
The plot thickens.
Flanagan takes on press
State Rep. and former Republican congressional candidate Jack Flanagan of Brookline has gotten the attention of New Hampshire journalists with his own white-hot potato of a bill concept next year.
It’s titled, “Liability of NH news media for failure to update stories on criminal proceedings.”
Flanagan said several constituents have complained to him that “mainly newspapers” report on someone’s arrest but often don’t update it when that person is acquitted or the charges are dropped.
“The media should want this bill. It states if you remove the article of the arrest online or update it with the acquittal information then you face no liability for libel or defamation,” Flanagan said.
This legislator may need a refresher course on what is and what isn’t libel. It surely is not reporting the accurate police log of someone’s arrest.
Burned by Sierra Club
Some supporters of the wood-burning power plants are very upset at the New Hampshire Sierra Club.
The supporters failed by less than a half dozen votes to override Sununu’s veto of increased subsidies to the six small producers.
A day later the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled a 2018 law granting those subsidies was unconstitutional.
The Sierra Club signed onto a letter backing the veto that said the projects are “polluting, costly to operate, and should not receive preferential treatment with seemingly endless subsidies from ratepayers.”
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said Sierra Club leaders told him they would back off and take no position after sponsors agreed to remove from the bill the plant owned by waste giant Wheelabrator Technologies.
“Maybe it would have lost anyways, but this leaves a bad taste in our mouth,” Bradley said. “This is how you lose total credibility in this place.”
Sierra Club director Catherine Corkery said her group locally and nationally have consistently opposed the “biomass bailout.”
“We appreciate the work senators had done, but we’ve’ always had the same position and look forward to working with senators on clean energy legislation next year,” Corkery said.
House Dems plus ‘libertarian leaners’ equals veto override
An analysis of Sununu’s two veto defeats (among 53 bills that went up for a vote) show Democrats won only when a small band of libertarian-minded Republicans joined with them in the House.
Repealing the state’s death penalty (HB 455) had only 25 House GOP members voting to override.
Ending a three-month waiting period to get medical marijuana (SB 88) had 26 House GOP defectors.
There are 16 in this block who voted for both overrides that succeeded, including Seabrook Libertarian Rep. Max Abramson, Manchester GOP Rep. Mark Warden and Belmont Rep. Michael Sylvia.
NH House clerk now national boss
Congratulations to NH House Clerk Paul Smith who heads out to Seattle, Wash. this week to become president of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.
Two weeks ago, Smith hosted the first-ever meeting of this group in New Hampshire that included their counterparts from the Canadian provinces.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner spoke to them about the first-in-the-nation primary.
“We always settle the competition with a friendly game of volleyball and this time at the Concord Y, the U.S. side won for the first time in nine years,” said Smith, who refereed the match.
“I called it straight down the middle, fair as could be and we still won.”
Field to replace Feltes will only grow
Former Congressman Paul Hodes may want to slow his roll about claiming the coveted nomination to replace Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord.
Hodes breathlessly leaked to the local newspaper this week that he was “seriously exploring” a bid.
Get in line, Paul for one of the two most-Democratic Senate seats in the state.
State Reps. Kathi Rogers of Concord and David Luneau of Hopkinton are already in the mix and there will be others.
“There is already a mini-stampede for that seat,” said Rogers, a former Merrimack County attorney who said she knew of at least a half dozen Democrats who could also enter the primary. “I’ve got to decide if I want to leave the House because I really love it.”