GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU’S decision to permit only in-state college students to get the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t sitting well with the administrator of at least one college town.
Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said at the end of last week that he wished Sununu would reconsider his decision.
“Durham and the University of New Hampshire, in particular, have collaborated closely during the pandemic crisis, yet Durham currently has the third highest COVID-19 case count in NH (110 active cases behind Nashua and Manchester), and this is largely attributable to the student population here,” Selig said.
He said making many college students travel home by plane to get their shots will only increase their risk of spreading the virus.
“Unlike tourists or out of state second home owners, college students are part and parcel of our host communities. Many vote here as well as they have declared their domiciles as being in our NH towns,” Selig noted.
Sununu said his top priority has to be making sure “our full-time residents” get their shots first.
Gov: Budget ‘off rails’
After winning a third term by a 2-1 margin, Sununu probably thought his two-year state budget plan would sail through the House of Representatives, now controlled by Republicans principally because of his long election coattails.
That’s not happening.
House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and House Finance Chairman Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, have discovered in recent weeks that their spending plan is in danger of going down to defeat in the House if more changes aren’t made.
With a 212-186 GOP majority, Packard and Co. have virtually no margin for error.
A group of fiscal conservatives last month presented a list of “demands” to make the budget palatable.
• Robust tax cuts: They wanted Sununu’s proposals to eliminate the interest and dividends tax and cut the room and meals and business enterprise taxes to remain in the bill. Done!
• Curtailed emergency powers: They sought to reduce the future powers this or any other governor would have in dealing with future emergencies. Done!
• Reduced state spending: They wanted Sununu’s near-6% spending increase pared back. House budget writers have proposed a $50 million back-of-the-budget cut and done away with his proposed $30 million school infrastructure fund. Done!
• Planned Parenthood: Social conservatives in the GOP caucus wanted to force health care providers to physically separate abortion clinics from other health center services, such as cancer screenings. Done!
Sununu said he’s watching the process closely, but it’s no time to panic.
“I think the whole budget process in the House has gotten off track frankly. We have seen this kind of stuff before. It is the very beginning of the process,” Sununu said.
The governor said he is looking forward to Senate President Chuck Morse and Senate Finance Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, making desired changes to the spending bill once it gets over to the upper chamber.
“The whole process has gotten a little bit off the rails, but not any way that bothers us too much,” Sununu said.
Dems push on outbreak
A deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton continues to spark a lot of partisan sniping.
Sununu may have thought that his public release of the report on the state’s response to the virus that killed 37 veterans would have quelled the unrest.
He was wrong.
“We were shocked when we read the so-called report and realized it did not even look at the outbreak, but instead examined the Veteran’s Home compliance with COVID-19 protocols on March 12 — four months after the first reported death and seven weeks after the outbreak ended,” said a letter to Sununu from more than 20 veterans, including former House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook.
On WGIR-AM last Friday, Sununu shot back at the criticism.
“Lou D’Allesandro and Steve Shurtleff are playing complete politics with this — enough!” Sununu declared during an interview on WGIR-AM in Manchester.
Another volley targeted Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester.
State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry and one of Sununu’s fervent supporters on this issue, noted a political blog had “uncovered” that D’Allesandro had claimed to have served in the U.S. Marine Corps but in fact had never completed basic training and instead was discharged as a member of the reserves.
This seems destined to get uglier.
J&J on the way
Sununu was clearly relieved to learn that next week the state would be receiving 8,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after several weeks of not having gotten any.
Last week, Sununu spoke with J&J CEO Alex Gorsky about the delay.
“I think they are trying their best to manufacture as quickly as they can,” Sununu said last Thursday. “Any chance we can get more, that is something we are going to keep pushing.”
A day later, the Biden administration announced that J&J was committing to meet its target of delivering 20 million doses by the end of this month.
This means federal officials will receive 11 million doses next week.
Because the J&J vaccine is one shot, that’s like getting 22 million doses of Pfizer or Moderna.
House gears up
This week is the last chance for House committees to complete their work on House bills.
The House will vote on the budget (HB 1) and its other bills in three marathon sessions April 7-9 at the NH Sportsplex in Bedford.
All those meetings will start at 9 a.m.
The Senate has been meeting weekly to deal with its own backlog of bills.
Next Thursday, among the top issues senators will debate are a Democratic measure to mandate sick leave (SB 67), a law enforcement reform bill to create a state fund to pay for local police body cameras (SB 96), a mandated dental benefit for those on Medicaid (SB 150) and a bipartisan priority measure to spend more money to beef up the state’s mental health services (SB 157).
GOP ads aim at Hassan
While Sununu considers whether to run for the U.S. Senate, he has to be pleased to see the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee’s first ads of the 2022 mid-term cycle include Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.
The other three targets of the seven-figure ad campaign were Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.
The ads slam expanded voting rights legislation proposed by Democrats as a “power grab” that would “eliminate voter ID laws,” implement automatic voter-registration and “force taxpayers to fund” campaigns.
The bill doesn’t eliminate voter ID laws such as the one New Hampshire has but allows voters to get around those requirements.
Now that Republicans are in charge of all State House affairs, it appears public opinion has begun to move a bit to the right on issues of the day, according to a new independent poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
For example, the poll found strong backing (61% to 22%) for expanding the so-called Stand Your Ground Law (HB 197) to allow people to use deadly force to protect themselves in a car.
The poll found less support for the Senate-passed education savings account bill (SB 130) with 35 percent in support compared to 45 percent opposed to it.
The fiscally conservative Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy maintains the findings were because of how UNH had asked the question.
In 2018, it described the legislation as “scholarships that could be spent on a variety of education expenses outside of a child’s assigned public school.”
This description came up with 40 percent support and 33 percent against.
President Joe Biden‘s standing in the state (53% favorable to 45% unfavorable) was nearly identical to UNH surveys over the past two months.
One finding that Sununu rejected concerned the politics of state residents who decline to be vaccinated.
The poll, which was conducted March 18-22, found 72% said they expected to take the vaccine.
Among those who said no to the shot, the largest common characteristic (46%) was support for former President Donald Trump, followed by residency in the North Country (43%) and identification as conservatives (42%).
“You can make the same arguments that young people are unlikely to take it. You can look at it regionally, people in the rural and northern party of the state are more likely to not get vaccinated,” Sununu said.
“If you ask the questions based on politics, you are going to get an answer that is political. I think that is horribly irresponsible. Everybody should be getting the vaccine.”