Senator Odell is Chairman of
the Ways and
Means Committee, and
member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development
Committee; Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy
Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight
District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont,
Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury,
Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity,
Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.
The Governor was introduced last Thursday morning by the Sergeant of Arms, "Madame Speaker, His Excellency, Governor John Lynch." The Governor strode into the historic Representatives' Hall, already filled with House and Senate members meeting in a joint session, to deliver his biennial budget address. He was welcomed with an enthusiastic reception from legislators and a gallery packed with department and agency heads and visitors.
For forty-five minutes, the Governor presented his budget. It was a straightforward presentation with no humor, no casual comments ... simply the facts as he sees them pertaining to revenue and spending in state government for the two years beginning on July 1. His speech was not interrupted once for applause. With his address completed, Governor Lynch stepped off the dais and returned to his office. It had been a serious moment at the State House and no one missed its significance.
Immediate calls from the press related to the proposed consolidation of the New London and Claremont District Courts with the Newport Court operations. The savings to the state from the consolidation would be modest and there are many days of work for the legislature to accept, dismiss or change the Governor's suggestions. Although it was on his desk as another option, the consolidation of the Claremont Division of Motor Vehicles office with another facility did not make it into the Governor's budget.
The Governor said twice in his address that his budget is just one road map to address the state budget and that he welcomes input on alternatives from others. I think he will get plenty of ideas from legislators and citizens through the public hearing process. On Tuesday morning, the Senate Finance Committee will meet jointly with the House Committee in a public hearing to have the Governor answer questions from committee members. The House Committee will separate the budget into three parts and pass them to its three subdivisions. The divisions and the full committee will work on the budget so that it can go to the House floor for a vote by April 9. The budget, as changed by the House, will then go to the Senate.
Throughout the four month process, the goal is to build a budget that is balanced as required by the constitution. The budget is similar to a huge piece of machinery where every part has an impact on the whole. So, those who oppose increases in the tobacco tax or the room and meals tax, for example, must either replace them with other revenue or find spending cuts equal to the proposed new revenue to keep the budget in balance.
There are $40 million of savings from eliminating 391 positions in state government where no one is currently holding those jobs. These vacancies, as they are called, will simply not be on the list of jobs in state government. Parallel to that, the Governor's budget plans layoffs for 250-300 employees. Together, that will make New Hampshire government smaller with about 5% fewer employees than are currently authorized.
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With the Governor's address over, the joint session of the legislature ended. The House and Senate went into their regular weekly session until the noon hour. The House and Senate then reconvened for the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration. Legislators and guests were to be part of an exciting and moving hour long program held in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the birth of our 16th President.
Long time legislators could not remember recent similar ceremonies celebrating an historic event. Twenty years ago a former United States Supreme Chief Justice, Warren Burger, came to New Hampshire to address a gathering on the State House lawn to mark the 200th anniversary of the signing of the United State Constitution.
So, Thursday's ceremony was a rare occasion to be part of a celebration of history in Representatives' Hall, one of the most beautiful rooms in the country. The hall is also, along with the Senate chamber, the oldest state house legislative chambers in the country where the legislature has met without interruption dating back to 1819.
The highlight of the Lincoln celebration was the appearance of the President himself. There was long standing applause upon his entry into Representatives' Hall and more cheering upon the completion of his recitations of his Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. These were very powerful and uplifting moments. And who was the Lincoln presenter? Non other than our own Steve Wood from Claremont who did a marvelous job.
Many newspapers on Friday had pictures of Abraham Lincoln and reports of the celebration that included remarks by Governor Lynch, the Senate President Sylvia Larsen (Concord) and Speaker of the House Terie Norelli (Portsmouth). The keynote was given by Professor Michael Birkner of Gettysburg College. Years ago he had been at Dartmouth College and was for a time editorial page editor of the Concord Monitor so he easily tied New Hampshire to Lincoln in an informative and exciting manner.
Things had been a little grim around the State House following the budget address. But there was a new enthusiasm and pick up in spirits following the Lincoln celebration. After all, what national historic figure, with plenty of connections to New Hampshire, could be more uplifting than Abraham Lincoln himself. It was a good way to cap a very important day at the State House.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951