I tried to test my memory of Governor Maggie Hassan’s inaugural speech the first week of January with her budget address on Thursday.
Here’s my take: Governor Hassan was in an enthusiastic, major sales mode on Thursday going through each paragraph in her speech with an almost staccato tempo. From a seat in the front row set aside for Senators, I could hear her words as I watched the up and down motions of her left hand as she kept beat with the timing of her presentation.
There was humor and big Governor Hassan smiles a couple of times when her words drew hearty applause. I liked it best when there was only tepid applause and she smiled and said "you can clap at that." It generated more applause.
She had sent her budget director and legislative liaison the night before to provide a preview of the budget to Senator Chuck Morse (Salem) as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and myself as chair of the Ways and Means Committee. In discussing the overall budget, I think of it in two pieces.
First, the revenue (money we get from fees and taxes in our general and education tax funds): Her budget calls for 2 percent growth in the first year of the biennium, 1.9 percent in the second. If we cannot agree to the last dollar, my feeling is that if the House does not change those numbers, they will be on target with what the Senate might come up with, too
The most controversial item on the revenue side is expanded gambling. The Senate Ways and Means Committee this week will look at Senate Bill 152 which proposes $80 million of one-time revenue from a casino licensing fee.
Second, the spending: For general and education trust funds, the Governor's proposals will be probed on the details beginning this week as the budget process gets a jump start with the Governor presenting to the House Finance Committee. Overall, as required, the Governor believes her budget is balanced.
There are only are only a handful of today’s Senators who were around in Oct. 2005 when Alstead was struck by a deadly flood that became a national news story. The years have passed and things have pretty much returned to normal although the deaths and personal losses can never be forgotten.
After the flood, the State agreed to buy up some property and formed a commission to recommend how the purchased land should be used. The commission has been inactive for a couple of years but recently was asked to recommend that the Department of Environmental Services approve a restoration project on lower Warren Brook.
Legislation was needed. Senate Bill 57 was introduced by Senator Molly Kelly (Keene) that will establish a new commission to be in place through the end of this year. The commission will act to approve the lower Warren Brook project.
To keep things clear, Senate President Peter Bragdon (Milford) had an amendment introduced on Thursday to officially abolish the old commission created back in 2006. The bill as amended which will surely pass the House will likely be the legislature’s last action dealing with the flood.
I remember so well those very difficult days in 2005. There was the shock and surprise of the extent of the loss of lives and property in Alstead. The leadership from Governor John Lynch, the select board and all other local and state officials set a new high standard. The citizens of Alstead were brave and generous with each other. These are the memories we will always have.
SB 57 will be a closing step in writing the final chapter of the story of the October, 2005 flood.
You may be Senate President but that does not mean all your bills are passed. Last year, Senator Bragdon proposed a bill to include owls in the definition of raptor so that New Hampshire falconers could use owls to hunt with as they do with other birds of prey. Opposition only came from the Department of Fish and Game. The bill sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and passed through the full Senate with no questions or dissension. It was killed in the House.
Senator Bragdon introduced the bill again this year at the request of a former constituent from Temple who is a highly recognized falconer. This year several opponents came forward, including Attorney Sheridan Brown from Grantham, who spoke out against the bill as a volunteer on behalf of the New Hampshire Audubon Society.
The issue for some came down to two things. Falconers would have to climb up to owl nests and capture baby owls during their blue eye stage of life to train them to be managed hunters. Owls also hunt at night with the exception of heavily overcast days and hunting at night is against New Hampshire law. And other than the one falconer, however knowledgeable and experienced he is, no one spoke on behalf of the bill. Fish and Game was there again to speak against the bill.
With his appreciation of the situation, Senator Bragdon accepted the committee’s 5-0 vote to kill the bill and the job was finished by the full Senate on Thursday.