Last week when I wrote about a future of reduced payments from the federal government to New Hampshire, I had not been anticipating the briefing on the same subject offered on Tuesday to a joint meeting of the finance and ways and means committees of the House and Senate.
Michael Bird from the National Conference of State Legislatures said federal policy makers are "setting up states for a fiscal setback" with "states holding the bag." His point is that all the budget cutting plans put forth over the last couple of years to reduce spending and thus the federal deficit are built on lowering direct and indirect payments to states and their residents.
Mr. Bird ran through a long list of deficit reduction reports, negotiations and the failures of Washington officials to take action. He pointed to an expected post November election lame duck session of Congress. Members of Congress, knowing the election results, will be called upon to make the cuts the Congressional "super committee" failed to do last year.
With the Budget Control Act in place requiring major federal spending reductions, Mr. Bird suggests we face a "looming ‘crash’ of 12" with major financial impacts on states. How important is this to New Hampshire? There were $11.3 billion of federal government expenditures in New Hampshire in 2010. The major payments were for retirement and disability ($4.3 billion), other direct payments to citizens ($2.4 billion) and grants ($2.3 billion). More than $2 billion of the total flowed through state government.
Overall, on a per resident of New Hampshire basis, Washington sent on average $8,500 to New Hampshire two years ago. The national average was $10,000. Much of that money comes in entitlement programs and cuts that would impact individual beneficiaries and the state’s economy, too. All this will probably happen in some form but Bird notes that the interests of the states are not being heard in Washington.
Senate President Peter Bragdon (Milford) is tough when it comes to rules of the Senate. His Senate and House colleagues learned that lesson early in his administration in 2011. When he went to the first meeting of the Joint Legislative Historical Committee, he told legislators who thought they were on the committee that they were not committee members.
The statute under which the committee is organized is specific about who can be on the committee. For example, the Speaker is named in the enacting law as a member of the committee but there is no provision for a designate. So, Senator Bragdon pointed out that the legislator representing the Speaker, in fact, could not be the Speaker’s designate as the law did not provide for a designate.
That was the case with some other would-be committee members. The committee could take no action until the law was changed. To Senator Bragdon, he was simply following the rules … in this case the law … on the membership of an obscure legislative committee. But following the law is important.
There has also been a long tradition of being a bit loose about letting amendments be added to bills even if the bill and the amendment deal with different subjects. Senator Bragdon alerts both caucuses when such amendments are coming to the floor by noting that the amendment is non germane. And then, from the podium he will say that "without objection" he is letting the amendment go forward. He reads every bill, every amendment and every committee report, so he is well positioned each week to point out the lack of germaneness between amendments and bills on the floor.
And last week, the Senate President stood firm on another rule. He declared that 10 bills passed by the House earlier this year that have been sent to the Senate cannot be accepted by the Senate. Senate rule 3.3 (c) says "No bill the subject matter of which has been indefinitely postponed or made inexpedient to legislate in the Senate in the first-year shall be admitted into the second-year session …"
Simply stated, if the Senate killed a bill last year it is not going to entertain the same issue again. The Senate need only speak once on an issue in a two year legislative term.
0ne bill on the Senate President’s reject list was House Bill 1566. This is a bill introduced by local legislators to make it easier for a town to withdraw from a school administrative unit (SAU). I was open to having the bill come to the Senate so that a discussion could ensue but the Senate President said he would stick with rules and stop the bill.
He noted the rules allow a Senator to object but, to succeed, a motion to take a bill off the reject list and keep the bill alive needs a 2/3 vote on the Senate floor. After checking with colleagues, the support was not there. On the floor on Wednesday, Senator Bragdon said "… without objection, the clerk is instructed to return the bills to the House." And with that, the bills on the list were dead for 2012.
I have written periodically about the value of having deadlines to meet and rules to follow in the legislative process. Senator Bragdon is a good steward of that process. And the Senate and the public benefit from his diligence.
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