The tension and distrust between Senate and House leaders was pretty obvious at our last Senate session. It took a closed door coin toss and a typed agreement with changes made in handwriting to determine and describe who would chair the committee of conference on two bills dealing with the budget (HB 1128 and SB 450). When this document was placed on our desks at the beginning of the session, most Senators were seeing it for the first time.
Conferees will be trying to patch together cuts to the budget, along with a gambling proposal the Senate passed and new taxes the House passed. Given the reaction to the late night tax and fee hikes put into the budget last June, you would expect the conferees would be sensitive to voters’ ire. Gambling simply gets rejected routinely by the House.
The budget gap being addressed is somewhere around $300 million. Pundits in the State House wonder if an agreement can be reached, or if there will be no agreement and we will be called back for a special budget session this summer, or if the budget committees of conference could solve part of the problem and leave the rest for next year.
While the budget committees of conference will get the most attention, there are more than 60 other bills facing the committee of conference process. Voting on the reports from the committees will be the business of both the House and Senate when we meet on June 2 in what should be our last regular session for 2010. Each body will get to vote yes or no on bills that started in their chamber. If passed, the committee of conference report goes to the other chamber for another yes or no vote.
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One issue that will not face a committee of conference is school funding. A bill passed by the Senate (SB 465) would have extended for one year beyond the current biennium the "hold harmless" provisions of the funding formula so that no community would receive less than it did under the prior formula, and a "collar" that limits to 15 percent the amount of additional funding a community can receive above the prior formula. The House position was to simply study school funding during the summer.
When the Senate sent the House a request for a committee of conference to work out a compromise, the House voted no. That ended any further legislative work on the funding formula this year.
If no changes are made in the funding plan, the hold harmless and collar will come off for the school year beginning in September, 2011. The projected new expense for the state will be $70 million that year. My guess is that next year the Governor and legislature will review the funding formula which some consider financially unsustainable. The good news: the state for the first time in years is not facing lawsuits over school funding.
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When Senator Roberge was first elected, John Sununu was governor. She’s watched five additional governors serve in "the corner office." She has seen many changes in New Hampshire and our state government, including being one of 13 women in the State Senate, making it the first state legislative body in the country to have a majority of women.
Senator Roberge is a traditional New Hampshire fiscal conservative but many will remember her for her passion for animals. Her hard work was rewarded this year when the legislature voted to ban dog racing in New Hampshire.
Senators sit by their district number in two curved rows facing the Senate President’s dais. Representing district 8, while Senator Roberge represents district 9, put the two of us side by side for many, many hours of long Senate sessions over the past eight years.
New Hampshire State Senators are like most others. Working in close proximity with each other builds friendships. I am very thankful for the friendship I have with Senator Roberge and wish her well in retirement.
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Every elected official takes pride in the accomplishments of individuals and organizations in their area. That was true for me as I attended the 21st annual presentation of the Preservation Achievement Awards by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. I slipped into a seat at the back of City Hall Auditorium in Concord, and joined shortly by Senator Harold Janeway (Webster) to watch communities in our districts get their awards.
The Acworth Meetinghouse Restoration Committee received one of nine awards for restoring the United Church of Acworth, or as many of us think of it "the church on the hill." How many times I have driven by and noted the gradual but deliberate work of the committee and townspeople of Acworth.
Monadnock Economic Development Corporation was recognized for the rehabilitation and adaptive use of the Oscar Brown Block in Claremont. Wainshal Partners were recognized for the renovation and rehabilitation of the Monadnock Mill District. After hearing the presentation of the award and the remarks of Wainshal partner, John Illich, Senator Janeway leaned over and said "I need to get over to Claremont and see that." Just what you like to hear.
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