24 , 2009
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.
Senator Kathleen Sgambati (Tilton) opened discussions on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) budget in the Senate Finance Committee on Friday noting this is her tenth biennial
budget, and that it is the most difficult with significant cuts and reductions in staffing, payments to providers and elimination of entire programs. Before becoming a Senator in 2004, she had spent her career at DHHS rising to be Acting Commissioner when she retired. She knows what she is talking about.
And without the roughly $450 million from state and federal one time sources like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus money from Washington, our circumstances would be much, much more dire.
The Senate Finance Committee decision day is tomorrow. Dozens of amendments and changes will be voted on. And possibly late tomorrow night, with potential adjustments in revenue projections, inclusion of new or increased fees or taxes and adjustments to appropriations, the Senate Finance Committee will take its final vote on a budget for the next two years that begins on July 1.
The committee does not meet alone. The professional staff of the Legislative Budget Assistant guides the committee through the minutia of the budget giving us the story on what is in the Governor’s plan and what is in the House passed budget. The press is there, too, along with State House staff, department officials, a few legislators, lobbyists wearing their required bright orange name tags and other stakeholders. Extra chairs were brought for the three days of work sessions that finished up mid afternoon on Saturday.
In the end, the budget will be around $11.5 billion for the next two years. That is a lot of money but there are complicating factors. For example, in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal stimulus program, there are hundreds of items paid for by federal funds. One, for example, is $137,610 in the Department of Safety for an “antiterrorism project manager” entirely paid for by federal money. It increases the state budget but no state funds are spent.
And there are millions and millions of dollars that get spent twice. An agency will get a grant and then spread the money out to one or more partnering agencies. That money is counted when the first agency spends the money and again when the second or third agency spends the money. It is one amount of money, counted twice and thereby inflating the state budget.
* * *
The Governor proposed having each retiree under 65 years of age contribute $100 to their health care program. The House changed that to 11.5% of a retiree’s pension. Both got huge reactions from the state employees and retirees. The Senate will likely go along with a $65 per month per retiree. The change from the 11.5% of retirement income to $65 per month will increase the cost to the state in the Senate budget over the House budget by $2.7 million. The Senate Committee will have to find that amount of money to make the budget balance.
* * *
Budget writers got a shock when Governor John Lynch on Friday vowed to veto a budget with an increase in the gas tax. He feels, in these difficult economic times, we should not raise taxes at the gas pump. The House added a 15 cents increase phased in over three years in their budget. Each cent of increase brings in $8.4 million so in the first year the state would get $40 million of which about $5 million would go to municipalities for their roads. The Governor proposes an auto registration fee increase of $10 for roads and bridges in his budget that will bring in nearly the same amount as the gas tax increase would in the first two years. The gas tax raises more in the third year and thereafter.
* * *
Some area residents will be following the actions of the Senate Energy, Environment and Economic Development on Thursday. A bill (HB 45) dealing with the water supply land conservation program had a public hearing last week. Representative Sue Gottling (Sunapee) brought forward an amendment sponsored by her and Representative Rica McMahon (Sutton) relative to “establishing a committee to study a proposal by the fish and game department to construct a certain boat
ramp, and establishing a moratorium on proceedings for permits required for such a boat ramp.” That boat ramp is the Wild Goose proposal for Lake Sunapee.
Sometimes Senate committees approve or kill an amendment without a public hearing. Given the lateness of the legislative session and understanding the House will not accept significant amendments to bills already passed by them, the Committee Chair, Senator Fuller Clark (Portsmouth), ordered a hearing on the amendment for Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
Thursday’s public hearing will be the last for any Senate Committee in 2009. The Senate faces a June 4 deadline which the Senate rules say is the “last day to act on all remaining House bills.” So, the amendment to HB 45 will have its public hearing and may be voted on by the committee at the same session so that the bill, with or without the amendment, can be voted on by the full Senate next week.
The Energy Committee usually meets in a small hearing room but Senator Fuller Clark has moved us to a double hearing room (Rooms 305-307 of the Legislative Office Building) to accommodate the anticipated participants.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951