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Bob Odell
State Senator
District 8

June 1 , 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 Board.

Senate 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.

 


Some are looking for a “third way.” And a third way may be needed to solve the conflicts between the House budget proposal and the Senate’s budget that was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. The conflicts are many and large.

The House budget, for example, includes new taxes on capital gains, estate or “death tax” and on gambling winnings along with a 15 cent increase in the gas tax. The Senate rejected all of them. But, the Senate budget doubles boat registration fees, increases the cigarette and rooms and meals taxes. It adds $15 to automobile registration fees, $15 to the drivers’ license fees and doubles boat registration charges. Not that they needed reminding, but I did suggest to my fellow committee members that the cumulative impact of these tax and fee increases could be very harmful to our citizens as they hit everyone equally … retirees, working families, even the unemployed.

One fee increase we won’t have to worry about is the five fold increase, $20 to $100, for out-of-state folks who buy four year permits to carry a concealed weapon. It was reported that there are 3,000 people who get a New Hampshire concealed weapons permit because of our reciprocity arrangements with other states. Will applications fall with this major increase? 

The Senate’s big money gambits are the expansion of gambling with 15,000 slot machines spread over five sites and the suspension of the business enterprise tax (BET) credit against the business profits tax. Expanded gambling is in the budget for $185 million of new revenue and the tax credit suspension will produce, sponsors say, $80 million over the biennium … a quarter of a billion dollars between them. If the Senate rejects one or both of these new revenue sources at Wednesday’s session, then there will be a very large deficit that will need to be filled if they Senate is to vote out a balanced budget.

That is where the third way comes in. While I was on the NHPR Exchange program on Friday morning, Representative Marjorie Smith (Durham), chair of the House Finance Committee, called in to suggest that there were other revenue options she called the third way. And there is an obvious option via an amendment added to the Senate budget that reads: “Requires the commissioner of revenue administration to identify additional revenue that may be realized from modifications to the applicability of existing state taxes and the elimination of exemptions from existing state taxes, for implementation by the legislature.” One of those options being discussed would be to apply the real estate transfer tax to refinancing of property.

The budget process in New Hampshire is not an easy or smooth one. The Senate Finance Committee met until 1:30 on Thursday morning. That was after our regular Senate session on Wednesday morning making it a very long work day. But, finally by Thursday afternoon, the original 2,345 page budget passed by the House had been scoured and hundreds of adjustments made that now gives the Senate their version of the budget to vote on Wednesday. 

June 30 is the deadline for the legislature to pass and the Governor to sign a balanced budget for the next two years. The legislature is scheduled to vote on the budget on June 25. But between now and then there are many ways the budget could get off track. The rubber will really hit the road in the Committees of Conference which will begin next week. Right now the House and Senate are so far off in their approaches to tax and fee increases that one can expect a prolonged and difficult test of wills. And hanging out there will be the third way that could bring into the budget additional revenue ideas for conferee consideration. 

* * *

As chair of the Ways and Means Committee, I receive a daily revenue report for each tax and fee for the state’s general fund and education trust fund. Friday’s report, which still needs some adjustments for revenue from over the weekend, presents a grim picture of the economy. Revenue measured against budget projections for the month of May for the general fund is off by more than 30%. That is the biggest fall off in one month, I believe, for any month in the current two year biennium. This information will weigh heavily on the committees of conference as they work on the budget.

* * *

History was on my mind over the weekend. I find reading and learning from history can be a very positive distraction from daily toils and especially when facing challenges like the state budget. “Mustered! Foot Soldiers of the 12th” is a video presentation of the story of a New Hampshire regiment that fought in several major Civil War battles and lost half of their men in three years. It was shown yesterday afternoon at the Unity Town Hall. The video is excellent and a new reminder of the sacrifices of New Hampshire in the Civil War. 

There are plenty of opportunities to share our past as local historical societies, including Newport and Claremont, are opening their museums this month for the summer season. You can learn how changing times have affected the way we eat when the Lempster Historical Society hosts "Baked Beans and Fried Clams: How Food Defines a Region" on Saturday, June 6 at 7:00 p.m. at the town’s meeting house, preceded by a pot luck supper at 6:00 p.m. Information: 863-5023. 

 

Bob Odell
State Senator
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951

Telephone:  603-271-6733
Email:  rpojr@aol.com

 

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