21 , 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.
The 2009 session of the legislature should end on Wednesday. While there are a number of Committees of Conference reports to be voted on, the budget contained in House Bills 1 and 2 will get most of the attention.
Wrapping up our work at 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, the committees voted for the budget to a round of applause from the lobbyists, department officials and a few other legislators who had stayed around for days waiting for that moment.
The budget is balanced thanks to a reduction in the “rainy day fund” from $89 million to $20 million. An appearance by Kevin Clougherty, the Commissioner of Revenue Administration, brought positive projections of more than $60
million of added revenue over the next two years from tobacco and business taxes than had not been in prior budget plans. Legislators are relying heavily on the confidence they have in the
Commissioner, who although new to his job this year, has impressed solons with his grasp of the revenue picture and his ability to explain how he arrives at his projections.
Two spending reductions were brought in on Wednesday evening. The Governor accepted a mandate requiring him to find $25 million in personnel related expenses over the next two years. And to help him reach that goal, the budget suspends “bumping rights” that would have slowed the process of reducing personnel expenses. This provision is driving a huge email response from state employees to their legislators.
The other $25 million in spending cuts were focused on health and social service reductions that will hit institutions from Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center to Boston Children’s Hospital. And to make sure the pain of this budget was shared, the Postsecondary Education Commission was called in, and with the cooperation of the commission executive director, Kathryn Dodge, $25 thousand was cut from her budget. Since Governor Lynch presented his budget plan on February 12, there has been an intensive daily search for ways to cut state expenses.
On Wednesday, legislators voting on House Bills 1 and 2 and other committees of conference reports will have limited options. Vote yes or no. There are no amendments or changes allowed on committee of conference reports under legislative rules.
How will the vote go? It could be close and if the budget fails there will be a continuing resolution to have agencies spend at the same levels as provided for in the present budget. That could create a free for all as legislators scramble this summer to put something together to replace this week’s budget proposal.
Some legislators will follow their party leadership supporting or voting in opposition to the budget. In the Senate, at least two Senators are likely to oppose the budget because of fee increases but more importantly because their plan for expanded gambling failed.
Some will be happy to support the budget for what it does not include. There is no capital gains tax, no reinstatement of the estate or “death tax,” and no gas tax increase as the House had passed. And tax ideas floated recently including an extension of the real estate transfer tax to financings of mortgages and a new 10% amusement tax (bowling, skiing, movies) never saw the light of day. And the suspension of the business enterprise tax credit against the business profits tax, while it sounds complicated, was a rallying cry for
business owners who opposed it. Passed by the Senate, it was removed by the committees of conference.
Those who oppose new taxes (10% on gambling winnings) and increases in other taxes (meals and rooms) along with fee increases on automobile and boat registrations or the extension of the meals and rooms tax
to include campground hook up charges, will have ample cause to vote no.
We will know whether we have a budget for the next two years when we leave Concord on Wednesday night.
* * *
In addition to the budget bills, the House and Senate will vote separately on many other conference committee reports during Wednesday’s session. I served on the conference committee on HB 102 which deals with rivers management and protection programs. While very interested in the subject matter, I was pleased to be on the committee so I could keep an eye on the amendment
that added-in naming the bridge in the center Alstead the "Alstead Veterans Memorial Bridge."
* * *
It was more than Lempster hometown pride and enthusiasm for our region at work on Friday when I attended the ribbon cuttings at Lempster Wind Power Project and the Claremont Mills. After all, in a down economy that has taken the life out of many development projects in New Hampshire and across America, here are two projects that were well conceived and built around essential partnerships between the private sector, local communities and federal and state governments.
Many years have passed since Jeff Keeler from the wind farm development stopped by our house with Kevin Onnela to tell me what they were thinking about. The same happened when I stopped by for my first visit with Guy Santagate in 2002 and he explained the critical need for a mill redevelopment project to revitalize the economy and downtown of Claremont. Published reports suggest total investment for the wind and Claremont Mills projects at more than $80 million. These are two extremely significant … even historic … steps in strengthening our region’s economic future.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951