28 , 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 Senate President brought her gavel down last Wednesday and said “The Senate is in recess to the call of the Chair” and the 2009 regular session of the State Senate ended.
It was easy to see it had been an important legislative day. There was a protesters’ rally on the State House lawn and without air conditioning the cheers and
chants could easily be heard through open windows. There were more press and TV cameras in the chamber than at any other day this year. The public gallery was full and there were plenty of lobbyists and concerned citizens buttonholing lawmakers on their way to the Senate floor.
The focus was on the budget for upcoming fiscal years 2010 and 2011 that beginning on Wednesday. The Senate voted first on the three budget bills before they went to the House for votes there. The first bill up was HB 25, the state capital budget for the next two years. This bill contains building and maintenance projects that will be paid for from state issued bonds. It was uncontroversial and passed unanimously.
The next two bills, HB 1 and 2, would get separate votes but be debated together. I think of HB 1 as the spread sheet and HB 3 as the written document with instructions on implementation of the budget. It contains details such as the fact the Claremont District Court will not be consolidated with Newport District Court until at least July 1 of next year following a legislative study this year on the feasibility of several court closings.
Most legislators vote on these issues as requested by their party leaders. In the Senate, the Democrat majority party had the support of 12 of their 14 members. Two majority members, Senators D’Allesandro and DeVries, both from Manchester, voted against the budget because there was no expanded gambling in it. They felt the budget was flawed and that Senate negotiators had not stood up to the House Committees of Conference members and pushed to keep expanded gambling as a revenue source.
Majority party Senators spoke of the budget as not a perfect product but that substantial cuts were made, major new taxes were avoided, and while unfortunate, some fees and some current taxes were increased. In the end, as required by law, the budget was balanced.
My caucus voted against the budget bills by a 9-1 margin. Members felt the budget increased spending, that the fee and tax increases were too large, and the pattern of spending increases over the last several budgets was too great.
Having worked on the budget since the Governor presented his recommendations on February 12, I feel I have a pretty good sense of what is in the budget and the implications it will have on the state. I have served four terms on the Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee and am chairing the latter for a second time. I also was part of the conference committee process. My policy is not to use this column to write about my positions on issues but given the importance of the budget, I thought I would let readers know the background on my decision.
While the budget is nothing to cheer about, given our economic circumstances and especially falling revenue coming into state coffers, I felt this budget was built on many compromises on revenue and spending. It is an adequate budget and moves us financially into the new biennium. So, in the end, I voted for the budget which passed 13-11.
The alternative to not passing a budget would be a continuing resolution that would have actually spent $11 million more each month than the new budget calls for, the Governor would have been delayed in implemented a $25 million reduction in personnel related expenses and hundreds of other actions created by the budget would have been put off.
Most importantly, three months of a financial free-for-all, with lobbyists and interest groups trying to get their piece of the budget pie, would have pulled and tugged on the budget rewriters. And in the end, additional taxes and s pending might be the result given that the same players and party majorities would still be at the table. A second vote on the budget in September or October could have failed again, too.
The implications of not passing a budget are significant and could be very damaging to our state especially when one is not sure of the end result. As one leading area business person wrote, “I would rather know the pain now rather than be uncertain of future pain.” He may have reflected the concern the business community had as the Business Industry Association, the NH High Tech Council and chambers of commerce supported passage of the budget. Uncertainty about state spending and taxing policies given our economic struggles makes for a confusing environment for business people … the very people we want to grow their businesses and hire people.
With the budget votes over, the press and many other visitors headed out the doors and went to await similar votes in the House. The Senate continued on with our other business including votes on a couple of dozen other committees of conference reports. All were pretty routine. At the end of the day there were just two or three visitors in gallery as Senators headed home. The Senate President’s parting words included a request that no legislative study committees meet in July and to keep meetings in August to a minimum. It is time for legislators to enjoy our summer at home.
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951