Since our final session on June 9, for this Senator, there truly has been a break … a most enjoyable time away from Concord that has provided some opportunities to deal with a few constituent issues and local concerns.
That said, it was back to Concord last week for a meeting of the largely unknown Joint Committee on Employee Relations. The committee is made up of House and Senate leaders based upon their positions. So, the House Speaker, Senate President, and various chairs of House and Senate committees serve on the Employee Relations committee.
The law that created the Employee Relations committee included the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee as a member. That is the reason I am on the committee.
The purpose of the meeting was to hear a presentation by the State Negotiating Team and representatives of the State Employees’ Association (SEIU), the major union for state employees, on the new employee contract recently accepted by union members. Then, by law, the committee " …shall submit any recommendation on such agreements or reports to the members of the senate and house of representatives."
We heard a presentation on behalf the negotiating team from Assistant Secretary of State, Tom Manning. He noted some health benefits-related changes that are estimated to save the state $3.5 million in the next year. And there are new rules for voluntary furloughs.
It was pretty interesting but I wondered why the committee exists and why we were meeting. The State Employees’ Association and the Troopers Association have agreed to the terms negotiated. Governor Lynch and the unions’ representatives were about to sign the agreement to put the new contract in place for the current biennium ending in June of next year.
Knowing this, the Joint Committee took a vote. It was unanimous that we recommend to the House and Senate that they accept the contract. I wonder who cares. Unless someone can justify why this committee exists maybe we could save everyone some time and eliminate it.
A couple of days later the headline in a major newspaper read "Lynch, state workers sign pact" with no mention of the Joint Committee on Employee Relations.
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While in the State House I ran into Jack Dianis from the Legislative Budget Assistant’s office. He was handing out the preliminary end-of-the-month revenue figures. While quite demure most of the time, when he saw me he said enthusiastically that he had "good news."
The good news was that tax receipts in June were good. That helped even-out the more than $40 million shortfall in April that forced the legislature to hold a special session to restructure the budget to close a projected two year budget gap of $295 million. The June figures helped meet the goal of a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010 that ended on June 30 and hopefully would create a trend that will put the two year budget in balance by this time next year.
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I am regularly impressed when I learn about major businesses and not-for-profit entities that exist in our area that are critical to our local economy. While Camp Coniston in Croydon is not in the 8th district, many of the camp employees live in the district as well as many campers. So, I was eager to join Rep. Steve Cunningham (Croydon) to have a visit with John Tilley, camp Executive Director, and take a tour.
Camp Coniston is a YMCA camp but owned and managed by a local not-for-profit. Last week there were 362 campers ranging in age from 8 to 16. During the season, over 1,400 boys and girls participate in two or four week programs. It takes a staff of 150 to manage the activities and, of course, local contractors and suppliers to serve the camp.
The camp is very Sullivan County connected. It started in 1911 in Meriden with the writer, Winston Churchill, on the board. It moved in 1915 to Rand Pond in Goshen and again in 1963 to Croydon.
The camp is hugely successful. John Tilley says over 90 percent of former campers return each year … one of the highest levels in the country. Local boys and girls have an opportunity to attend, too. Fourteen youngsters from Croydon, for example, were in camp last week, and nearly 100 from the area, or about one-quarter of campers, were from our region.
With 1,200 acres of beautiful land and a clean, clear lake, youngsters do all the traditional camp activities. There are some differences from when I went to the Boy Scouts’ Camp Carpenter decades ago, thanks to the generosity of others.
First, there are boys and girls. Nearly all activities are co-ed but swimming, for example, has separate programs for boys and girls.
Second, the variety of activities is much wider. Everything from water skiing to horse back riding, wood shop and soccer, snorkeling to trap shooting, dance and theater, all give campers a wide range of options to test their interests or advance their skills.
Most importantly, kids at camp are happy. Steve Cunningham and I saw first hand the enthusiasm and high spirits of the boys and girls, and there is no need for TVs, video games, cell phones or I-Pods. No, it’s just an old fashioned New Hampshire summer camping experience in one very beautiful spot in New Hampshire.
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