The lead paragraph in the Legislative Bulletin, a regular publication of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, summed up well what went on during the January to early June legislative session.
Reading that paragraph two months after the legislative session ended reminded me of the tension in meeting rooms, in caucuses and on the Senate floor. But it all seems far in the past, possibly because most of the intense fights seem to have been in the House. The Senate remained mostly collegial and willing to pull together to make tough decisions.
The best news is that the New Hampshire legislative process, including our calendar and commitment to deadlines, suceeds. We work hard for five or six months and then essentially are off duty. It gives us a chance to reconnect with family and the places where we live as well as the communities we represent.
We benefit with the break from the rigors and demands of Concord, and we can campaign and hopefully listen to the concerns of neighbors, friends and citizens. Those successful at the polls on election day will hopefully be refreshed and ready for the 2013 session.
For our volunteer citizen legislature to succeed, the men and women who serve need time to be home and be part of their communities.
Having written above about putting a little distance between legislators and Concord, most of us do try to keep up on our areas of the responsibility in the legislature. For me, as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, that means keeping an eye on state revenues.
On that front, last week was a good week.
The Department of Administrative Services issued its preliminary report on state revenues for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. This report is important as it highlights how the state did for the first year of our biennium budget.
Each month DRA publishes a report on revenue for the prior month on a cash basis. Last week’s report takes into consideration receivables and deducts money received in the last fiscal year that rightly belongs in the prior year. The phrase used by some is to "true up" the state’s books.
Business taxes and communications taxes were reduced by $1 million each. Those deductions more than made up for $19.7 million of increased revenue. The largest item was $9.5 million from the Medicaid enhancement tax (MET). The end result: the state gained $17.7 million in net revenue.
State revenues often reflect economic activity. Business taxes and meals and rentals taxes were above the budget plan and ahead of the prior fiscal year. Business taxes are the state’s largest source of revenue and meals and rentals is also important. Having them both growing is hopefully a sign of strength in our economy.
Another key indicator is the real estate transfer tax. Residential and commercial real estate transactions are proven economic barometers. In 10 of 12 months over the past fiscal year, revenue from the RET exceeded the prior year.
The tax that drew the most attention when the budget was written in 2011 was the tobacco tax. The legislature reduced the tax by 10 cents per pack which advocates said would spur sales. That is not what happened. The tax produced 4 percent less than the budget plan for a shortfall of $8.5 million or 5 percent less than the year before. Minor changes to taxes do not necessarily change consumer behavior.
Overall, fiscal year 2012 was a mixed bag with some tax revenue lines growing while others did not meet goals and failed to reach levels of the prior year. For now, before the state audit, the state raised $2.18 billion last year. We were just $9 million short of our plan and $12.9 less than fiscal year 2011.
Finally, while one month is not necessarily a predictor for the rest of the year, July was a good start to the new fiscal year. The state took in $99.7 million, $7.9 million ahead of plan and $13.4 million more than July of last year.
The heavy financial reporting done, I think I’ll turn to a little summer reading.
The fair is on. Kicking off the 79th annual Craftsmen’s Fair with a preview reception on Friday evening, the fair got underway. There is a special buzz that surrounds the beginning of the fair with League of New Hampshire Craftsmen supporters mixing with some of the top crafts people in the Granite State.
And while there are dozens of men and women offering the output of their skills and genius, it is always exciting to see the work of friends and neighbors on display for the preview party. This year, Sue Scalera who lives next door to me in Lempster, had three of her intricately designed handbags prominently featured at the preview event.
There are daily workshops, demonstrations and performances at the fair. It is the oldest crafts fair in the country and has a significant economic impact on our region. The fair runs through August 12.