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Bob Odell
State Senator
District 8


August 7, 2011

Senator Odell is Chairman of  the Ways and Means Committee; Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Vice Chairman of the Finance Committee; Vice Chairman of the State Parks Advisory Council; and member of the  Capital Budget Committee.

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.

 

A constituent who is also a neighbor and friend is very upset with me.

He believes I misled him when I told him the intention of the retirement reform package that passed the House and Senate and is part of the new budget that went into effect on July 1 was not to impact the benefits of current retirees. He suggests he is not getting as much money in retirement now.

My friend has raised an issue that underlines the reason I spend so much time working on the state budget every two years and regularly write about it. The state budget has real consequences for individuals, institutions both private and public, and businesses across the state.

Letís take a government retiree under the age of 65. Their retiree benefit has not been changed in the new budget. But, the Governor and then the legislature did raise the amount individuals contribute, monthly to pay for health insurance. At one point in the process, the amount was raised to $115 per month. Later it was changed to a percentage of the overall premium so the cost to the retiree will go up automatically as the cost of health insurance goes up.

Health insurance costs for retirees under age 65 and thus ineligible for Medicare, has been going up dramatically. That is no surprise. If the health insurance monthly contribution by this younger retiree group had not gone up parallel to contribution levels of many other public and private systems, there would have been more cuts to other areas of the budget.

For my friend, his retirement or pension benefit has not changed but his cost of health insurance has gone up. He estimates his increased insurance payments will reduce his overall retirement income by $1,300 per year.

The budget hits some of our larger hospitals, too. Ten of them have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the new budget, suggesting it breaks faith with a tax and reimbursement program that goes back two decades. The 13 critical access hospitals like Valley Regional Hospital and New London Hospital have not been hit with cuts like the 13 large hospitals. The latter are not reimbursed for uncompensated care for the first time since 1991.

This is a complicated area of the state budget but has consequences for our largest hospitals and their employees and the services they provide. Most immediately, since the budget went into effect, hospitals have announced hundreds of layoffs and the reduction or elimination of some services.

Last Friday on New Hampshire Public Radioís The Exchange, Representative Neal Kurk said that when looking at the budget options, the larger hospitals were more capable than other hospitals or government agencies to handle cuts in funds going to them. I generally agree with Representative Kurk, that at the end of the budget process in mid June, there was simply no money to pay the hospitals the money they had received in the past. Hospital administrators suggest that alternatives should have been found. They were not and the consequences to hospitals and those they serve are becoming clear.

These are just a couple of examples of how our current state budget hits families and institutions. There are many more to be reported as we go along.

*

The first weekend of August is always a busy weekend, and although I could not get to every event, I was fortunate to attend some.

If you count Thursdays as part of the weekend, and I did last week, the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerceís "Business After Hours" event hosted by the Common Man Restaurant in partnership with Red River Computer, was a signature event. Guests could speculate about whether there were 250 people or maybe 300 attending, but it was acknowledged it was the largest of the Chamberís series of business after hours events. It was a thoroughly enjoyable event with tours of Red River and a couple of suites at the Common Man Inn combined with great food.

I got to the Claremont Farmers Market for the first time this year on Thursday, too. The reggae band brought out a good crowd. The central focus of the market is bringing local produce to the consumer and the market continues expanding its role in doing that. I know as I took home some delicious blueberries.

Most readers know the League of Craftsmanís Fair is underway at Mount Sunapee Resort. The preview party on Friday night gave the League an opportunity to showcase some of the fairís award winning creations. As I walked around the two floors of exhibits, it made me proud to see work of our local creative crafts people on display. There were pieces from Unity, Newport, New London, Acworth, Washington and many others.

All this makes me eager to get to see the entire fair this week knowing that I will be looking at treasures made by neighbors and others from the region. And talk about success, this is the 78th annual edition of the craftsmanís fair.

Saturday I was off to Hospital Days sponsored by New London Hospital. Hanging around with two granddaughters, ages two and four, watching the parade and meeting up with friends and families on the town green is a wonderful way to spend an August afternoon. Hospital Days is a family event bringing the community and the hospital together one special weekend each year.

 

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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