Just as the board is set just before a chess match, the same is true for the legislature.
Last week, with the Senate’s Tuesday deadline for signing off on new bills by co-sponsors, the stage was set for the next step for hundreds of bills introduced for the 2012 legislative session. That will be scheduling for public hearings by committee chairs.
Each bill starts with an idea and a sponsor, new language is written or adapted from someone else’s draft, and possibly up to five House sponsors and an unlimited number of Senate sponsors are signed on. The bills start out as Legislative Service Requests, or LSRs, which become bills when the language of each bill is accepted by the sponsor.
The weekly calendars, one for the House and one for the Senate, will go from a couple of pages to lengthy documents as chairs of committees set dates for the public hearings. That process will begin in January with legislators looking to complete work on bills starting in their chambers by "cross over" day in the spring.
There is a bit of a lull in legislative activity between now and the committee hearings and full sessions of the House and Senate beginning in January. I find it a good time to reflect on where our state stands, what our priorities should be and to get some of the facts right about the economic status of our state in these uncertain economic and political times.
For me, once a year I turn to an "official statement" produced by the State Treasurer tied to a recent bond offering. The current one is for a $100 million sale of general obligation improvement bonds that were issued late in October that mature out to as far as 2031. The bonds will pay for capital projects approved as part of the biennial budget by the legislature in June and other previously approved bonding.
The official statement is a presentation of the status of our state that an investor checking us out might be interested in knowing. The quality of the bonds, of course, is the first question of buyers. And the state has top credit ratings compared to ratings of other states. Fitch’s rating is AA+, Moody’s Aa1 and Stand & Poor’s AA.
The first 20 pages of the statement cover the information on the bonds. Then, there are 79 pages of information about our state. It begins with information as basic as population and related trends.
We have led in population growth among New England states for decades and it is up 6.5 percent since 2000. But in 2010, our population declined by 0.7 percent while the national population was up 0.6 percent. That change in population is hopefully an aberration but reflects the impact of the recession as population percentage growth has been less each year since 2006.
Per capita income rose 37.3 percent between 2000 and 2010. That was more than the 35.3 percent growth across the United States and substantially more than the 29.3 percent growth in New England. New Hampshire was 9th in the country with per capita income of $44,084. That was an increase over 2009 of $1,500 per person.
Our state’s largest employers last year were Wal-Mart (8,421 employees), Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (7,073), DeMoulis and Market Basket (6,000), BAE Systems (4,599) and Fidelity Investments (4,400).
What workers do changed over the last decade. Sadly, and maybe alarmingly, the percentage of men and women in manufacturing dropped from 16.5 percent to 10.6 percent. Meanwhile, the nonmanufacturing part of the economy saw government and service industries grow their employment.
Layoffs and reduced spending this year in healthcare and government employment at the state and local levels will impact these numbers and it will be interesting to see how that changes the composition of our workforce in the next few years.
Housing prices, of course, have taken a serious hit over the last couple of years. From a high median sale price in 2005 of $270,000, it had dropped to $217,000 in 2009 and if you count the January through May period this year, the figure was down to $214,900. Those numbers help explain why our economy is having such a tough time recovering from the recession.
Parallel to housing data, equally serious numbers relate to building activity in the state. The number of building permits issued in 2000 was 6,680 with a value of $937 million dollars. Last year, comparable numbers were 2,670 permits issued with a value of $462 million. That is a decline of more than 50 percent in value over the last decade.
The education level of New Hampshire residents over the age of 25 is higher than the nation as a whole. For the nation, 28.2 percent of the population has 4 or more years of college while that number is 32.8 percent for New Hampshire.
State finances take up 70 of the 79 page summary and some of that information would be worthy of a future column. There is one strong declarative sentence, however, that may sum up the state’s attitude toward changes in our taxation policy. That sentence reads: "The State believes its tax structure has played an important role in the State’s economic growth."
Good information is essential to good legislation. Plus, learning more about what is going on in the state is always interesting.
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