Legislative Update June 9, 2017
Both chambers met in abbreviated sessions on Thursday to address concurrences and requests for committees of conference on the last of the 2017 bills. Work on all remaining legislation concludes next week.
October surprise. In June
When the House and Senate sit down today to begin negotiations on the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget, there will be a new proposal on the table. Late Thursday, Senate leadership announced they will propose repealing the Electricity Consumption Tax effective Fiscal Year 2019. The proposal also includes a biomass energy study committee for 2018. The idea is certain to please ratepayers, and in particular the state’s business interests, who have made no secret of their unhappiness with electric rates that are among the highest in the nation. There’s no doubt the proposal, which eliminates a tax, reduces regulation and lowers electric rates, will add an interesting twist to budget negotiations and catch the eye of business interests and conservatives alike. The key question – the $11.8 billion question – is: will it draw sufficient support from House conservatives to gain the needed budget votes?
The same, but different
The legislature is sailing in uncharted waters to some degree, considering that the House does not have a budget of its own for the first time in many decades. But in other respects the process is the same. The two chambers will sit down to negotiate, as they do every budget cycle, and the House has a voice. And regardless of reaction to the idea of repealing the electricity tax, other differences on the budget remain, as they always do. Among them are the House budget number, which is one million higher than the Senate number, and the business tax cuts the Senate added. There are also other bills that were amended by one chamber or the other, and that can be used as leverage for their preferences. Chief among those is the combined Keno-kindergarten legislation. That bill takes the original Keno gaming bill that the House passed and the Senate retained for study, and uses Keno as a way to fund expanded kindergarten, which is a priority of Governor Chris Sununu and is favored, in one form or another, by both chambers. Meanwhile, House Democrats remain unhappy with a budget they say underestimates revenues and undercuts social service spending.
You can’t tell the players without a scorecard
So who is doing the talking? In a somewhat unusual action, House leadership made the decision to go to a committee of conference with the Senate without seeking the approval of the entire House. Speaker Shawn Jasper appointed himself, House Majority Leader Richard Hinch and Representative Neal Kurk, chair of House Finance Committee, to the House team, along with Representatives Lynne Ober, Karen Umberger and Mary Jane Wallner, who is the lone Democrat. Much to their chagrin, there are no members of the House Freedom Caucus on the negotiating team. The Senate will be represented by Senate President Chuck Morse and Senator Gary Daniels, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, along with Senator John Reagan and Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a Democrat.
Something more to talk about
The House declined to concur with the 2018-2019 Capital Budget adopted by the Senate last week, so the two sides will meet to confer. The Capital Budget, totaling almost $125 million, involves larger, longer-term spending projects funded by bonding and federal money matches. Senators had amended the Capital Budget, which now includes $12 million for renovations at the Rochester Career and Technical Education Center and an additional $2.5 million for the Affordable Housing Fund.
The field is set
Kevin Cavanaugh, an alderman and union organizer from Manchester, soundly defeated Manchester attorney Jim Normand this week in the primary for the Democratic nomination for the New Hampshire Senate District 16 special election. Cavanaugh will face Republican David Boutin, who held the District 16 seat from 2009-2016, and Libertarian Jason Dubrow of Dunbarton, in the July 25 election. The special election is being held to replace Democratic Senator Scott McGilvray, who passed away suddenly in March. District 16 covers Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Manchester Wards 1, 2 and 12.
She’s the woman
Governor Sununu has nominated attorney and Republican Party activist Anna Barbara “Bobbie” Hantz Marconi to serve as an associate justice on the New Hampshire Supreme Court. If approved by the Executive Council, Hantz Marconi would replace retiring Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy.
And he’s the man
Governor Sununu nominated Public Utilities Commissioner Robert Scott to be Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services. Scott has extensive experience at DES, having worked for 17 years with the department’s Air Resources Division, including ten years as director. The Executive Council will hold a public hearing on the nomination next week.
The Senate and the House have set June 15 as the deadline for committees of conference to finish reports on all remaining bills. Both chambers will meet in session on June 22nd to take final action on the conference committee recommendations.