Seacoastonline Editorial: Governor’s Budget Veto Will Prove a Mistake

Seacoastonline.com Editorial (June 29, 2019)

“In 2011, the Republican House and Senate presented Democratic Gov. John Lynch with a budget he strongly opposed, but he allowed it to become law without his signature.

‘In considering whether to veto the budget bills or allow them to become law, I have two major considerations: Could a veto result in a better budget for the people of New Hampshire, and what are the potential consequences of a veto for our people,’ Lynch explained.

Lynch quickly realized vetoing the budget would do more damage than good and he did what was right for the people of New Hampshire and let it become law.

This is the path Gov. Chris Sununu should have taken after he received the $13.3 billion two-year operating budget approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate. Instead, late Friday afternoon he vetoed it.

In our view, vetoing the budget will not result in any improvements. In fact, a veto reopens the entire process and could result in Democrats reintroducing their top priorities of paid family medical leave and modifying the capital gains tax, which they removed after Sununu said he would veto the budget if those two items were included.

Far more important, we believe delaying implementation of the many excellent measures contained in this budget, which Sununu agrees with almost entirely, hurts all the people of New Hampshire; its most vulnerable citizens struggling with physical and mental health challenges, families in crisis, property taxpayers begging for some relief, school districts starved of resources, even the very businesses Sununu said he is trying to help.

Sununu said he vetoed the budget because it does not authorize a third reduction in four years of business profits and business enterprise taxes. The state has already implemented two rounds of business tax cuts, which have resulted in New Hampshire having the lowest business tax rates in New England.

Democratic budget writers believed if they compromised on their two top priorities, family medical leave and the capital gains tax modifications, Sununu would compromise and agree to freeze the third round of business tax cuts. But he dug in on the business tax cuts, despite the budget’s many other benefits to the state’s businesses.

While businesses are happy to receive tax cuts, many told a commission studying business taxes in 2014 that their priorities when considering whether to expand or relocate are energy costs, an educated workforce, transportation and the overall cost of doing business.

Businesses also asked for, and received, reforms in this budget that put the state tax code in conformity with the federal code and prevent double taxation on services performed in New Hampshire for out-of-state clients. These tax reforms will also be delayed because of Sununu’s veto.

In recent decades, budget vetoes have not worked out well for New Hampshire governors.

In 2015, we were critical of Gov. Maggie Hassan when she vetoed the budget presented to her by a Republican-controlled Legislature for the same sorts of thin, partisan reasoning Sununu used to justify his veto. Then, as now, we wrote: ‘New Hampshire would have been better served had the governor let the budget become law without her signature…’

Hassan vetoed the budget, delaying funding for vital services such as opioid addiction treatment and recovery. In the end, the business taxes she cited to justify her veto remained in the budget and Hassan’s credibility was badly damaged.

If Sununu wants more evidence that vetoing reasonable budgets hurts governors, he can look to a Republican predecessor, Gov. Craig Benson, who made a big show of vetoing the budget created by his fellow Republicans in June 2003, going so far as to create a giant veto stamp and holding a press conference to crow about it.

‘A mere two months later Benson cut and ran, by signing into law a budget that contained even higher spending than the budget he had vetoed,’ wrote the New Hampshire Business Review.

Benson was also the first governor since 1926 not to be re-elected to a second term.

Our bipartisan editorial board has twice endorsed Sununu and we believe he truly wants what’s best for the state, which is why we cannot understand his veto. His veto message is a generic political statement that sheds no light.

We urge the governor to work in good faith with the Legislature to end this budget impasse as quickly as possible. That course of action is not just good politics, it’s what’s best for the people of New Hampshire.

 

House Election Law Chair Calls Secretary of State Election Training Procedures Into Question After Embarrassing Voter Assistance Inquiry

During the November 2018 State General Election, a Charlestown mother assisted her disabled son at the polls. NH RSA 659:20, Assistance in Voting, is quite clear that “a person of the voter’s choice” may assist a voter who needs assistance in marking the ballot.   19-year-old Justin Milliken is a registered voter in the town of Charleston; he has cerebral palsy and a seizure condition and cannot fill out a paper ballot on his own. A Charlestown Supervisor of the Checklist subsequently filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office questioning whether Justin could effectively communicate his choice in candidates.

Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s office cleared Justin’s mother, Dee, of any wrongdoing in assisting her disabled son at the polls, dismissing any suggestion she had committed voter fraud, and chastised Nancy Houghton, the Supervisor of the Checklist who had filed the complaint by pointing out “…that the Supervisors of the Checklist have no responsibility with respect to the voter assistance oath…” and warned that in the future, “…if any Charlestown election official has any questions regarding…allowing a registered voter to vote, they should always call either the Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State’s office to discuss the situation before…denying a voter the right to vote.”

On June 14th, Rep. David Cote of Nashua, Chair of the House Election Law Committee, issued a press release urging the Secretary of State’s office “to review current training procedures for local elections to ensure that such an embarrassment does not recur anywhere in the State of New Hampshire ever again.” He continued, “I am troubled by recent reports in the wake of these events, that Mr. Milliken may be discouraged in the future exercise of his right to vote. I would urge him not to allow the exceptionally poor judgment shown on this occasion to affect in any way his enthusiasm for exercising this precious and vital constitutional right.”

In a statement released by the NH Disability Rights Center, the Center also voiced concern about the “problematic lack of training for Charlestown poll workers and election officials around voters who require assistance in voting, and accessible voting generally.”

Is Secretary of State Bill Gardner Trying to Influence the Legislature More This Year than in the Past?

The NH Business Review recently observed that Secretary of State Bill Gardner seems to be involving himself in legislative deliberations this session, more than in the past (June 7 – 20, 2019 issue).  Here’s what the publication had to say relative to HB 651:

“Is it only in the imagination, or does it seem that SOS Billy Gardner is putting in his 2 cents a lot more the last couple years?

The most recent one came when the SOS carped about a bill that would allow campaign contributions to be spent on child-care costs.  The goal, say backers, is to make it easier for young parents to run for office.  But the main point is that it’s also something that the Federal Election Commission has already endorsed for federal campaigns.

Apparently that’s not enough for the SOS, who opposed the NH bill on the grounds that it would be unfair to donors.

Starts to make you wonder if he’s just a grudge against young people.

Nah, couldn’t be.”

On Thursday, June 13, the House concurred with the Senate’s amendment to HB 651 and the bill is headed to the Governor.

As a member of the House Election Law Committee, I can attest that the Secretary of State or the Deputy Secretary of State attended almost every public hearing of our committee during the 2019 session.  Often, their testimony began: “We are not taking a position on this bill, but…” and the office would then bash elements in the proposed legislation without making recommendations on how to fix any “weaknesses” they perceived in the bills.  On one occasion, a subcommittee had spent considerable time working on an amendment to HB 408, relative to the postponement of town meetings and local elections (due to inclement weather), and the Secretary of State walked into a subcommittee meeting 10 minutes prior to its deadline to report and said the bill wouldn’t work because some towns sometimes have concurrent state elections to fill vacancies in a state office and town moderators did not have the right to postpone state elections.  He had had multiple opportunities to raise this concern during the public hearing on this bill and during an earlier subcommittee work session, but did not do so.  As a result of this last-minute objection, the House Election Law Committee had little choice but to ask the committee to retain HB 408.  Fortunately, a similar bill had been introduced in the Senate (SB 104).  The Senators took the work of the House Election Law Committee, addressed the Secretary of State’s point, and passed SB 104.  The House concurred with that bill.

Yes, Secretary Gardner has been very active in trying to influence legislative policy in public and behind the scenes during the current legislative session.  Guidance, advice, and interpretation of proposed legislation from the Secretary of State is appropriate and welcome.  However, the development of legislative priorities, procedures and policies is the purview of the General Court — the House and Senate — not the Secretary of State.

Anniversaries

From June 2 through June 8, the NH Legislature celebrated the 200th anniversary of the construction of the NH State House, which began in 1816 and was completed in 1819. The first session of the General Court in this building also occurred in 1819. The NH State House Bicentennial Commission held a series of events and programs to commemorate the building’s anniversary including re-enactments, a Cultural Heritage and Arts Day on the Plaza, tours, and special programs.

But this week also marked several other anniversaries which members of the House commemorated during remarks on the floor. This week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Normandy landing operations during World War II, which occurred on June 6, 1944.  It was the largest seaborne invasion in history.  Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English channel that day. Allied casualties on the first day were estimated to be at 10,000. The operation laid the foundation for the Allied victory on the Western front.

77 years ago – from June 4 – 7, 1942 – the United States Navy defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway, inflicting devastating and irreparable damage on the Japanese fleet. The Battle of Midway, which occurred just six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, is widely considered a turning point in the Pacific War.

And 100 years ago – on June 4, 1919 – Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which would grant all American women the right to vote. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment on August 18, 1920, and eight days later the Secretary of State ratified passage of the 19th Amendment.

NH’s program to recognize the bicentennial of its State House building was a wonderful experience, but I was very pleased that members of the House took to the floor this week to recognize these other, important anniversaries and to honor the people whose sacrifices preserved the country and shaped the times we live in today.

Bill Allowing No-excuse Absentee Voting in NH is Approved by Senate and House

On Thursday, May 30th, the New Hampshire Senate voted 13 – 11 to pass HB611 which would allow any voter who wishes, to cast his or her ballot by mail.  Under current law, voters may only cast absentee ballots if they will be absent from the town or city where they live on election day, have a disability that prevents them from going to the polls, or have conflicts due to religious commitments, employment, the uncompensated care of children or infirm adults, or due to severe weather warnings.  The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature of approval — or veto.

Passage of this bill will significantly impact the volume of absentee ballots that will need to be processed by NH election officials.  During the 2016 State General Election, for example, 3,499 absentee ballots were cast in the City of Nashua.  It would not be unreasonable to assume that this number could double for the 2020 State General Election if HB611 becomes law.  However, supporters of the bill believe that a vote-by-mail option for all qualified voters in NH will increase involvement in the political process.

In a statement released following the Senate’s approval of this bill, the prime sponsor, Rep. Katherine Rogers of Concord, stated “It is time that we join the majority of states in America and increase access to the ballot box by allowing no-excuse absentee balloting….Allowing all eligible voters to access absentee ballots is not only fair, it ultimately increases involvement in the democratic process.”

Sometimes a Bill’s Title Does Not Reflect What the Bill Actually Would Do

During the the March 14th House Session, Representatives approved HB 198, “repealing the prohibition on texting while driving” by a vote of 252 – 73.  Why would so many Legislators approve such a bill?  What the bill actually did was repeal one provision in state law, which only referred to texting (RSA 265:105-a) and reinforced a newer, more comprehensive section of state law (RSA 265-79-c), commonly known as the hands-free law.  And it increased penalties: for a first or second offense, the penalty would be $250 – $1000 (not $100), then not less than $500 for any subsequent offense.  Further, the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles would be able to suspend a driver’s license for 10 days for a second offense and for not less than 10 days for any subsequent offense.  So while the bill’s title suggests that the prohibition against texting while driving was being repealed, the bill was actually strengthening enforcement and penalties for the hands-free law.  The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration and if it passes, it will go to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Remember to Vote in the Special City Election on Tuesday, March 5th

Update:  Congratulations to Benjamin Clemons who swept all nine wards in the City’s Special Election to fill a vacancy for Alderman-at-Large on the Board of Aldermen.

The City of Nashua is holding a special election on Tuesday, March 5th, to fill a vacancy on the Board of Aldermen that resulted from the untimely passing of Aldermanic President Brian McCarthy late last year.  The winner of the Special Election will complete the unfinished four-year term (2016 – 2019).

Two former Aldermen are campaigning for the Alderman-at-Large position: Fred S. Teeboom, 24 Cheyenne Drive, and Benjamin M. Clemons, 188 Ash Street. Teeboom was originally elected as an Alderman-at-Large in 1993, served a four-year term, and was again elected in 2005 for another four years.  Clemons served on the Board from 2008-2012 as an Alderman-at-Large, and again from 2016-2017 as a Ward 6 alderman.

Turnout during Special Elections tends to be lower than the turnout for a regularly-scheduled Municipal Election.  Every vote is important.  Please be sure to take some time to get to the polls on Tuesday.

Polls will be open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 5.  Polling locations for each Nashua ward are as follows:

• Ward 1: Broad Street Elementary School, 390 Broad St.

Ward 2: Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, 48 Charlotte Ave.

• Ward 3: Amherst Street Elementary School, 71 Amherst St.

• Ward 4: Ledge Street Elementary School, 139 Ledge St.

• Ward 5: Main Dunstable Elementary School, 20 Whitford Road.

• Ward 6: Fairgrounds Middle School, 27 Cleveland St.

• Ward 7: Dr. Norman W. Crisp Elementary School, 50 Arlington St.

• Ward 8: Bicentennial Elementary School, 296 E. Dunstable Road.

• Ward 9: New Searles Elementary School, 39 Shady Lane.

Key Education Bills Receive Initial House Approval

The NH House of Representatives, today, approved HB 564, relative to possession of firearms in safe school zones, which would incorporate the Federal Gun Free Schools Act into New Hampshire law.  The final roll call vote to pass the bill with an amendment was 194 – 154 in favor of the legislation.  This is position that I supported during my campaign for State Representative, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to cast my vote in favor of this legislation.

HB 551, establishing an independent school funding commission, was approved 207 – 148.  Supporters of the bill argued that the legislature has not adequately addressed the directives of the original Claremont court ruling on how to fund public schools and that an independent commission could provide a more comprehensive review.  HB 184, to include full-day kindergarten students in the adequacy formula, passed on a roll call vote, 203 – 148.  Funds currently provided to support kindergarten are conditional on Keno revenues, and those revenues are falling behind initial projections and have been insufficient to fund full-day kindergarten.  HB 177, which would stop the continued reduction of stabilization grants was approved on a 268 – 90 roll call vote.  In 2017, a change to state law would wipe out the stabilization grants over 25 years by reducing payments to school districts by 4% each year.  Many school districts across the state rely on the stabilization grant to make up for some of the inadequacies in the education funding model.

There were a number of very important bills approved by the House today.  Tomorrow is the last day to act on bills that need to be referred to a second house committee.  Over the next few days, I will provide highlights of other bills that were — or will be — acted upon by the House this week.

House Election Law Committee Backs Independent Redistricting Commission

The House Election Law committee has voted 20 – 0 to recommend passage of HB 706, which creates a 15-member, independent redistricting commission.  The Chair of the Committee appointed a subcommittee to review the proposed legislation and to recommend amendments, if the subcommittee deemed them appropriate.  The subcommittee was chaired by Committee Vice Chairman Wayne Moynihan (D).  Additional members included Representatives Paul R. Bergeron (D), Gerald Ward (D),  Timothy Lang (R), and Kathleen Hoelzel (R).  The subcommittee recommended a number of minor amendments to the bill which included allowing for more open-ended participation on the redistricting commission by municipal officials, reducing the initial pool of applicants scheduled for interviews from 60 to 45 candidates, and strengthening the criteria that should be considered during the redistricting process.  No one who has, during the preceding four years, been a candidate for, or elected to, federal, state, or county elective office would be eligible to serve on the commission, nor would anyone who has worked for a major political party during that time, been a registered lobbyist, or has made significant contributions to any one federal candidate be allowed to participate.  Members of the commission will include five Republicans, five Democrats, and five members who are of neither party.  HB 706 — with unanimous, bipartisan committee support — will now go to the full House for consideration.  The bill will appear on the February 27th House Calendar. (Update: HB 706 was subsequently approved by the House on a roll call vote, 218 – 123.)

Governor’s Budget Address and House Calendar: February 14

The House will meet in Joint Session on Thursday, February 14, 2019, at 10:00 am to hear Governor Sununu’s budget address.  Following the budget address, the House will meet in regular session. 77 proposed bills appear on the Consent Calendar; 36 proposed bills appear on the regular calendar.  Bills on the Consent Calendar generally have a unanimous recommendation as Ought to Pass or found to be Inexpedient to Legislate, though a small number of those bills may have one or two dissenters.  Any House member may request that a bill be pulled from the Consent Calendar and debated during the Session.  Committee recommendations for bills that are not pulled from the Calendar will be approved en masse with a single vote.

Bills that may be of particular interest to Nashua Ward 2 residents include the following:

HB176-FN-A, relative to grants for school building aid and making an appropriation therefor.  This bill amends the current maximum expenditures for school building aid grants from a maximum of $50 m  million per year to a minimum expenditure of no less than $50 million per year. Committee recommendation: Ought to Pass.

HB222, relative to criteria for teachers in charter schools.  Present law requires 50% of chartered public school teachers be certified or have at least three years teaching experience.  This bill increases this to 75%.  Committee recommendation: Inexpedient to Legislate.

HB 497-FN-A-LOCAL, relative to payment by the state of a portion of retirement system contributions of political subdivision employers.  This bill upholds the promise made by the state to pay a portion of the employer’s contribution to the NH Retirement System (NHRS).  The state’s payment to NHRS was reduced from 35% in 2008 to 0% as of 2012.  This bill would require the state to pay 15% of the cost to the NHRS, thus reducing the cost for local communities.  Committee recommendation: Ought to Pass.

HB 185-FN-A-LOCAL, relative to contingently reducing the rate of the interest and dividends tax and repealing the tax in 5 years.  The Committee report stated that it could not determine the total cost of the bill as applicability dates in the bill were not specified.  Committee recommendation: Inexpedient to Legislate.