Special Session Farce

by Rep. Andrew Renzullo (R - Hills 27)

If you follow state politics at all you’ve probably heard or read about the most recent episode of the madhouse comedy that passes for state government in New Hampshire, the “EMERGENGY” special session of June 4. While the Legislature was already in session Governor John Lynch and the Executive Council, with the connivance of the House Speaker and Senate President, called a special “emergency” session of the Legislature to take place IMMEDIATELY after the regular session ended! The Governor and Council called for the session in the morning and it was held in the afternoon after the regular session finished.

Now what was the emergency? Had the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station had a meltdown? Had Vermont invaded Hanover and occupied Dartmouth? Nope. The emergency was that the Governor “discovered” he had a budget deficit due to the inflated budget he and his party’s legislative leaders had passed last year. If you couple that with the filing date for Governor being the following week, then having a red-ink stained budget on the table while you’re making your filing speech could be considered an “emergency,” a political emergency.

So the Governor’s problem was how to come up with some money fast to mask the state’s real financial dilemma. No problem, borrow it. It’s easy. If you have a car payment due, borrow money on your credit card. Ignore the fact that you’re transferring the cost, plus interest payments, to a future date.

One of the Governor’s ideas was to take the School Building Aid Transfer, which, for years, has always been treated as an expense item, and bond it. That’s good for 40 million dollars. Forget the fact that our children will be paying back the loan, plus interest.

Another idea was to allow the Pease Redevelopment Authority to borrow $10 million to pay back early the $10 million it had previously borrowed from the state. This is a neat way to have $10 million appear on the state’s books but have the debt appear on the books of another state entity.

As an aside, if you are a real government wonk you’re now asking the question, if there is a real financial emergency, why doesn’t Governor Lynch tap into the $87 million “Rainy Day” fund? That’s money set aside for emergencies, isn’t it? Well, the response from the House Democrat Leadership was, to the effect, that this “emergency” wasn’t the kind of emergency for which the rainy day fund should be used. Back to my story.

Now that the Governor had figured a way to finagle the books, he needed to get around the legislature, most notably the House, and its pesky rules. No problem, re-write the rules! But you can’t, the legislature has already adopted rules for this session, especially the inconvenient rule requiring a 2/3rds approval to take up new business. No problem. Call a Special “Emergency” session. Then you can adopt any rules you want. And the rules the majority party adopted made a farce of the legislative process.

First, the House legislators were not supplied with written copies of the new rules, only a sheet listing changes by section. Second, these rules did away with having any hearings for public input or referral to committees who could study the proposals and make intelligent recommendation to the whole House. And finally, the bill itself was handed out to be voted on while the House members were seated in session. Outraged by this travesty, many House Republicans walked out (but later returned out of respect for the institution).

Needless to say, Governor Lynch and the Democrat leadership in the legislature got what it wanted. But at what cost? Over 200 years the legislative process has been developed in New Hampshire. A cornerstone of that process is due deliberation and public openness. To deny the public’s input on a multi-million dollar financial bill is unconscionable. To hide the contents of a multi-million dollar financial bill from legislators until they are in session is unacceptable. The people have a right to expect their legislators to give due diligence to legislation and not be stampeded or coerced. Yet the overwhelming majority of Democrats sat there and did exactly that. They chose party loyalty over loyalty to the institution they swore an oath to serve. What happened inConcord last week helped add to the negative perception the electorate has of government. I hope the Governor and Democrat Leadership felt it was worth it.