By Jeb Bradley March 30, 2011
Over the past three months members of the New Hampshire Senate have focused on passing legislation that will bring expenditures into line with revenues, reform antiquated programs, enhance public safety, protect both the environment and property rights, and improve the business climate.
Noteworthy legislation includes:
Senate Bill (SB)-183 introduced by Senator Jim Rausch and Senator Nancy Stiles reforms the current education funding formula that pits town against town and has growing unsustainable costs. Senators Rausch and Stiles devised a new formula that assures that every community receives the same level of education funding next year, prevents funding decreases to nearly 125 towns, and blocks the return of donor towns. It will also reduce state expenditures by $140 million by level funding the formula. This critical legislation passed the Senate on a bi-partisan voice vote and enjoys the support of Governor Lynch.
I sponsored SB-3 which addresses the New Hampshire Retirement System’s dangerous unfunded liability of $4.7 billion. It will ensure that the pension system is viable for current and future retirees, while lowering skyrocketing rates that cities and towns (taxpayers) must pay for employees, teachers, police and firefighters. Current retirees will not be affected. Employees close to retirement will in most circumstances only experience increased contribution rates. Some younger employees may have to work one to four years longer and be unable to add items such as unused sick and vacation time to pension calculations. While most employees affected by these changes have concerns and many have expressed those concerns to me personally, everyone realizes the current unfunded liability and corresponding increase in property taxes is unsustainable. No one understands this reality better than struggling taxpayers. SB-3 passed the Senate 19-5.
Senator Chuck Morse sponsored CACR-5 (a Constitutional Amendment) to give New Hampshire governors line-item veto power. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states whose governor does not have the ability to veto extraneous spending. The proposal would include a 2/3rd override provision by the Legislature and could only be used to eliminate spending items – not language in legislation. Given that spending increased 24% over the previous four years, the line-item veto would have proven a useful tool. CACR-5 passed the Senate 19-5, must still be adopted by the House and then approved by 67% of voters in November 2012.
Senator Bob Odell sponsored SB-1 which restores parity between public employees and employers in contract negotiations by repealing the so called “evergreen” law. “Evergreen” allowed step pay increases to continue even after the expiration of a contract. This provided a powerful disincentive against employees negotiating new contracts. Cities and towns can still agree on an “evergreen clause” if local voters approve it. SB-1 passed 19-5 in the Senate, 282-70 in the House, and Governor Lynch allowed it to become law without his signature. It should be noted, amidst all the recent controversy about collective bargaining, the focus of SB-1 is very limited and does not undermine public employee’s rights to organize collectively in a union.
Senate President Peter Bragdon sponsored SB-52 which corrects the ill-fated provisions of SB-500 which allowed early release of violent offenders and took away discretion of the Parole Board by limiting parole violations to no more than a 90 day return to prison. Bragdon’s legislation gives the Parole Board the ability to block early release and allows the board far greater latitude to return repeat offenders to prison for more than a 90 day “slap on the wrist.” This legislation ends the minimal administrative supervision for high risk sexual predators that have completed their prison terms and replaces it with active supervision. SB-52 passed the Senate on a bi-partisan voice vote.
I sponsored SB-154 to clarify the Shore Land Protection Act. SB-154 maintains important environmental and water quality protections while also respecting the rights of property owners. It is supported by the NH Lakes Association, the Department of Environmental Services, home builders and property rights advocates. It passed the Senate on a bi-partisan voice vote. If enacted into law SB-154 will simplify the permitting process and give a boost to the depressed construction industry in the Lakes Region.
I also sponsored SB-147 which will implement managed care for Medicaid eligible residents. Managed care has been utilized by many states to lower the cost of Medicaid (the largest cost center in NH government) while maintaining quality services. A private entity such as an insurance company competitively bids to serve the Medicaid population and assumes the financial risk. By creating a medical home for patients and better management of chronic conditions, quality care is maintained while costs are curtailed. Governor Lynch has embraced managed care and estimated $33 million in savings in his budget. Savings over time could be far more significant. SB-147 has passed the Senate on a bi-partisan voice vote.
Lastly, I have sponsored SB-125 which would give business owners protection from intrusive Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) audits which often result in assessing the 8.5% Business Profits Tax on much of the compensation a business owner pays him or herself. These audits have increased in scope and frequency, have become an income tax on business owners, and are undermining the ability of NH to attract and retain successful and job producing small business owners. An amendment was added to delay implementation pending resolution of the budget. SB-125 passed the Senate with a bi-partisan 24-0 vote and will, I expect, be supported vigorously in the House.
While Concord headlines often focus on and highlight legislative controversies, the Senate continues to work diligently on the major challenges facing our state, and often in a bi-partisan manner. That is what New Hampshire voters want and expect. It is our job to keep those promises.