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Entries in NH Senate (7)

Thursday
Oct022014

ICYMI: Gov. Maggie Hassan's toxic partisanship poisons Concord

Published in the Union Leader, October 1, 2014

 

Gov. Maggie Hassan's toxic partisanship poisons Concord

 

By Sen. Jeanie Forrester

 

LATELY GOV. Maggie Hassan has been taking credit for the bipartisan budget we passed last year. She wants you to forget the scathing rhetoric she unleashed on the Senate Republicans before she reversed course and signed that budget into law.

 

After submitting an irresponsible budget proposal that relied on fatally flawed revenue estimates that included a significant reliance on unproven gambling revenues, Hassan spent the rest of the budget debate taking shots at Republicans, without actually participating in the process. She accused Senate Republicans of choosing “the fiscally irresponsible approach of sweeping, across-the-board cuts,” and claimed that the modest increases in social service spending would be “nothing short of devastating.” She warned of “hundreds of layoffs” that never happened.

 

Sitting on the Senate Finance Committee at the time, I didn’t hear once from the governor about the budget. She didn’t take part in the budget negotiations, except by news release. Republicans passed our balanced budget without a single Democratic vote.

 

Two weeks later, when the Senate budget bill came out of the Conference Committee with few changes, Hassan reversed her position and starting patting herself on the back for a budget she spent months bashing. It was a shocking reversal, given the venom she had unleashed on us so recently. But we were happy to have the governor’s belated support, and we passed the budget with a unanimous Senate vote.

 

We shouldn’t forget Hassan’s track record of budget disasters. As Senate Majority Leader, she watched as two consecutive Democratic budgets fell apart. She supported more than 100 increases in state taxes and fees, and that still wasn’t enough to pay for the massive increase in state spending.

 

New Hampshire was forced to borrow more money to pay its bills, to cut state aid to cities and towns, and to employ gimmicks like booking phantom revenues that never materialized.

 

The 2009 budget was such a mess that the Legislature was forced to come back into special session to fill a $295 million deficit. This required dramatic cuts to senior citizen programs, juvenile placement programs, and catastrophic aid to hospitals. And even this was only a stop-gap measure.

 

The 2011 Legislature inherited an $800 million hole in the budget. Republicans reversed some of Hassan’s massive spending increase, and to this day she still blames all of the state’s problems on the budget that cleaned up her mess.

 

Hassan refuses to take responsibility for the recent downgrade of our state’s bond rating outlook. She again tried to blame the Republican Legislature, even though the S&P decision specifically cited the Medicaid lawsuit spurred by cuts she supported, the growing liability in the New Hampshire Retirement System, and our state’s inadequate Rainy Day Fund. Hassan has consistently opposed Republican efforts to address these looming fiscal challenges.

 

Time and again, Maggie Hassan has ignored problems under her watch. Unlike her claims of working in a bipartisan way, she doesn’t work with the Legislature to solve these problems. She prefers to step in once the Legislature reaches a bipartisan solution, and then claim credit for it. She is not leading. She is not solving problems.

 

I respect my Democratic colleagues in the Senate, and our counterparts in the House. We share a common dedication to making New Hampshire a better place to live, even as we disagree on how to do it. But the partisan bitterness coming from the governor’s office is toxic. It poisons the political atmosphere at the State House, making it harder for Republicans and Democrats to reach across the aisle.

 

New Hampshire citizens expect more and deserve better.

 

Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Tuesday
Apr012014

CACR 17 - Pushing Constitutional Protection For Sexual Preference 

by Bryan McCormack, Executive Director Cornerstone Action

Freedom and equality under the law for all.  In New Hampshire, we sometimes take this for granted. But our state constitution says that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied to anyone on account of race, creed, color, sex, or national origin. 

Yet twenty-three New Hampshire senators seemingly want to pick and choose who gets freedom and equal treatment, and who doesn’t.  Two weeks ago, they voted to add the novel legal concept of “sexual orientation” to the state constitution via CACR 17.) The proposed constitutional amendment will soon go to the New Hampshire House and—if it receives the necessary three-fifths majority--will go on the ballot statewide this November.

This intrusive restructuring of our state constitution would be a first-in-the-nation. No other state has attempted to place in a document that is supposed to protect everyone special protections for some, and coercion for others.  No other state has attempted to create victims of discrimination in such a fashion, nor attempted to compromise and unjustifiably burden First Amendment freedoms that should rightly be enjoyed by every citizen.  

New Hampshire legislators should recall that freedom is for all Americans.  Indeed, their first responsibility as lawmakers is to protect and uphold our constitutionally-protected freedoms, not pass and enact laws that guarantee specials safeguards for some, but bully and punish others. 

We are all currently protected under the New Hampshire constitution. So why the change? Why aren’t our lawmakers preserving freedom for everyone—something that is good for our economy, the business community, and our state.  No one should have to beg the state to exercise their constitutionally-protected freedoms.  Yet, that is exactly what this proposed constitutional amendment would do.  

Notably, only the prime sponsor, Sen. David Pierce (D-Lebanon) testified in support of this change.  But no senator questioned the detrimental impact of such a bill.  No senator questioned how adding such a malleable legal construct into the law would impact the economy and businesses.  Not a single senator asked about the religious liberty implications of such a constitutional amendment, or how it would impact those individuals and businesses that adhere to traditional views on sexuality and marriage. What will it mean for an adoption agency, for example, that seeks to place children in homes with both a mom and a dad? 

The day the CACR passed the full Senate, Sen. Pierce stated: "It’s a momentous day for me, personally, but it’s not about me. It’s a momentous day, I think, for the state that we’re committed to equality . . .” 

But this proposed constitutional amendment would enact the opposite of equality.  If would enact inequality under the law, allowing the selective selection of who gets freedom and who doesn’t—even punishing some New Hampshire citizens for simply exercising their freedoms. Such divisive treatment runs afoul of the nobility and diversity of our state.  Freedom is not negotiable and our lawmakers shouldn’t compromise our freedom.  

Everyone in New Hampshire, regardless of sexual orientation, deserves protection under the state constitution and enjoys such protection with its current language. New Hampshire lawmakers should be safeguarding these freedoms and not promoting unjust and coercive constitutional amendments under the façade of “equality.”  

Passage of CACR 17, however, would suppress these freedoms, and citizens of this great state will likely face lawsuits for simply trying to exercise their freedoms.  

Our state motto is “Live Free or Die.”  Let’s not enact a measure that would change that motto to “Live free and be sued.”  Legislators should oppose CACR 17 because freedom is not negotiable and sexual preference and behavior should never trump our fundamental freedoms.


Tuesday
Mar192013

Matthew Godlewski - State Government Should Not Be Picking Business Winners and Losers

One-Sided Bill Runs Contrary to New Hampshire’s ‘Live Free or Die’ Tradition

By Matthew Godlewski, Vice President of State Affairs

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

Think back to 1998.  Remember your hairstyle?  Your clothes? 

A lot changes in 15 years.  Not only do styles and trends change, but most things need a refresh from normal wear and tear.  The same is true for auto showrooms.

That’s partly why automakers are so strongly opposed to legislation crafted by car dealer lobbyists in Concord that would restrict automakers from requiring New Hampshire’s franchised auto dealers from improving or upgrading facilities for a full 15 years.  Automakers are asking for a reasonable 7 years, the industry standard.

And when they do upgrade and refresh their showrooms and waiting areas, dealers want full freedom to do whatever they want without input or oversight from automakers.  But like with any retail product, brand consistency is important in the ultra-competitive auto industry and manufacturers deserve to be part of the renovation process.

The truth is franchise agreements serve a very real and necessary purpose when it comes to retail sales.  They ensure like quality, style, and design that reflects on the value and character of the product sold.  That’s why a McDonalds looks like a McDonalds or a Jiffy Lube like a Jiffy Lube.  The same is true for selling cars and trucks.

And the illogical changes dealers want in New Hampshire law that regulates their business relationships with manufacturers doesn’t end there.  Their changes hurt consumers.  They will cost consumers.

Dealers insist on changes that would raise retail rates for service and repairs for everyone.  Why should New Hampshire motorists pay more than drivers in other states so dealers can increase their own profits?  They shouldn’t.

Dealers want to eliminate checks and balances built into today’s accounting practices.  Five years ago, automakers could ensure the reimbursements they were paying for warranty and recall work were accurate by auditing those invoices up to 24 months back.  In 2009, that review period shrank to 12 months.  Dealers now insist on 6 months.  What are they hiding?

And, in their bill, dealer lobbyists included first-of-its-kind language in the country that would make it easier for dealers to secure automakers’ proprietary and confidential information and sue, thereby increasing litigation, clogging up the courts, and passing on those increased costs of doing business to consumers.  Good for dealers and their lawyers, but again not for you.

The fact is Senate Bill 126 is poor public policy that lets government pick business winners and losers and sets a dangerous precedent in New Hampshire law.  It benefits car dealer interests, not yours.  And it runs contrary to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” tradition of encouraging a competitive marketplace for commerce while also protecting the interests of consumers.

The auto industry is in rebirth, and that’s good for New Hampshire.  Close to 24,000 New Hampshire families rely on jobs in the greater auto industry.  And auto-related taxes and fees generate $295 million annually to state coffers, totaling 14 percent of total state tax revenue.

According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, last year dealers enjoyed record pretax profits of nearly $850,000 per store on average.  The ship has been righted.  Automakers want to share that success with dealers, but not at the expense of New Hampshire families who will ultimately be left footing the bill if SB 126 becomes law.

Automakers stand ready to work with both legislators and dealers to find a balanced solution that addresses the needs of all parties and protects consumer interests as well.

###

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the leading advocacy group for the auto industry, represents 77% of all car and light truck sales in the United States, including the BMW Group, Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi Motors, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen Group of America and Volvo Cars North America.

Sunday
Jun262011

NH Sen Jeb Bradley - Making Tough Choices to Ensure A Strong Economic Future

By Jeb Bradley: June 25, 2011

On Wednesday, both the House and Senate passed a comprehensive two year budget that Governor Lynch has said he will not veto. Some have praised the budget’s fiscal responsibility while others have criticized the cuts it makes to services. From my vantage point, it is a budget that makes tough choices, establishes priorities, and makes long overdue reforms so that government services will be delivered in a more cost effective manner – all of which will enable NH’s competitiveness and future job growth.

Six months ago NH confronted a gaping $800 million projected budget gap. Despite a languishing economy, the previous two budgets had increased spending 23% from $9.36 billion to $11.5 billion. Prior budgets had relied on inflated revenue estimates that never materialized, borrowing for operating expenses, and one time federal stimulus dollars. Alarmingly, despite nearly 100 tax and fee increases, an $800 million gap loomed. Voters said enough last November.

The 2011 Legislature established two goals: NH would not raise taxes that would harm economic recovery and NH government would live within its means -- just as working families and small business owners have been forced to do in the current economic climate. Budget writers knew great caution was necessary in predicting future revenue and certainly the last six months have proven the wisdom of that caution as revenue has not met expectations. They also knew continued borrowing for operating expenses was unsustainable. Lastly, budget writers knew that with a $14 trillion dollar federal debt and trillion dollar deficits stretching as far as the eye can see -- federal largess was neither possible nor warranted.

Extraordinary tough choices had to be made and priorities established, which meant programs – many worthy -- were cut. Governor Lynch initially proposed significant reductions to hospitals for uncompensated care, cuts to programs that serve troubled youth, catastrophic aid for schools districts’ special education costs, Healthy Children, and to the Post Secondary Education Commission, as well as cuts to virtually every state agency except prisons. The Governor also proposed complete elimination of the 35% state assistance for cities and towns’ retirement costs which would have the effect of increasing property taxes by $85 million annually.

Governor Lynch also presumed that revenue growth would be a relatively healthy 3.5%. Unfortunately as winter turned into spring, revenue in the current budget was $42 million less than projected. Legislative budget writers had to make further spending reductions than those proposed by the Governor. NH has learned the hard way: spending that depends upon revenue that may never materialize is foolhardy.

When the budget reached the Senate, the chair of the Finance Committee, Chuck Morse, effectively established priorities. Senator Morse added funds back in to the budget for mental health programs, the developmentally disabled, Service Link, troubled youth, adoption initiatives, and catastrophic aid for special education. Morse proposed key reforms including allowing up to 600 inmates to be incarcerated at private prisons to create savings to pay for some of these adjustments. The Governor’s proposed elimination of retirement assistance to cities and towns was mitigated by pension reform legislation – benefitting hard pressed property taxpayers.

Given the significantly under-performing revenue, funding could not be restored for the University System or to hospitals. Some people have asked why then was the tobacco tax lowered and why were net-operating-loss provisions expanded. Supporters of the tobacco tax decrease believe there will be no net revenue loss as an increase in cross border sales will occur that will help small businesses. If there is a revenue loss, then the budget calls for the tax decrease to be removed in two years. The net-operating-loss provisions will only take effect in the next budget. These provisions allow business to better carry forward losses against future profits. This will improve New Hampshire’s business climate and has been an important priority for chambers of commerce across the state.

In total, spending has been reduced to $10.2 billion -- an 11% cut. Taxes have not been raised, borrowing for operating expenses has been eliminated, no federal bailouts have been assumed, and rosy revenue projections have been rejected. This budget does what small businesses, working families, and taxpayers have been doing for some time: making tough choices to live within their means.

While much has been written about the budget’s bottom line and the impact on particular programs, less discussed are the reforms that will enable state government to deliver services far more effectively and efficiently.

Medicaid – the largest cost item in our budget – will be delivered through managed care as a result of legislation I sponsored and Governor Lynch recently signed. Managed care will save millions without sacrificing quality. A new education funding formula maintains funding levels, holds communities harmless, eliminates donor towns, while mitigating large spending hikes in Concord. Bipartisan legislation I sponsored will curtail the practice of revenue auditors assessing what in essence is an income tax on the salaries small business owners pay themselves – a key reform to enhance NH’s competitiveness. I also sponsored bipartisan Shoreland Protection legislation which protects our shoreland while also simplifying the permitting process and helping homebuilders create jobs. Prison and retirement reforms will also clearly benefit taxpayers.

Voters sent a clear message last November – government had to live within its means and stop reaching ever further into taxpayers’ pockets. This budget makes the tough choices to do exactly that. By doing our job in the Legislature ending the climate of spending hikes, unsustainable borrowing, inflated revenue projections, and ever more tax and fee hikes; the stage is set for further job growth –and when job growth is sustained --- revenue will grow.

Tough choices, priorities, necessary reforms that will grow jobs -- or as President Kennedy said a rising tide that will lift all boats.

 

Thursday
Mar312011

Keeping Promises

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.