NH Week in Review for April 16: Senate starts solo venture on state budget

Apr 16, 2017

The New Hampshire Senate this week began its solitary task of crafting a new state budget.

Its budget writers in the Finance Committee took up the two year spending and revenue plan for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 in a situation that’s unique this year because it has no House recommendation on which to do its work.

With the House membership fractured, particularly among the Republicans who control the body, it was unable to pass HB 1 and make any recommendations of its own to the Senate, also controlled by the GOP.

At issue this week among Senate budget writers were the revenue estimates for the coming fiscal years.

House budget writers had taken a conservative approach to budget estimates and trimmed $200 million from the $12.1 billion budget put forward by Gov. Christopher Sununu.

Senate budget writers, with the benefit of more updated revenue estimates, could keep some of the programs that the House intended to cut from the budget, including full-day kindergarten and a scholarship program for New Hampshire students to attend the state’s public colleges and universities.

A Union Leader story said the governor’s budget director, Charlie Arlinghaus, predicted that the governor’s higher revenue estimates would be supported by actual revenue figures for April and May when they come out. “There’s been a lot of talk about exactly where state revenues are going to be,” said Arlinghaus. “I spent about a month after the governor introduced his budget explaining to anyone who would listen why the governor’s revenue estimates were not ridiculously low-balled. Then the House came up $59 million lower, and people were wondering if we were being too high.”

Meanwhile, the political fallout from the House’s failure to act on the budget continued this week.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, laid the blame on the failure at the feet of conservative Republicans who are part of the House Republican Alliance. This week, Jasper told the alliance it can’t use Stateouse space for any of its meetings because it hadn’t developed any bylaws as required by House rules. A co-chair of the alliance -- state Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford -- said Jasper is “running a dictatorship.” See an NH1 story here.

Too soon?

The first 100 days of the tenure of President Donald Trump aren't even in the history books yet and already there’s talk of who might be running for president in 2020. The talk was fueled this week by the announcement of three prominent politicians making their way to the Granite State, home to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

Early presidential visits to the Granite State often come under other pretense, such as a book tour, as is the case with John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio who ran in 2016 and is returning to New Hampshire April 27 to promote his new book. Sometimes they come as a speaker for a special event, as is the case with former Vice President Joe Biden, who will address state Democrats at their annual fundraising dinner. And Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland, is scheduled to visit later this month for house parties and a town hall.

See a WMUR story here.

Sununu and cabinet

The cabinet of Gov. Sununu continued to take shape this week. He swore in his attorney general, Gordon MacDonald, who received unanimous confirmation from the five-member Executive Council.

The council this week took up two nominations -- Ken Merrifield as labor commissioner and Peter Kujawski as commissioner of environmental services -- with questions to each about their qualifications for their representative jobs. Merrifield is the mayor of Franklin, and Kujawski is a businessman. See a Union Leader story here.

Meanwhile, the governor’s education commissioner -- Frank Edelblut -- is seeking broad discretion to restructure his department. A Senate measure allows Edelblut to make changes, which he argues are necessary to codify by law changes within the department by previous commissioners. But one of his opponents in the Executive Council, Democrat Adru Volinsky, said, “It really does amount to an unprecedented, naked power grab by the commissioner.” See a Concord Monitor story here.

The Associated Press did an assessment of the highs and lows of Sununu's first 100 days in office. Read it here.

Also

The Northern Pass electricity project through the North Country got its first public airing this week. The Public Utilities Commission hearing gives proponents and opponents the opportunity to question the primary stakeholders in the project to bring hydroelectric power from Canada into the region’s power grid. See an NHPR story here.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, predicted in an NH1 interview that senators may finally come to approving the decriminalization of marijuana. Those efforts have passed the House several times in the past, only to be killed in the Senate. This session could be different. “I actually support decrim but I think it needs to be done in a way that there is least some level of buy in from law enforcement,” Bradley told NH1 News on Tuesday.

SB 3, the effort to more closely define residency for purposes of voting, was on the receiving end of criticism this week from Lorrie Pitt, town clerk in Durham. As part of a discussion on the Exchange on NHPR, she said, “I'll be honest – even reading this bill myself, the text, to me, is overwhelmingly complicated and confusing. And I have been the town clerk for 13 years and the deputy for 12 years before that. So I’ve seen a lot of changes over time.”

Property tax credits for veterans, mental health care, and staffing at the Division of Children, Youth and Families were among the topics we tackled this week on our Facebook page. You are welcome to join the discussion here.
 

 

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