June is budget time. The New Hampshire budget is crafted every other year and the new budget will cover state fiscal years from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019. Governor Sununu submitted his budget to the Legislature at the end of February. The process is that the House of Representative has first crack at reviewing, revising, and submitting a House budget to the Senate. This year the House was not able to pass a budget and so the Governor’s budget went to the Senate. This is a very unusual situation and was commented on by House Speaker, Shawn Jasper (from a WMUR article dated 4/6/17 by John Destaso).
“Jasper minced no words in his opinion of the 32 members of his caucus who opposed the leadership in Thursday’s vote.”
“This is just a movement of people who, I think, are totally disconnected from their constituents and totally disconnected from the facts,” he said. “The only one consistent message when we talked to these 32 people was, ‘We didn’t want money going back to our cities and towns and school districts because we do not trust our local officials to make the right decisions with that money.’’’ (Note: the House budget included 50 million dollars to go back to towns and cities for the purpose of reducing property taxes.)
Budget discussions revolve around what money is available (revenue) and what money should be spent (expenditures). In a May 8 article, Legislator Mary Jane Wallner stated, “A two year state budget is more than a bunch of numbers. It is a strategic vision for key investments in our priorities. What problems the Legislature and Governor choose to address with these prioritized investments tells us a lot about what we value.”
The Senate Finance Committee has until May 25 to finish their work on the budget with a vote the next week by the full Senate. The amount of revenue has a higher prediction for the Senate version as additional revenue reports come in. The Senate is also predicting a 2% decrease in Medicaid caseload. This same decrease was predicted for the last budget and resulted in a nine-million dollar budget deficit. Latest news on May 24 says that the Senate Finance Committee wants to lower the Business Profits Tax and Business Enterprise Tax as well as greatly increasing allowable deductions for calculating those taxes. The opposing view is that lowering business taxes is not what is currently needed to increase economic growth; instead it is getting more dollars into the hands of consumers through property tax relief and a higher minimum wage. The Senate Finance Committee also voted to restore funding for 13 rape and domestic violence crisis centers operated by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Now is the time to let your Representatives and Senators know what you value. In the April Notes from Concord, we talked about legislation that lowered revenue or tried to move back funds that had previously been provided to cities and towns. Restoring funds to towns and cities has been a major priority of the New Hampshire Municipal Association as a central means of lowering property taxes. At the time the April article was written, most of the legislation had just gone through the Senate and those votes were provided. Here is what happened since then:
SB 2: lowering business taxes that in turn reduces revenue. The House Ways and Means Committee retained this bill and it has not gone to a full House vote.
SB 192: would have increased school building aid and was killed in the Senate.
SB193: school vouchers that would move funding for public schools to nonpublic schools. This bill was retained in the House Education Committee and has not gone to a full House vote.
HB 413: reimbursing towns and cities 15% of retirement costs for police, firefighters, and teachers. This bill is retained in the House Finance Committee and has not gone for a full House vote.
SB 242: allowing two casinos. This bill was voted Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) in both the House Committee and the full House. The bill was then voted to be postponed indefinitely.
SB 244: Increase exemptions for the Interest and Dividends tax, resulting in decreased revenue. This bill has been laid on the table and is not likely to have action this year.
The May 19, 2017 Legislative Bulletin from the New Hampshire Municipal Association states, “Additional funding for municipalities continues to be discussed in separate, off-budget legislation, such as SB 38 relative to roads and bridge infrastructure monies, and SB 57 relative to state aid grants for water and wastewater projects…”. These funds are slated to come from the fiscal year 2017 surplus. Other recent votes includes:
SB3: this bill establishes stricter rules for same day registration and has been a very controversial piece of legislation. The House Election Committee voted Ought to Pass along party lines (11 to 9) and it will be heard by the full House on June 1. Voting in favor of the bill was Natalie Wells.
HB640: With bipartisan support, the Senate voted to decriminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts (3/4 of an ounce or less). The vote was 17 to 6 with Howard French and Dan Feltes in favor and Bob Giuda opposing. In the House, the vote was 318-36 with Natalie Wells in favor and Anne Copp not voting. Governor Sununu has indicated that he intends to sign the bill. New Hampshire is the only New England state that still gives jail sentences for possessing small amounts of Marijuana.
On May 9, in a bipartisan vote, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee voted to strengthen standards for evaluating ground water pollution in New Hampshire. The language of the legislation calls for the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt a Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) for perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in public water systems. PFOS and PFOA are two of the most cited contaminants in a well.
During this last month of the Legislative Session you may want to keep up to date with daily emails on what the Legislature is doing. One nonpartisan site that collects information from many different sources is New Hampshire Journal. You can sign up by going to: eepurl.com/bPCSUL.