As I’m sure you are all aware, the State Budget did pass the House and Senate on Thursday, June 22. I want to make sure you are also aware that a significant number of Republican conservatives, including Representative Anne Copp and myself, worked to reduce the final numbers of the budget to the greatest extent possible, but most importantly kept a watchful eye on our most vulnerable constituents who count on services from the State.
The final budget, which we expect the governor will sign, will be $11.727 billion. The budget effects the fiscal years July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 and July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. There are no new taxes or fees. It includes a lowering of the business profit tax (BPT) from 7.9% to 7.5% and lowering the business enterprise tax (BET) from .675% to .5%. It increases the amount of capital expenses a small business in New Hampshire can deduct to $500,000 from previous $100,000. Capital expenses are those that occur when businesses reinvest in their company and that usually means more job creation. The budget eliminates the Energy Consumption Tax entirely, which will modestly reduce electric rates for ratepayers. State wide it saves rate payers approximately $6 million. You can see that these steps are designed to help grow New Hampshire’s economy and show that New Hampshire is open for business.
Our unemployment is among the lowest in the nation, but much of that is in the lower paying tourist related business sector. We hope to create higher paying employment opportunities. A very large part of the revenue the state has comes from business taxes. Since we lowered tax rates the actual business tax revenue is 12.1% ahead of projection for FY 17’ we are in right now. The new budget also grows our Rainy Day Fund from $9 million to $100.7 million. A solid Rainy Day Fund, according to our State Treasurer, protects our very good New Hampshire bond rating making it cheaper for cities and towns to borrow for large projects like road improvements and school building bonds as it reflects our very strong financial position. As of now, our biggest drawback to the state’s financial position is the continued poor condition of our state retirement system but there seems very little momentum to make a bold move there.
Heroin and Opioid Crisis: Under Governor Sununu, funds will be tripled to fight this crisis. Strong leadership and commitment to create a new youth drug treatment center in Manchester, doubles funding to the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, Treatment and Recovery ($14.2 million). $56.8 million going to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, which is a $23 million increase over the previous biennium. There will be a youth addiction wing run by a nongovernmental agency and funding for domestic violence.
Mental Health: It addresses the needs of those waiting for weeks in emergency rooms for mental health treatment by: adding 60 new beds for community treatment options, and adding a fourth rapid response mobile crisis unit to divert hospitalizations for mental health issues.
Families with disabled children: Following Governor Sununu’s lead, this will provide $57 million more in funding towards the developmentally disabled community and waiting list.
Education: Funding $5 million in student scholarships to attend New Hampshire colleges. Encouraging student’s involvement in STEM by providing grants to schools and partnering with businesses. $6.9 million goes into the newly established public school infrastructure fund. Charter schools will receive an additional $250 per student for fiscal year 2018 and $375 for fiscal year 2019. Reduce overall debt tuition.
Health and Human Services: Will receive more funding in this budget than in any prior one. Towns and counties will not see any downshifting of costs from the State. The towns will receive block grants for roads and bridges. This money is doubled from previously.
At this time I would like to say a few words about specific legislation from this past year and give my views on the outcome. First off, I’m proud to say that I have succeeded with a campaign promise and achieved 100% attendance record. My votes are a matter of public record for the most part. But let me caution you that a bill’s title frequently gives the casual reader very little understanding as to the bill’s purpose and actions. As an example, I have witnessed a bill get amended in committee to the point that the title meant the exact opposite of the sponsor’s original goals. In fact, you might see 5-10 times a year where committee amendments force representatives to actually vote against their own bill. So I suggest you be cautious in drawing conclusions when told merely a bills title and how a representative voted. I’ve been caught myself when constituents have asked why I voted on such and such a bill, giving just the title and how I voted, and I find myself thinking, “well, that doesn’t sound right…” and digging deeper, find the legislation in its final form was very much different than the title.
As to some highlighted successes and failures…we passed and the Governor signed into law, a Constitutional Carry bill, which I proudly supported. We, unfortunately, failed to pass the controversial Right-To-Work bill early on, which I believe would have helped our State grow in terms of employment opportunities.
The House made clear its desire to maintain in law the very fine education tax credit scholarship program for low and middle income families. Businesses donate to create scholarship funding, and receive tax credits. Families then apply for these scholarships to attend a school (public, private or homeschool) that provides a better fit for their child. If you own a business, pay business taxes, and want to learn more about donating to help children attend a school where they can thrive and receive a tax credit in return, please reach out to me.
Senate Bill 8 was called the “Croydon Bill” because it helped small towns like Croydon, without sufficient children to have classrooms for every grade, give their citizens the opportunity to send their child to a nearby school where the parents might select a religious school. The bill, as amended, ultimately disallowed religious schools. I supported the bill because I felt we needed to put the interests of the student first. This passed along party lines.
Senate Bill 3 was also controversial because it sought to close the Domicile Loophole in New Hampshire. Some misinterpreted that as making it more difficult to vote for targeted groups such as homeless persons and students. The republicans in the House Election Law Committee, which I am a member of, saw no evidence that anyone would be turned away from voting and believe the bill will strengthen public confidence in the integrity of our elections by closing the troublesome domicile loophole. As a reminder, a great many elections here in New Hampshire are decided by just a handful of votes. One Senate race this term was decided by under 20 votes. So, it is important that all legitimate votes get into the ballot box and get counted accurately. Proving domicile can be as easy as producing a utility bill or rental receipt or a New Hampshire driver’s license. When registering prior to 30 days of an election, a person must bring that documentation or proof of their domicile. If they do not, they have the further option to attempt registration again on Election Day and vote, but they must provide a signed promise that they will provide their proof within the next 10-30 days. The important point is no one is denied their right to vote. Under the doctrine of personal responsibility, IF one does not follow up as required with proof of their domicile, first the clerks and/or the Secretary of State will step in for additional investigation. In today’s world, you had better have an ID with you or easily accessible. I can’t imagine why one isn’t available to everyone, nor how someone could function without one. When you register your car, or cash a check, or buy an alcoholic drink at a sporting event, or ride on a bus, proof of identity is required, or you don’t proceed. This is our precious right, it should not be seen as an obstruction to anyone.
SB66: Fetal Homicide. A sensitive issue that has finally been addressed. The bill has ties to a New Hampshire Supreme Court’s decision. This legislation is NOT an abortion bill as some would like to say and confuse the issue. To me, it was solely about prosecuting those that injure or kill an unborn child. A previous representative lost his unborn grandson when a drunk driver ran into his pregnant daughter’s car in an intersection. The drunk driver was given only a misdemeanor even though he killed the unborn child. A constituent reached out to me being 9 months pregnant, 2 weeks overdue with a head-on accident resulting in the death of their unborn child. The careful wording of the bill had been crafted over many years to protect against being labeled a prolife or prochoice piece of legislation. I believe this new law will allow families to seek and receive justice when they suffer the tragedy of losing an unborn, but viable, child.
Kindergarten: This was voted as a separate bill from the budget. An amendment adopted by the Committee of Conference includes an additional $1,100 per kindergarten student in fiscal year 2019. Funds from Keno will go into the education trust fund and towns could possibly see as much as $1,800 per student. Any district that already has, or implements, full day kindergarten will receive the grant. This is not mandatory for all towns if they do not wish to participate. Also, under this amendment parents have the option for their child to go just for half day if they feel their child is not ready for all day.
Lastly, I need to say one of the greatest pleasures of serving as your Representative was meeting with 4th graders touring the Statehouse. Representative Anne Copp and I met with: Andover’s 4th grade with their teacher, Deana Crichetti; 3rd & 4th graders of Danbury and their teacher, Ms. Sterner; and most recently was Salisbury and Webster 4th graders with their teachers, Brittany Clark and Dan Diachenko, respectively. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to the children’s thoughts and fielding their questions.
Of special note were two students, Aaron Blood and Mary Frances Reid of Simond School in Warner. These 4th graders bravely gave their testimony to a House committee, and then a Senate committee, explaining why they believed the blackberry should be named the official state fruit. Their legislation passed, I’m pleased to report, for the next two years, we will have an official State fruit! Their teacher, Mr. Rob Joyner, their principal Laura Stone King and Representative Clyde Carson also deserve mention for working with the children to achieve their goal.
I hope everyone has a safe and fun summer. Representative Anne Copp and myself look forward to greeting you at the Andover Parade should you have any questions or comments.
Representative Natalie Wells
Merrimack 25 (Andover, Danbury, Salisbury, Warner, and Webster)