Report from Concord

By Ken Wells & David Kerrick

With the end of June comes the end of the regular legislative schedule. The House and Senate have read each other’s bills and made their decisions to concur or reject each one of them. A huge pile of bills are sitting on Governor Sununu’s desk, awaiting his signature. If he signs a bill, it becomes law. If he decides to veto a bill, he writes a “veto message” to the Legislature explaining his reasons. The House and Senate may decide to try to override a veto, if they can. To succeed, they need a ⅔ majority in both chambers. (An example of an override is what happened last month with the bill repealing the death penalty in New Hampshire. The Governor’s veto was overridden by both Republicans and Democrats, in both the House and Senate.) As a third option, the Governor might do nothing with a bill. In that case, in accordance with our state Constitution, the bill becomes law after five days without the Governor’s signature. There is no “vest pocket veto” in our state.

Most important among those bills is the state budget. In this case, “budget” refers to a massive thousand-page financial plan for collecting and spending taxpayer’s money for public projects and services that we, the people of New Hampshire, want. The trouble is that the people of New Hampshire don’t all agree. Likewise, the Governor, the House and the Senate disagree on what their constituents want, so they have crafted three different budget plans that reflect their different interpretations of what the people want.

The Governor proposed his budget first, the House rejected it and wrote another budget, then the Senate modified that. Now it’s time for all three parties to “negotiate a compromise”, which means, as the cynical old joke goes, “that they talk it over until they ALL AGREE on a budget that NOBODY is happy with.”

There is an additional serious complication to this picture of the budget: not all “the people of New Hampshire” being represented are New Hampshire voters. In fact, some “people” being represented are not even human, but are corporate entities. We are in a conflict where champions of public versus corporate philosophies are vying to turn their interests into policy.  Consider the large amounts of “dark money” being spent to hire lawyers and lobbyists to influence legislation, to organize “political action committees” and “associations” that contribute to various election campaigns, and even to fund “studies” by bogus institutes that publish disinformation and misleading data. The playing field is being tipped away from New Hampshire voters, the actual people of New Hampshire and of our towns. For years, dark money and lobbyists have been pushing to reduce the amount of tax companies pay to support state expenses such as highways and schools, shifting the burden onto local property tax payers. I’m keeping my promise to do my very best to represent the interests of actual people and families in Andover, Danbury and Salisbury.

I admit I don’t enjoy paying taxes any more than anyone else, but I enjoy using state infrastructure that is well-maintained. I really like the newly repaved sections of Route 4!

Our public schools are supposed to be supported by state monies so they can provide our town’s children the “adequate public education” mandated by the New Hampshire Constitution. And those taxes we pay are supposed to be “fair and proportionate” across the state, but they are not! In mid-June, a New Hampshire superior court judge hearing the Con-Val case reiterated, for the third time in about 25 years, that funding public schools from local property taxes is unconstitutional. Yet the battle to right this wrong in the Legislature rages on. Fixing our schools and taxes is the top legislative priority for your representatives Karrick and Wells. As voters, you should ask, who is against funding our public schools and lowering our local property taxes, and why? Don’t vote for those people!

The Governor’s budget does almost nothing to address our school’s funding or to reduce property taxes, but lowers business taxes even further than last year. He pledges to “cut spending”, but that really means even less state support for our schools and towns, which will force higher town taxes (of which the state takes a cut!)

The House budget does the most to increase education funding, restoring public schools’ “stabilization grants” immediately. It also freezes business taxes this year and instates a slight increase in them next year. But the House plan to reduce local property taxes included a new source of revenue – it proposed a 5% capital gains tax on sales of stocks netting more than $7,000 profit per year. This would collect about $160 million from the very wealthiest segment of NH residents. This idea is very unpopular among – guess who?

The Senate version of the budget is a more modest version of the House proposal for education and property tax relief, but it finds money from sectors of the state government that have been running budget surpluses. (That is, for several years more state tax has been collected from towns than the state has spent for the people of New Hampshire!) Those surpluses would be refunded to towns through “revenue sharing”. Under the Senate’s budget proposal, it is estimated that Andover might expect about $64,000 in Municipal Aid Distributions.

How will the budget compromise finally emerge? As I write this, nobody knows. The House and Senate “Committees of Concurrence” are still trying to hammer out final agreements on the budget and several other contentious bills before the end of June. When they do, and as the whole mountain of bills are reviewed and filed by staff lawyers and clerks, the five day clock for the Governor’s signature starts.

Ken Wells
Representative for Andover, Danbury and Salisbury
P.O. Box 181
Andover, NH 03216

Learn Everywhere originated with Senate Bill 435 passed by the Republican Majority Senate in 2018. The current New Hampshire School Board appointed by Governor Sununu approved this program on June 13, 2019. The program, designed by New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, has the potential to remove our children’s education from local control as well as from supervision by the Legislature. It would give a license and the ability to any for profit or non profit group to issue academic credits that would have to be accepted by any New Hampshire High School. Local school boards potentially would no longer be responsible for the quality of their diplomas. Potential employers and institutions of higher learning would no longer have assurance of the quality of diplomas granted by our high schools since they could include credits from any private institution in New Hampshire. Like a charter school, there would be limited supervision or monitoring of the private institution issuing credits. There would also be unanticipated expenses such as transportation to be paid by parents or students as well as an “opportunity gap” since the special programs would often not be available to students living in the more remote areas of New Hampshire. There is nothing written into the program requiring the public schools or the State to pay any of the program costs. Essentially Learn Everywhere is one more tool to hollow out and cripple our public schools while benefiting the private and religious schools.

Since the Learn Everywhere program has now been approved by the New Hampshire  School Board the rules are now sent to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR, of which I am an alternate member) to see if the rules pass legal muster. It was anticipated that this hearing, open to the public and all interested parties, would take place on Friday June 21 but it has been rescheduled for Thursday July 18 at 9 AM in Room 306/308 in the Legislative Office Building behind the State House in Concord.