Legislative Update April 7, 2017
Fire in the House
For the first time in many years and many budgets, the House this week was unable to agree on a biennial budget to send to the Senate. Over two days, an unlikely coalition of House Democrats, who said the budget was too small, and a group of more conservative Republicans, who said the budget was too big, voted against the amended House Finance Committee’s $11.9 billion budget. House Bill 1, the “numbers” or funding part of the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget, fell on Wednesday by a margin of 134 in favor to 220 opposed, with 66 Republicans crossing over to join the Democrats. House Bill 2, which provides the details for budget implementation, failed on Thursday by eight votes, 169 to 177, with 32 Republicans crossing over. The unamended versions of HB 1 and HB 2 were both Tabled to preserve them, but for all intents and purposes they are no longer in play.
Otto von Bismarck famously said, “Laws are like sausages. It is best not to see them being made.” So it may be with our 2018-2019 budget. But although the House process left the kitchen a bit of a mess, the sun will rise in the east, breakfast will be served and there will be a budget. Lawmakers are in somewhat uncharted waters, but the Senate has already proposed a rule change that will allow them to designate two House bills, HB 144 and HB 517, to become the 2018-2019 budget. Additionally, the Senate Finance Committee has invited the House Finance Committee to come in Monday and present them with the committee amendments to HB 1 and HB 2 that were not adopted by the full House. As always, it is now the Senate’s turn to craft a two-year spending plan, although this time they will start with Governor Chris Sununu’s original $12.1 billion budget instead of the House version. The Senate, again as usual, will have the benefit of seeing the all-important April and May tax revenues as they work to formulate the budget. While the House’s failure to produce its own budget on the surface appears to leave them at a disadvantage when they sit down with the Senate in June to negotiate, the House is not powerless. In the end, if April and May tax revenues are strong, the Senate could restore enough funding to appease some and provide a margin of victory for the budget.
Let it snow…but not on Town Meeting day
The Senate this week attached an amendment to a House bill in an effort to address issues caused by town meeting postponements due to the March 14th snowstorm. The change would allow municipalities to validate the results of postponed elections. They could also ratify bonds, budgets and warrant articles, as long as they hold a public hearing. The solution applies only to this year’s meetings and does not provide a remedy for any future postponements. This became an issue after the state Secretary of State’s office said there are no snow days for town meetings, and any postponed actions might face legal challenges.
He’s the man
As expected, the Executive Council on Wednesday confirmed attorney Gordon MacDonald as the state’s new attorney general. The vote was 5-0. MacDonald replaces former state Senator Joseph Foster, who stepped down on March 31.
And the nominees are:
Along with the appointment of Gordon MacDonald as attorney general, Governor Sununu took some steps this week to add his own choices to his Cabinet. The governor nominated Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield as commissioner of the Labor Department, and retired U.S. Army Colonel Peter Kujawski of Bedford to be commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services. Merrifield, who currently works at the Department of Health and Human Services in addition to being Franklin’s mayor, would replace Jim Craig at Labor. Kujawski, a businessman, would replace Tom Burack at Environmental Services.
Say it ain’t so
The 2016 elections are still fresh in mind, but there are some people who think it’s not too early to start talking about 2018. Early in the week, former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand announced he will make another run at the governor’s office in 2018. Marchand lost in the Democratic primary to Colin Van Ostern, who lost the general election to Governor Sununu. Libertarian Jilletta Jarvis has also announced her candidacy for governor. Former Liquor Enforcement Chief Eddie Edwards announced he will be running for Congress as a Republican candidate in the 2018 First Congressional District race. Democratic U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is the incumbent.
It may be early to think about other elections, but is not too early to begin the somber but necessary process of replacing state Senator Scott McGilvray of District 16, who passed away suddenly and tragically in March. The Senate has been at 23 members since McGilvray’s passing. Former Republican state Senator David Boutin, who decided not to run for re-election in 2016, has announced his candidacy to return as the district’s senator. Libertarian and former state Representative Joseph Lachance of Manchester has also announced his candidacy, along with Manchester attorney and former Democratic Executive Councilor Jim Normand. More candidates are expected to jump into the District 16 race. Party primaries will be held on June 6, with the general election scheduled for July 25.
The House and the Senate are not in session until Thursday, April 20.