The NH House just passed a budget for the next biennium (beginning in June 2013). There were endless hours of debate, 16 amendments from the minority party that were all defeated. They tried to emulate their Congressional brethren by attempting to pass amendments to the budget that weren’t budget related (a moratorium on wind turbines) and generally doing their best to obstruct the process. The budget did clear the House and now moves to the NH Senate.
Some of the more striking commentary around the budget was about job creation. Rep. Neal Kurk was quoted in the Concord Patch: “There are 40,000 New Hampshire folks looking for work,” he said, “and this budget does not facilitate any of that.” The jobless folk of NH are trotted out by the GOP only when convenient. The rest of the time, the jobless are blamed for being out of work. Some of you will remember the NH GOP majority in 2011 promising a “laser like focus on job creation.” You may also recall that the laser lost focus very early on in the last biennium. In fact, the GOP budget (still in effect) cut reimbursement to hospitals that were then forced to lay off nearly 2,000 employees. The across-the-board cuts in that budget cost a lot of people their jobs. The unemployment rate rose as soon as the GOP budget took effect, and has been up and down, but mostly up ever since.
To their credit, the minority party is trying, in their own way, to create jobs. Rep. JR Hoell of Dunbarton, the lead sponsor of HB 451, presented it as a “jobs bill” when he introduced it on the House floor last week. HB 451 was a bill to repeal the concealed carry licensing process for handguns. Not what the average person might consider a “jobs bill” but hey – undertakers need jobs, too. Looking at some of the GOP sponsored bills, it seems they have a great concern for the funeral industry
The House voted to increase the speed limit on I-93 from Canterbury to the Vermont border. (The posted speed limit will not change in Franconia Notch.) Of course, when the posted speed limit increases, the actual driver speed limit does, too. With a posted speed limit of 70 mph, drivers will be driving at a speed of at least 80 (and more like 85), if this bill clears the Senate and becomes law. This will make winter driving even more colorful, and moose crashes even more dramatic. It’s job creation for body shops, car dealers, emergency rooms, doctors, nurses, and mortuaries.
A bill to allow bars to stay open till 2 am is another jobs bill of a sort. GOP Free Stater Mark Warden is the lead sponsor of the bill, and was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying, “If this bill were a fine wine, it would have a pro-business bouquet and a nice, slight, liberty finish.”(Gag me with a tricorne hat.) In the event that this bill becomes law, folks can remember that charming little quote at town meeting, while debating the police budget. Oh, sure, the bill makes a point of saying bars don’t have to stay open until 2, but if the bar down the street is doing it in an area where there’s a lot of competition for alcohol dollars (tourist areas, college towns) others will, too.
The sponsors tried to suggest this won’t mean more intoxicated folks on the road, but of course it will, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, most of the laws written and passed in our state come from flatlanders that have no idea or interest in what like is life above Concord. Again, this is job creation for body shops, car dealers, emergency rooms, doctors, nurses, and mortuaries. It will also mean increased expenses for law enforcement in towns where budgets are already stretched mighty thin.
The House also passed a twelve-cent increase in the state’s gas tax, to be phased in over a period of 3 years for regular gas, and six years for diesel. The gas tax has not been increased since 1991. There was a great outcry from the minority party about what former House Speaker Bill O’Brien dramatically referred to as “the largest tax increase in NH history,” which is hardly the case. The monies generated by this increase will go toward repairing our neglected roads and bridges. It costs a lot more to fix the roads, because we pave them with asphalt. Asphalt is a petroleum product. Petroleum products are extremely costly, in part, because speculators have driven up the cost of oil. It’s the gas prices that are killing you, not paying a couple of cents extra at the pump. You’re going to pay it one way or another; at the pump, or at the shop when you’re paying for new tires, struts, springs, and front end alignments.
As some of you will remember, there was a forum for House candidates held at the Conway Legion in 2012. There was discussion of the condition of our roads and bridges. I know I’m not the only one who was there that remembers Rep. Gene Chandler acknowledging that we might need to increase the gas tax. That same Gene Chandler made a speech on the House floor in opposition to that same gas tax. Take that, East Conway Road residents!
Rep. Chandler is in some trouble with the NH GOP. The Tea Party/Free State/Bircher segment of the party is still loud and proud in the NH legislature, and they don’t care much for House Minority Leader Chandler. They care even less for Minority Whip Shawn Jasper, and have been pressuring Chandler to replace Jasper. So far, Chandler has refused, which has led to talk in the freedumb faction about ousting Chandler. This may explain why he’s meekly marching along with them.
No one likes the idea of higher gas prices, or higher taxes. The Republican Party controlled the NH legislature for 150 years. That stranglehold was broken in 2006, but by then a considerable amount of damage was done. Decades of neglect have left NH with the 11th worst infrastructure in the nation. Those years of “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem” have left us in the mess we’re in. It was a big lie, and NH taxpayers will be paying the price for it for decades to come. This new budget addresses some of the damage that’s been done. Until we’re willing to address our state’s revenue problems, that’s the best we can hope for.
Blast from the past: “It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.” George W. Bush
The photo is of one of the 2 bridges closed in Francestown, NH - bridges that there aren't any funds to repair.
© sbruce 2013 This was published as a bi-weekly column in the April 5, 2013 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.