Bow, NH – June 24, 2017
Yesterday, the both the Senate and the House cast their final votes, and the long slog of the 2017 legislative session came to a merciful end. It seemed over the past two months that whatever day the House met in session, it was a beautiful day, often the only one in the entire week (remember all the chilly weather?), thereby condemning members to sit and sweat in Reps Hall. Keep in mind, there is no air conditioning there, and on a warm day with over 400 people crammed in the room, the ceiling fans just cannot keep up. Yesterday was no exception.
The work of the House and Senate yesterday was confined to voting on Committee of Conference reports where Senate and House conferees had come to agreement upon how to reconcile each chamber’s different version of a piece of legislation. In this process, no further amendments are permitted, and the vote is to simply concur or non-concur with each piece of remaining legislation as designed by the conferees. There was still debate, but business moved along briskly, enough so that we all were able to leave and enjoy much of the sunny afternoon.
Defeat of HB 620 If only the results of the votes were as bright as yesterday’s sunshine! This is not to say that the day was an unmitigated disaster. For example, the Senate killed HB 620, the bill which would have severely affected and weakened NH’s special education programs, leaving thousands of children with fewer services and greater challenges. Senators clearly responded to contacts from constituents and wisely rejected this extremist legislation, thereby preserving programs that currently place NH amongst the best states in graduation rates for students with special needs.
Kenogarten The other significant and popular vote came on SB191, the so-called “kenogarten” bill. This column was rather scathing in its critique of this legislation last week, but in the end, the bill passed both chambers quite easily. Even yours truly ended up voting for the bill, determining it simply would be foolish to vote against more education funding coming to my property-poor town. I still believe it is outrageous to even partially fund kindergarten through the promotion of gambling. Yes, I know, the NH lottery already does so, but the lottery does not fund a specific grade which is what happens with the newly-enacted “kenogarten.” As I wrote last week, NH is highly dependent on “sin” for its revenues, and the piper will soon be calling for a reckoning. Kindergarten could easily have been funded in the new State budget, but instead of open and honest funding, the Legislature resorted to keno in order to provide new tax cuts for business. Those lost revenues will almost entirely go to large, out-of-state corporations (can anyone here say Wal-Mart?) and not actual NH-based businesses, but the majority chose this giveaway over fully funding kindergarten. I guess this is the NH Advantage.
Final State Budget The most important legislation of the day was the State biennial budget, which despite many predicting a close vote, passed easily on a party-line vote through the House (the Senate was a foregone conclusion). Business tax reductions, already noted above, mean the State will soon be facing a severe revenue crunch, meaning that by 2020 and beyond, it will become very difficult to fund critical existing programs, never mind expanding programs as needed. For the purposes of this bulletin, the key points are as follows:
- Funding for the University System of NH is flat-funded, meaning four consecutive years of flat-funding. Given inflation, this translates into a real funding cut for the University System, and will invariably lead to higher tuition costs for a system that is already criminally underfunded and ranks as one of the most expensive for students in the entire United States.
- Funding formulas for traditional public education remain unchanged, but monies were found to increase per-pupil support for charter schools. Thus, the erosion of support for public education continues, even if vouchers were not enacted this year. The classic New England image of a small-town with a neighborhood school may still catch the public’s fancy, but the State does less and less to support such a system in reality.
- Most egregiously, the budget includes language making it quite likely that Medicaid expansion will come to an end in NH, throwing 53,000 people (children included) off of health insurance.
What does this all mean for us? The majority will tout the business tax cuts and claim they will spur business growth, but the cuts are too small to have any meaningful impact. In fact, the mantra of business and business organizations in NH is not tax cuts but job training and education, in order to be able to hire educated and prepared workers. Business tax cuts will have no impact when businesses must leave in order to find workers, the State’s infrastructure continues to slowly crumble, and electricity costs remain among the highest in the nation. Those are some of the real problems facing New Hampshire, but this budget resolutely refuses to solve, or even acknowledge them as substantive challenges threatening the economic future of our State. And so, the wealthiest reap the greatest harvest from this budget, and the rest of us will face increasing property taxes over time and a slow erosion of the basic institutions and infrastructure that are the elemental basis of our social fabric. In the end, it was a beautiful day outside, but not so bright and sunny “under the Dome.”
With the Legislature now in adjournment for a few months, this bulletin will also go on hiatus, barring any sudden policy crises or emergencies. It is our hope that this Bulletin has proven useful to you this year, and I wish all readers a restful and relaxing summer. The rigors of an election year legislative session loom ahead, so rest and recharge now.