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AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 6-24-17: Kenogarten, State Budget, Final Votes Of The Session

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.

 

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 5-28-17: The Future Of Education Funding And Voter Suppression

This will be a very brief bulletin since neither the Senate or House were in session this past week. Having said that, there was activity.

The Senate has now crafted and released its proposed State budget for the 2017-19 biennium. In an effort to win over some of the extreme right-wing Republicans whose votes scuttled the House version of the budget, Senate Republicans on the Finance Committee adopted very conservative revenue estimates as a means of justifying leaving many programs and initiatives unfunded or underfunded. Full funding of all-day kindergarten has been removed from the budget, and funding for battling the opioid crisis remains inadequate. Yet despite the supposed financial stringencies, the majority in the Senate have found monies to pay for a spokesperson for the Dept. of Education at an annual $83,500 salary (to speak at the behest of Commissioner Edelblut) and also to increase the funding for charter schools (as opposed to the traditional public schools which the vast majority of NH students attend).

House committees were also wrapping up business this past week. The Finance Committee voted to partially fund full-day kindergarten, so while the House and Senate are not in entire agreement, it appears New Hampshire will again need to wait at least two more years before possibly joining the vast majority of states that do support all-day kindergarten. Why rush?

Elsewhere the Election Law Committee narrowly recommended passage of SB3, the bill designed to eliminate non-existent voter fraud while striving to deter and suppress voter registration. In particular, the amended bill still retains lengthy and onerous voter registration forms as well as threats to check up on claimed domiciles of new registrants. Tactics like these have virtually nothing to do with preventing unproven voter fraud, but will serve to deter same-day registrants, who tend to be young, less wealthy, and are often college students. The vote may be close in the House, Please contact your House Representative and ask her/him to oppose SB 3 (voter suppression) before next Thursday to ask that they vote against SB3.

Finally, the Education Committee voted largely along party lines to recommend passage of the amended SB 8, known as the Croydon or Edelblut bill. This proposed legislation authorizes using public funds to send students to private schools, and is so poorly written, that one informed observer speculated a district could convert all its schools to charter schools and then collect both all State aid for public schooling AND State monies for charter schools. This legislation will assuredly face constitutional challenges, centering on use of public monies for private schools and also on the abdication by the State of any responsibility for ensuring an adequate education for all students. This is a bad piece of legislation, and AFT-NH again asks that you contact your State Representative and urge them to reject the Croydon/Edelblut bill.

As promised, this is a short bulletin this week. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, be safe, and remember to pause, reflect and honor those who have fallen while in service to our nation.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin 3-10-17: Updates On Labor Bills, Minimum Wage, and School Vouchers

 Once again, the NH House acted like so many of my students do, allowing work to pile up and waiting until the final hour to do the work that needs to be done. This week, the House met for two long days, and because it had not met the prior week, faced a deadline for acting on over 100 proposed pieces of legislation. Given how long some debates can take, never mind the time consumed in roll call votes and all kinds of maneuvering, it made for very long days. Near the end late on Thursday, tempers began to fray and the Republican majority used their power in an increasingly aggressive manner. When it was done, all legislation had been acted upon, and the House will not meet again for two weeks.

Labor Bills. In regards to issues of concern to the labor community and to working people in general, it was not a great week. On the bright side, right to work was finally put to rest for 2017-2018, when the House refused by a strong majority to take up the House version of so-called Right to Work legislation. So ends that saga for 2017-18 and we owe a great debt of thanks to all the representatives, especially our Republican friends, who stood with us under intense pressure and defeated this nefarious legislation, aimed solely at weakening the labor movement and its ability to speak out on behalf of working people across New Hampshire.

Minimum Wage Increase. The defeat of so-called Right to Work was good news. On a more disappointing or sour note, the House rejected a proposed increase to the minimum wage, once again protecting New Hampshire’s status as the only New England state (and one of only 18 states nationally by the end of 2017) to still adhere to the ridiculously low Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. Remember, when the minimum rises (and keep in mind, 70% of those who work for the minimum are above age 20 and not teenagers); the money is almost all spent locally, helping local businesses and boosting our state economy. And even if you and I don’t work for minimum, raising the floor puts upward pressure upon all wage levels, which benefits all working people. So it was disappointing that the increase was once again rejected on a relatively close, largely party-line vote.

Employment Bills. Other proposed labor legislation, including limitations on credit history checks and criminal background checks (all with necessary exemptions for certain occupations and businesses), failed to pass the Republican majority in the House. This same majority, however, made sure to maintain NH’s minimum marriage age for girls at age 13, refusing to raise it to age 18. Combine that with our low minimum wage, and you really have to start wondering just where it is we are living! The House also refused to acknowledge basic civil rights for the transgender population, turning an innocuous protection of basic rights into a ‘bathroom bill’ and in the process, legitimizing discrimination and possible harassment of members of the transgender community. Change is not easy, and the battles are long and hard, but these issues will not go away and should not be forgotten in the future.

Education. In the realm of education legislation, any proposals deemed to put any sort of restraints or accountability upon charter schools were rejected by the House. More dangerously, a bill passed allowing towns without a public school or missing certain grades (for example, have a grade school but no high school) to contract to use public funds to send students to private schools, including sectarian or religious schools. Like the voucher proposal working its way through the Senate, this sort of legislation aims to weaken public schools by eroding the public sector’s financial base. The result of these diversions of public funds is higher local taxes, which further inflames anger at public schools, or declining facilities, which are then pointed to as reasons why there needs to be “more competition,” as if public education is like choosing between fast-food burgers, chicken, or tacos. We are asking members and supporters to reach out personally to their legislators and request they oppose any form of vouchers and specifically Senate Bill 193 and HB 647. For more information on the proposed legislation, please visit our website at STOP SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NH.

NH Retirement System. Lastly, in regards to the NH Retirement System, the House defeated an effort to increase the retirement pension age and passed a bill to halt the raiding of pension fund monies to pay for fiscal analyses of said pension funds! These were good moments, but progress in this area was counterbalanced by passage of a whole series of bad legislation in the area of election law, all of which will have the effect of clamping down on students’ ability to vote as part of a wide assault on voting rights here in NH. So, good with the bad. HB 413FN which would have the state meet its obligation and pay 15% of the retirement costs back to local communities is scheduled before the House Finance Committee for Executive Session on Monday.

In Memoriam. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not pass along a sad note. We learned yesterday of the passing of Brian Costa, the Keene Chief of Police. Chief Costa came up through the ranks and was a good union man, serving in the Keene Police Officers Association, and later as president of the Keene Police Supervisors, both being AFT-NH locals. Even as chief, he never forgot his union roots and worked tirelessly on behalf of the men and women of the Keene Police as well as improving the safety and security of the entire Keene community. We will miss him dearly, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

PLEASE NOTE: There will be no Legislative Bulletin next week due to the hiatus in House activity but will be on alert for breaking news.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

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