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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Good news for NH budget makers

Kevin Landrigan

Gov. Maggie Hassan will take some good news about state revenues wherever she can get it.

That arrived Thursday at the first meeting of the Governor’s Revenue Estimating Panel that she had created earlier in the week. ...

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Gov. Maggie Hassan will take some good news about state revenues wherever she can get it.

That arrived Thursday at the first meeting of the Governor’s Revenue Estimating Panel that she had created earlier in the week.

Dennis Delay, with the nonpartisan New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, concluded that after a lengthy economic slumber, state tax ad fees are going start creeping back up.

He based his optimism on the belief that a steadily recovering housing market and consumer spending will drive a little more economic growth.

This boomlet leads the group to conclude that existing revenues will increase by 1.7 percent in 2014 and 2.1 percent in 2015.

Together, this would provide about $133 million more for the next budget.

That’s slightly more than the $100 million revenue upgrade that the Hassan administration had been looking at as the new base going forward.

More than half of the revenue increase in Delay’s report would come from the state’s two business taxes, plus the levy on property transactions.

Hassan certainly drew a tough line on the budget in her directive to state agencies last month that they present spending plans that assumed a 3 percent cut in 2014 and no increase in current expenses for 2015.

But she cautioned at the time that these benchmarks wouldn’t represent how much gets allotted to each department.

Even the increase hardly brings us back to pre-
recession levels.

Indeed, Delay said he estimates it will take until 2016 for state revenues to return to what they had been in mid-2007 before the recession hit.

On the chopping block

Which Republican-led cause in 2010-11 is most likely to be repealed by this partisan-split Legislature?

The Telegraph’s Capitol Watch project is examining the biggest issues beyond the state budget for 2013-14, and there are at least nine proposals coming out that try to undo what the most recent Republican-dominated Legislature did in 2011-12.

The undoing of the Stand Your Ground law is unlikely to top the hit parade.

To be sure, the Democratically led House of Representatives stands a good chance of passing this measure from Majority Leader Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, that would do away with the right of citizens facing a threat to use deadly force in public unless they first tried to retreat.

Former House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, was a big proponent of this one, modeling the change after a law adopted in Florida that has become a major source of controversy with the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida last year.

A few hundred supporters of gun rights and Libertarian principles turned out against the bill during its hearing last week.

Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, confided that he didn’t believe enough in his majority party would go along with the change, which is strongly supported by law enforcement across the state.

So, if not that one, which?

Well, the mandate that voters show an ID at the polls isn’t likely to be done away with, but opponents may find a Senate receptive to major changes to it.

You may recall that the Senate hadn’t wanted to prevent those without an ID from voting in 2012, as the new law will do for all elections after September 2013.

Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, had championed the process that was in place for the last election, which didn’t require people to show an ID.

The Senate may well be willing to go back to its previous position, and Democrats running the House would be smart to take that one and chalk it up as a major victory.

FRM restitution

The Financial Resources Mortgage scandal is the issue that simply doesn’t want to go away.

We’ve had two legislative investigations on the matter, and it dominated the attempt to remove then-Banking Commissioner Peter Hildreth from office in 2010. Ultimately, Hildreth agreed to resign.

But a bipartisan group of senators is reviving the notion that citizen investors in FRM should be entitled to some restitution from the state because government regulators failed to stop the Ponzi scheme in its tracks.

Peter Bragdon and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-
Manchester, still are working on their proposal, and they have to answer some key questions about it for it to gain traction:

How much money are we talking about? Federal investigators had determined that principals defrauded people of more than $30 million, but some victims insist the total was even higher.

How will the state cover the payments? As referred to above, it isn’t like there are loose bags of money lying around to make a multimillion-dollar restitution.

Would this decision open a dangerous precedent? If the state decided in this financial debacle that government fell down on the job, would this legislation essentially erode the state’s sovereign immunity, which it has always enjoyed in response to similar claims of state liability?

Three years ago, D’Allesandro had tried to advance a restitution bill, but it failed mainly because the Legislature was still trying to get to the bottom of the controversy.

Protecting the country

The state’s all-female delegation in the U.S. Senate had a bipartisan celebration over Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision to permit women to serve in military combat roles.

“Secretary Panetta’s decision represents an enormous amount of progress for American women in our armed services because for too long, women have struggled to reach the highest levels of military leadership partly due to their limited opportunities to serve in combat,’’ said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

“This new policy not only better reflects conditions on the ground overseas, but it also better serves our national security interests around the world.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, not only serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but her husband, Joe, is a Gulf War veteran.

“I’ve seen firsthand servicemen and women working together in a range of dangerous operations to achieve our military objectives, and today’s announcement reflects the increasing role that female service members play in securing our country,’’ Ayotte said.

“As the Pentagon begins the review process, I’m also glad that military service leaders will provide guidance on how best to implement this policy change.”

Banding together

The University System of New Hampshire is getting organized as it pursues the restoration of state aid cuts in the upcoming budget.

The four-year colleges have formed advocacy councils from among the 2,300 supporters it has identified for the cause. Among the backers are residents of 170 communities from all 10 counties.

The level of state aid currently is the same as it was in 1988 and accounts for 6 percent of the USNH’s operating budget.

“I was eager to offer my support for an initiative that will not only help restore the state’s support of higher education, but enhance it,” said Plymouth State University Advocacy Council member Peter Powell, owner of Peter W. Powell Real Estate in Lancaster and the son of former Gov. Wesley Powell.

“The problems of the North Country may soon be the problems of all of New Hampshire if we don’t do everything possible to ensure businesses in the state have the skilled workforce they need and our young people stay. It is time for our legislators to do the right thing.”

Up the ladder

A pair of seasoned political spokesmen with plenty of New Hampshire experience moved up with President Barack Obama’s recent picks to his White House staff on Friday.

Dan Pfeiffer was communications director for then-presidential candidate Obama, and spent a lot of time campaigning in the state for his boss in 2007.

He has the lofty title of senior adviser to the president and in that vein, replaces Obama’s political Svengali, David Plouffe.

Pfeiffer had been the White House communications director, and taking that post is Valerie Palmieri, who worked on both White House campaigns for former Sen. John Edwards, a 2004 vice presidential nominee.

Small-business support

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., bestowed another assignment on New Hampshire’s newest member of the delegation, 2nd District Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H.

Kuster got her third committee assignment Friday, to the House Small Business Committee. She had already been named to the House Veterans Affairs and Agriculture panels.

“As our economy continues to recover, we need to be doing everything we can to support the growth and creation of small businesses,” Kuster said.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, accounting for over 96 percent of employers in New Hampshire and creating more than two-thirds of all new jobs nationwide.’’

Kuster wasted no time in trying to demonstrate her commitment to New Hampshire companies, announcing a “Congress At Your Company’’ series that will start with a visit to a metal tubing manufacturer in Peterborough on Monday.

Assault weapon poll

Despite a poll showing strong voter support for gun control measures, there’s no sign this is building any support for state changes to gun laws.

By a 3-to-1 margin, Granite Staters support a ban on assault weapons in New Hampshire – about 72 percent to 24 percent – and by a nearly 9-to-1 margin, support a national proposal to require a criminal background check for every gun sale – 88 percent to 10 percent.

The survey was done by New England College.

The poll found men favor the assault ban by nearly a 2-to-1 spread, while it enjoys a 5-to-1 backing among women.

“The horrific tragedy that we saw in Connecticut has increased the public call for urgent action to prevent more gun violence,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of the left-leaning Granite State Progress.

“This should serve as notice to both the Statehouse in Concord and our elected representatives in Washington that Granite Staters are serious about preventing gun violence. The consensus that the poll shows cuts across party, region and gender.”

But as we know, beyond the Stand Your Ground measure, there is no legislative proposal that poses any real threat to the state’s permissive gun laws.

On Monday, New England College is expected to release results of its latest survey on whether voters support either more spending or higher taxes or gambling as new revenue sources.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).