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Sunday, February 3, 2013

LGC heading in new direction with new leadership

Kevin Landrigan

Whether she jumped or was pushed, the departure of Executive Director Maura Carroll at the New Hampshire Municipal Association/Local Government Center on Friday was big news.

The tone of the LGC board’s statement that it was looking for “fresh leadership” suggests the latter rather than the former. ...

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Whether she jumped or was pushed, the departure of Executive Director Maura Carroll at the New Hampshire Municipal Association/Local Government Center on Friday was big news.

The tone of the LGC board’s statement that it was looking for “fresh leadership” suggests the latter rather than the former.

A source close to the board confirmed it communicated to Carroll that it was going to terminate her, and negotiations began on the exit pay and benefits package she would receive.

Clearly, the board is not only circling the wagons in making changes after some devastating financial decisions, it’s trying to improve the brand with the ruling class (read Democrats) in Concord.

Naming former Resources and Economic Development Commissioner George Bald as interim director gives the organization instant credibility with new Gov. Maggie Hassan and her leadership group.

It also has a popular Democratic activist in naming Steve Gordon as its lead outside legal counsel.

This becomes important as the LGC tries to fend off legislation from Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, that would cement its board makeup and the requirement that it remain a nonprofit into state law.

Bald’s first order of business is to try to pave a way forward financially for the system as it seeks to comply with the state hearing officer decision that it overcharged cities and towns $50 million.

The most problematic thing there may be the $17 million that was spent from the LGC’s Property-Liability Trust to subsidize on-the-job injury or workers’ compensation coverage provided to municipalities.

The LGC is probably not able to recoup that money by pricing itself out of the workers’ comp market.

Meanwhile, the group “only” receives $7 million in revenue from the dues paid by member communities. And the Supreme Court’s ruling on the LGC plainly states a city or town no longer has to remain as a member in order to buy insurance products from it.

So, will the LGC have to seek private loan financing to pay these judgments?

In Bald, it has someone who has a good history with the state’s financial services industry, and this could come in handy.

While Carroll, a former state legislator, has been a fixture at the agency for 25 years, it’s important to note that she wasn’t at the helm when the decisions over setting up its separate insurance trust companies were made. This came under the tutelage of retired Director John Andrews.

Carroll will always be remembered at the Statehouse by political figures in both parties as a strong advocate for cities and towns, but as a straight shooter in all public policy debates.

Bragdon staying on top

You have to hand it to Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

As the self-described “last man standing,” he’s the most powerful Republican in Concord, and has to work pretty hard to keep his narrow GOP majority of 13-11 working in lockstep to thwart initiatives that Hassan and the Democratically led House of Representatives would want.

So far, so good.

Sure, it’s early, but we saw another example of Bragdon’s handiwork last week with the decision of Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, to drop her opposition to the education tax credit.

The Stiles announcement, first reported on The Telegraph’s website early Thursday afternoon, essentially stops the bill (HB 370) to repeal this tax credit dead in its tracks.

Indeed, the House will probably pass the repeal move, but now the prospects for that cause are no better than 12-12 in the Senate.

There will be other tests of Bragdon’s steely resolve this year, but the Senate leader remains bullish about knocking back attempts to change the work of the supermajority Legislature in 2011-12.

At last weekend’s Republican State Convention, Bragdon assured anti-abortion activists that if there’s an attempt next year to do away with parental notification for minors before they can have an abortion, the Senate will reject that one, too.

Flipping votes

Most observers do not consider it the casino gambling bill of 2013, but it will be the one on which the House weighs in first.

The proposal from Lincoln Republican Rep. Edmond Gionet is off the presses (HB 665) and available for public inspection.

The House Ways and Means Committee hasn’t yet set a hearing for the bill.

The plan is to permit the state to issue licenses –
at $10 million a crack – for two casinos, one in the North Country and in a county that borders Massachusetts, which means it could be anywhere from Keene over to Portsmouth.

The State Lottery Commission would supervise the privately run casino operation, and the developers would pay an annual $1 million fee for such oversight.

The host community would get 3 percent of the net profit from the casino, and at least $75,000 a year would be given to the Department of Health and Human Services to help treat addicted gamblers.

There are still many specifics that aren’t worked out. It doesn’t specify the number of slot machines or table games, although the slots would have to pay out at least 87 percent of money bet in winnings.

That’s better than the rate for those who play the lottery scratch ticket games.

All of the state’s profit from the casino would go to the Department of Transportation and would have to be spent on local or state bridge and road repair.

The prognosis for Gionet’s bill isn’t as good as the one Sens. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, are crafting for one casino, with the profits to be set aside for spending on infrastructure and state aid to higher education.

That’s because Hassan has only expressed support for a single casino that would be competitively bid.

Bragdon has already predicted the Senate will pass a casino bill, while as we’ve noted in this space before, the outcome in the House remains very much in doubt.

Gionet’s bill will come up first for a vote probably in late March, and the outcome should help Morse, D’Allesandro and other casino supporters identify how many votes they need to flip in order for them to be successful.

Defending the taxpayer

Is it harmful for the newly minted – and relatively small – Democratic majority in the House to have to deal with legislation from its most liberal members to raise taxes?

Wouldn’t this create some schism in the Democratic caucus, which can hardly avoid a lot of dissension as its seeks to ratify the agenda of Hassan, its new governor?

Whatever unrest it could cause with individuals, it’s all a good thing politically, such as when the House overwhelmingly will kill a bill to raise the state tax on beer this week.

Why? The Democrats in the Legislature were summarily tossed out of being in charge by the voters in 2010, primarily after adopting a state budget that raised more than 80 taxes and fees.

Come election time next year, Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley probably would like nothing better than to point to an assortment of tax hikes that became road kill. This helps him project the party as a defender for the taxpayer.

A new Norelli

Has anyone else noticed a difference in the way resurrected House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, has wielded the gavel in the early going?

When she took control after the 2006 election, she not only had a bigger majority, but it was a role Democrats were unaccustomed to playing for longer than two generations.

At that time, she wasn’t shy about ruling members out of order and being a stickler for procedure, such as locking House members out from voting if they weren’t present for the debate.

In her reincarnation, Norelli appears not only more relaxed, but more confident of her ability to control what can be a cantankerous political body.

Even some veteran Republican members privately gave Norelli high marks for how she calmly tolerated the attempts of dissident GOP members to challenge her authority during its first major business session of the year.

At one point, Norelli even apologized to Rep. Stella Tremblay, R-Auburn, because she hadn’t heard the request for a roll call on one petition request.

Norelli then called for the recorded vote and won easily, but surely got some props from all sides for being willing to admit a mistake publicly.

Medicaid questions

The real fascinating policy debates are the ones that aren’t telegraphed (pardon the pun) ahead in advance.

Such is the move on whether to expand Medicaid in keeping with the federal health insurance law.

The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee will take up the proposal (HB 271) of former House Speaker William O’Brien to prevent the state from taking any federal money to expand Medicaid on Tuesday.

Strategically, it makes sense for House leaders to first take up the matter of whether to ban any expansion before tackling the add-on.

A health care consultant informed the Department of Health and Human Services that full expansion would cost the state $85 million, mainly for administrative costs, between now and 2020.

The great unknown here is in the Senate, where Bragdon will only say his leadership group is analyzing all of the reports about the financial hit versus the benefit of getting health care coverage to more than 50,000 people.

The next big development on this front will come Feb. 14, when we learn whether Hassan builds Medicaid expansion into the proposed two-year state budget she presents to the Legislature that day, as expected.

Divided forces

Will the House Republican Caucus stay as fractured as it appeared to be last week?

House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, narrowly won his leadership bid over former Deputy Speaker Pamela Tucker, R-Greenland, and it sure looks as if that split is continuing.

The House broke precisely down the middle, 79-79, over whether a citizen petition advanced by Free Staters to try to impeach Rep. Claudia Chase, D-Keene, should be sent to committee for debate.

Chase had sharply attacked the Free State movement on a liberal blog last month.

It would seem that legislators of all stripes would be wary of such a petition, since we’ve seen examples from both parties of members who had rants on social media that they might want to take back.

Remember when then-House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt took to his Facebook account to call former New Hampshire Roman Catholic Bishop John McCormack a “pedophile?”

This week’s entry came from Rep. Timothy Horrigan, D-Durham, who decided to cite on his Twitter account his musing that former Vice President Dick Cheney go duck hunting and have one of his errant shots strike conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Horrigan considered his own act offensive enough that he deleted the tweet hours after conservatives had picked up on it.

Republican State Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, of Nashua, got into the act Friday, calling upon Norelli to denounce Horrigan’s statement.

Chandler and his extended leadership team opposed the petition, while Tucker, O’Brien and five other ex-House committee chairmen supported at least sending it to a committee for review.

Likewise, at least 50 House Republicans opposed the four other attempts to take up other citizen petitions against state government.

The longer this division exists, the better for House Democratic leaders, as it makes it easier for them to appeal to the GOP leadership group to go along with its direction.

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