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Landrigan
Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chips are down: NH casino decision expected Wednesday

Kevin Landrigan

At long last, the most hotly debated, controversial issue to hit the New Hampshire Legislature in the 2013 session faces a showdown Wednesday.

The supercommittee made up of the House Finance and the Ways and Means committees will pass judgment on the single-casino bill (SB 152) that the Senate passed on to it nearly two months ago. ...

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At long last, the most hotly debated, controversial issue to hit the New Hampshire Legislature in the 2013 session faces a showdown Wednesday.

The supercommittee made up of the House Finance and the Ways and Means committees will pass judgment on the single-casino bill (SB 152) that the Senate passed on to it nearly two months ago.

You have to give props to House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth.

She has a voting record in opposition to expanded gambling, but with this thoughtful, almost exhaustive process, she has given Gov. Maggie Hassan and Senate leaders the best shot at getting the House to consider ending its generation of voting down any attempts to legalize bets on the slots.

Whatever happens Wednesday, look for the floor of the House – May 22 or perhaps May 29 – to become a flea market of amendments trying to perfect what most House leaders view as a flawed Senate proposal.

The full House is almost impossible to forecast accurately, but it appears ready to narrowly turn it down.

There’s still time to change that outcome, though.

It will start Wednesday, and casino supporters have to hope for a competitive result, even if it’s a losing one. Were the superpanel to go, say, 25-20 in favor of killing the bill, that still gives it a fighting chance before the full body.

Some of the proposals offered by working groups to change the casino bill would be a nonstarter in the Senate, however.

House Finance mechanic Neal Kurk, R-Weare, has never seen a casino bill he likes, and that won’t change with this one. But he has done yeoman’s work to try to maximize the state’s profit from one if it ever occurs.

Senate casino backers may be willing to accept Kurk’s plan to raise the state tax rate from 30 to 33.3 percent, and even to lower the license fee from the $80 million preferred by Hassan to $50 million.

But then Kurk’s plans go south in the Senate, such as offering a 20-year, nonrenewable license to the casino developer, who would then start all over.

Show me a Vegas money machine that’s going to come in here, invest $500 million, operate to the liking of the state for 20 years and then have all of it at risk of being taken away.

That’s Kurk’s desire, and he makes no bones about it. A nonrenewable license would give the state a chance to decide that a casino isn’t in its long-term best interest.

But the Senate will never buy it.

Likewise, Kurk’s plan to have all of the state profit from the casino flow into the state treasury would fall flat in the upper chamber.

Senate Republicans in particular don’t want the casino to become the “cash cow” for state government, something lawmakers can tweak down the road if they need $20 million more to fill a need for higher state spending.

All this talk gets ahead of the dramatic answer to come from the supercommittee.

Touting North Country

Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, the North Country’s senator, fired back Friday at some of Kurk’s casino workmanship.

Woodburn was livid that Kurk’s proposed rewrite would get rid of a 10 percent earmark from casino revenue going for North County development.

“I invite coldhearted Kurk to the North Country to explain his callous indifference,” Woodburn said. “The North Country needs a boost. Sadly, he’s putting his agenda – to starve government – above the interest of the state and the North Country.”

Woodburn urged his House colleagues to rise up in protest.

“The governor and the Senate have put the North Country on the map,” Woodburn said. “The House seems prepared to take us off. Our legislators must stand up for the North Country and against the peddlers of economic indifference of both parties.”

Wall Street beckons

Did anyone think former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., was going to go quietly into the night after he left his seat to Nashua Republican Kelly Ayotte in 2010?

As a former senator, governor, congressman and executive councilor, Gregg, 66, has the largest Rolodex of any GOP figure no longer in government.

Since leaving, he has been rumored to run the Financial Services Roundtable, the Business Roundtable and the Private Equity Growth Capital Council.

Now, Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Gregg is the leading contender to head Wall Street’s most powerful lobbying group, and it makes perfect sense.

Other presidents and CEOs of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association have included Tim Ryan, who is now at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and its lead lobbyist has been former Texas Congressman Kenneth Bentsen.

After all, Gregg was the leading Senate figure involved in writing the bank bailout bill that created the TARP program and was the driving force to convince Congress to have the bailout money repaid to the federal treasury as quickly as possible.

When TARP was formed, Gregg became the Senate’s member on the panel, and his close association with Bush administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen was Capitol Hill lore.

Gregg also was the loudest objector to the so-called Dodd-Frank bill, and warned that it would dramatically reduce access to bank credit.

Finally, President Barack Obama thought well enough of Gregg to make him commerce secretary – a job Gregg took and then turned down before starting after a policy dispute over the federal stimulus. The Telegraph has chronicled that Gregg has also been a proven skilled financial investor, building a comfortable personal fortune that went far beyond the extensive business acumen of his late father, former Gov. Hugh Gregg.

If this comes to pass, it would be a perfect fit.

Up the ante

Here’s a man-bites-dog in politics moment: a former conservative Republican Senate leader calling for a tax increase.

Robert Clegg, of Hudson, lobbyist and former Senate majority leader, appeared Thursday afternoon on behalf of Heritage Case Management, which helps seniors and others remain in their homes rather than be placed in a nursing home.

The tax is the 1 percent break the Legislature gave from the insurance premium tax when major companies insisted it would lead to a flood of new business and job creation here.

The tax was cut, and health care costs helped push up premium tax revenues, but none of the jobs or booming insurance business resulted from it.

“It’s time to take that 1 percent back, pick up that $18 million a year from the insurance premium tax, raise that tax back up 1 percent,” Clegg told Senate budget writers.

This won’t happen, but the scene was certainly an uncommon one.

Never a dull moment

Ayotte gets to spend her Mother’s Day on CBS’ “Face The Nation” with ranking Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin talking about the congressional investigation into the Benghazi, Libya, tragedy and continued reports of sexual assault in the military. It was a busy week for Ayotte, who continues to be a lightning rod on attacks for her vote against universal background checks.

The National Journal insiders poll on Friday made Ayotte the most likely senator in either party to change their vote when the background checks issue inevitably returns for another U.S. Senate performance.

Ayotte easily won this distinction, with retiring Max Baucus a distant second.

But the New Hampshire Republican is showing no signs of changing her mind with her strongly worded op-ed defense that ran in The Telegraph and several other newspapers last week.

The conservative American Future Fund released its own new ad defending Ayotte for “common sense gun reforms.”

Leave it to the liberal Think Progress (backed by George Soros and the Service Employees International Union) to watch the 30-second spot and pick apart all of the self-identified “New Hampshire moms” or regular New Hampshire folks who appear in the commercial praising Ayotte.

They were:

Jayne Millerick, former New Hampshire GOP executive director, 2008 GOP convention delegate and women’s coalition leader for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Judy Brown, a volunteer for Ayotte’s Senate campaign, past Nashua City Republican of the Year and a Romney campaign supporter.

Barbara Dutile, named as a “law enforcement official,” is the wife of a Republican sheriff in Grafton County who was Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s New Hampshire delegate in 2008, campaigned for Romney and served as an alternate delegate. In 2012, she received an award from the New Hampshire GOP.

None of the “citizens” critical of Ayotte in the ad by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, were identified in the spot.

Several of the speakers in one of the two ads were self-described Democrats who took part in a Legislative Office Building press conference attacking Ayotte’s position last month.

RGGI under fire

The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity is on the warpath over changes to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that narrowly cleared a state Senate committee last week.

“AFP has been saying for years that this unnecessary program was a failure and calling for New Hampshire to remove itself from the program,” director Greg Moore said.

“Turns out we were right. The RGGI program has been such a failure that its allowances are selling at the lowest possible price and the majority of them often remain unsold.

“Unfortunately for our ratepayers, rather than admit defeat and finally remove our state from this failed cap-and-trade scheme, the Legislature is trying to find ways to increase the number of allowances sold in the hopes of driving up the price, and with it, your rates.”

RGGI supporters say the program has created jobs, led to millions spent for energy-efficiency projects and helped improve the environment.

Happy Mother’s Day

The New Hampshire Democratic Party came up with a nice Mother’s Day tribute for all of its women at the top.

They include Hassan; Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter; Norelli; and Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord.

“They have stood up for equal pay for equal work, protected access to affordable health care for women, fought to expand access to an affordable education for New Hampshire’s children, and all while investing in priorities that will grow the economy and move New Hampshire forward,” the tribute says.

“New Hampshire Democrats led the way last fall. And because of your hard work, Maggie Hassan is the only female Democratic governor in the country. Jeanne Shaheen is the only woman to be elected governor and U.S. senator. Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster are part of the first and only all-female congressional delegation in the country. Terie Norelli is the longest-
serving female speaker in our state’s history and Sylvia Larsen is the longest-serving legislative leader in New Hampshire.”

Here’s the link to the tribute on the party’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NHDems.

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