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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Possible boat tax in NH didn’t hold much water

Kevin Landrigan

The boat tax has officially sunk.

Or was it just a mirage? ...

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The boat tax has officially sunk.

Or was it just a mirage?

All it took was one news article in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and a lot of disturbed telephone calls to deep-six the notion of taxing craft owners $10 apiece to bail out the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Dalton Democratic state Sen. Jeff Woodburn led the charge warning, this was just the kind of tax scheme that would anger Joe Sixpack in an election year.

After several other senators chimed in, Lempster Republican Sen. Robert Odell assured colleagues that the idea won’t make its way into an official bill for the 2014 session.

“That’s the right call to make, and I really appreciate it,” Woodburn said. “Senator Odell realized there was just no support for it in the Senate.”

But Odell told his peers that this had been only one of seven suggestions that came up during a study committee report over how to deal with Fish and Game’s chronic financial state.

The only result of the study was going to be a bill next year to extend the committee’s work.

Odell said he never intended to bring it in as a bill, that none of his legislation is confidential and that it never appeared as a proposal.

On Friday, the Eagle-Tribune published a correction to its story that had also spawned an editorial against a boat tax.

Odell writes a weekly column for The Claremont Eagle-Times. Maybe he’ll choose to focus on how an unsubstantiated rumor turns into a news brush fire when no one goes to the source to find out it’s bogus in the first place.

All of this talk wasn’t good for that agency, as senators from both political parties see “systemic problems” at Fish and Game, and more than one told The Sunday Telegraph they regretted allowing the agency to get $1.6 million handed to it in the current two-year state budget.

Healthy consideration

Is there a fourth run for major office in the cards for Manchester Republican John Stephen?

We think not, but this has failed to deter several prominent Republicans from trying to convince Stephen to enter the 2014 race for governor.

Among those who have put the arm on Stephen are former Govs. Steve Merrill and Craig Benson and State Republican Chairwoman Jennifer Horn, of Nashua.

Some big GOP donors have also chipped in their view that Stephen would be a great standard-bearer in a year when freshman Gov. Maggie Hassan faces no well-known, well-financed GOP opponent.

Stephen’s health care consulting business is going great, and after a career in public service spanning more than two decades, he likes the idea of following the sports career of his daughters.

Business is so great that Stephen has developed Medicaid reform plans that are almost creating “residuals,” which means the fees roll in each time another state or agency picks up his product.

This is the kind of financial security that makes a scratch golf handicap out of the most successful insurance agents.

Could this free up Stephen to mount a campaign to follow up on one respectful run for governor in 2010, preceded by two failed attempts to win the GOP nomination in the 1st Congressional District?

Maybe it could, but Stephen has said he learned that the fire has to burn within you to run statewide. While the pilot hasn’t gone out for J.S., it isn’t white-hot, either.

Card rejected

A left-leaning group attacked Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, for shilling for Visa, the credit card giant, in pursing legislation allowing for checkless pay roll.

Bradley had to take his marching orders from Visa and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which had made the issue one of its priority charges, the group claimed.

There was only one problem with this exhaustive research of Granite State Progress.

It was dead wrong.

The Sunday Telegraph has confirmed SB 100 was an organic New Hampshire bill, and not a national corporate cookie cutter.

The owners of Cranmore Mountain Resort approached Ski New Hampshire and then Bradley about authoring the bill.

Cranmore is owned by the company that owns and operates Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Massachusetts.

The Bay State isn’t known for anti-consumer legislation, and it allows businesses to determine whether they want to use the method of electronic payment of payroll to compensate their employees.

“They told me the change would save them $70,000 in their processing of paychecks to 500 employees,” Bradley said. “This payroll card is like a debit card; if you use it only once – that is to take all the money out either to deposit in the bank or use it for what you need – then you pay no fee at all.

“That’s probably why 19 senators from both political parties embraced my bill.”

It’s important to note that the credit card companies came forward during the public hearing and endorsed the measure. The bill passed the Senate over the opposition of the state Department of Labor.

And the Democrat-
controlled House of Representatives flattened the Senate-passed bill when Bradley reintroduced it during the most recent legislative session.

But Ski New Hampshire lobbyist Bruce Berke said the shot at Bradley from Zandra Rice-Hawkins, of Granite State Progress, was below the belt.

“Hawkins’ assessment is categorically wrong and deserves an ‘F’ for her homework, listening ability and understanding New Hampshire,” Berke said.

Guess what? Rice-Hawkins isn’t backing down, although she doesn’t dispute the backup that refutes any Bradley-Visa-ALEC connection.

“This fall the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a bulletin reminding employers that they cannot require their employees to receive wages on a payroll card,” Rice-Hawkins wrote in an email.

“Granite State Progress is proud to have led the fight against Sen. Bradley’s bill to abolish paper paychecks in New Hampshire and push employees without bank accounts over to payroll cards with few to no consumer protections.”

Law jobs on the move

The Telegraph’s report Friday that there were 80 layoffs at Law Warehouse in Nashua come as no surprise.

This was inevitable when the shipper/warehouse firm lost the 20-year, $200 million liquor contract to Exel.

What may not be well known was that when Law bid for that job, it was preparing to move its warehouse operation to its second location in Seabrook.

In its 472-page request for proposal for that contract, the firm explored expanding Nashua, but concluded that making the Poland Spring distribution facility in Seabrook was the right way to go.

“This project proved that for this type and size of operation, our existing Nashua facilities were not well-suited for expansion,” Law’s bid said.

“As a result, we turned our attention to alternate sites. Following a state-wide site search, in 2010 we began discussions with the landlords of the only large distribution centers on the market in New Hampshire – the Poland Spring distribution center in Seabrook and the Nashua Corp. property in Merrimack.”

System Logistics worked for Law and convinced the firm the Seabrook site was best.

“Their analysis showed that in the Seabrook facility, we could implement a very effective design concept that would meet our needs for years to come,” Law’s bid said.

Does that mean even if Law won the job, some Nashua employees may have lost their jobs?

Paul Young, a public relations spokesman for Law, said this was no secret, that CEO Brian Law had briefed the employees and that they embraced the strategy from the beginning.

“Brian was always up front with his employees,” Young said in a statement.

“The plan was to operate the liquor warehouse business out of Seabrook, and some of his current Nashua employees would have moved over to work at Seabrook. The plan for Nashua was never to shut it down, but to continue operations with other clients and grow the warehousing/logistics business in Nashua.”

Not exactly friends

Don’t look for former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., to be getting on the steering committee of a Bob Smith for Comeback Senate Candidate of the Year any time soon.

Gregg is too much of a gentleman to publicly air the dirty laundry, but there remains some bad blood between these two colleagues.

In 2000, Gregg thought it was bad form for Smith to leave the party, run for president under another banner, and then slink back and rejoin the GOP so that he could claim a vacant committee chairmanship in the Senate.

But then Smith’s endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 over the Gregg-backed President George W. Bush might have been the last straw.

Trust me, Gregg and those closest to him are rooting for Smith to have as much success with this race as he did with ill-fated flirtations with Senate runs in 2004 and 2010 that ended with him dropping out of the race.

“If Bob Smith makes it to Valentine’s Day with this one, I’ll be shocked,” one Gregg admirer said.

If not O’Brien …

Former House Speaker William O’Brien wants a “real conservative” to run for governor and U.S. Senate in 2014, but would prefer it not be him.

O’Brien is enjoying life out of the political limelight, making plenty of money as the U.S. CEO of a foreign-based software security firm that’s enjoying solid success in the market.

Litchfield Republican state Rep. George Lambert had dinner with O’Brien twice last week trying to convince him to enter the race once health reasons forced Lambert to drop his own campaign.

O’Brien likes Lambert and is grateful to the same House Republican Alliance core group that helped ignite his improbable ascension to become leader of the GOP-led House in December 2010. So he’ll listen to all of the offers of financial and troop support, and in the meantime, O’Brien will be working to identify an alternative candidate who would be best to receive this showering of support.

Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 321-7040 or Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan).