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Landrigan
Sunday, July 6, 2014

More than $5M over legislative forecast takes pressure off NH governor

Kevin Landrigan

One word comes to mind for Gov. Maggie Hassan concerning the June state revenue report.

Whew! ...

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One word comes to mind for Gov. Maggie Hassan concerning the June state revenue report.

Whew!

What looked like a crash landing for taxes and fees last month turned into a status quo touchdown – $5 million over the legislative forecast.

The state budget is by no means in rosy shape, especially given the spending plan relied upon a $26 million surplus by June 30. On the tax side, the state is only $5.8 million ahead.

But it surely takes the pressure off Hassan having to rattle the saber in the Statehouse about bringing lawmakers back for a special session this fall.

Is that out of the question? No, but it’s much less likely now than it would have been had the revenue’s books been $10 million in deficit rather than more than $5 million to the good.

What could change the picture is if state agencies fell tens of millions short of reaching their $50 million target for returning unspent money to the treasury by June 30.

Hassan said last month she didn’t expect this “lapse number” to be met.

As a $5 billion business, state government has the ability to significantly improve the cash position it’s in at year’s end.

It hasn’t been uncommon in past years for agency heads to be told to put nonessential state checks “under the blotter” until after June 30, thus improving the cash picture for one year, only to add to the spending in the next.

Meeting ‘lapse targets’

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, has been saying for a few months that this already tight state budget didn’t have a revenue problem, but a spending problem.

After learning the good revenue news, Morse stepped up his call for the Legislative Fiscal Committee to get an update from state agencies later this month as to how they were able to do in meeting their “lapse targets.”

Nearly half of the lapse presumably comes from the state’s largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hassan said that number might be the hardest to meet, since the agency had a big, across-the-board cut it had to swallow, plus an annual payment of $9 million to settle claims with the Obama administration over excess Medicaid reimbursements.

Back in January, Morse didn’t sound too concerned about the HHS lapse, and in fact, he told Commissioner Nick Toumpas not to worry.

At the time, Morse was arguing a failed Senate bill to restore HHS cuts made in the budget.

“But I’m going to point out the same thing,” Morse said. “I find it unacceptable to cut the DD and cut mental health issues when I know how we filled this budget. There are other departments that can increase their lapses. The testimony this morning in education was that there was a $6 million overage there.

“Because I couldn’t get that testimony during the budget phase, I couldn’t use it to help with your budget or someone else’s budget, but I’m sure another department can produce a lapse.”

Laying groundwork

One of the five members of the Ballot Law Commission cast a critical vote last week that just may award her another four-year term.

Concord lawyer Marta Van Oot was the only Democrat among the three-person majority who decided Republican gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein was eligible to run despite having lived most of the time during four years in a Maryland condominium.

Van Oot, a former prosecutor, came to the commission with high marks for intellect and integrity.

Then-Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, first named Van Oot to the BLC, and she remained there throughout the tenure of her successor, former Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.

The House speaker and Senate president each get to name two members and two alternates to the election tribunal, but they must be evenly split between the two major parties.

That’s why House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, has as her members Chairman Brad Cook, a Republican, and her former chief of staff, Donald Manning, a Democrat.

The BLC heard this case on Monday, on the eve of July 1, when Van Oot’s term expired. The decision released Friday wasn’t dated.

The term of another BLC member backing Havenstein, Chichester Republican Michael Eaton, also ended July 1.

But Eaton, brother of former Senate President Tom Eaton, of Keene, had asked Morse to reappoint him to another four-year term the previous week, and he did.

Van Oot didn’t make that request, but reportedly will make it soon.

No one is suggesting Van Oot’s position was influenced by this case, but her opinion sure won’t hurt as Morse decides who gets the spot going forward.

After all, Morse was one of Havenstein’s earliest and most vocal supporters.

In sum, Morse has to name a Democrat; who better than Van Oot?

Focus on jobs, economy

Second District Congresswoman Annie Kuster will continue her emphasis on jobs and the economy on Monday with an event at BAE Systems to highlight the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

She’s only a freshman, but Kuster has deftly used her congressional office to promote initiatives that dovetail well with her re-election campaign, such as her forums for small
business this spring.

Financing for the Export-Impact Bank runs out in September unless Congress votes to reauthorize it.

Among those present for the Nashua news conference will be former Export-Import Bank Director Joe Grandmaison; New Hampshire Bankers Association Vice President Tom Fahey; and Dawn Wivell, an exporting consultant and former state travel and tourism director.

PAC backs Smith

Republican Senate candidate Bob Smith will take whatever endorsements he can get these days with the line of establishment heavyweights getting longer behind front-runner Scott Brown.

Conservative StrikeForce PAC embraced Smith late last week as an “experienced leader, a true conservative and a skilled campaigner.”

“Though this race does not get the media attention it deserves, it is truly one of the ‘sleeper’ races this year,” the group said in its letter of support. “New Hampshire is a conservative state, and Jeanne Shaheen’s unapologetic support for Obamacare has made her vulnerable.”

The group has gotten behind many well-known GOP figures in 2014, from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Gov. Rick Scott to Ed Gillespie, a Virginia Senate candidate and former Republican National Committee chairman.

Smith is the only one in the Northeast to get the PAC’s backing at this point.

But while the group raised nearly $7 million in the 2012 cycle, it spent only $750,000 of it on independent expenditures on behalf of their chosen candidates or against their opponents.

At the end of March, it had only $60,000 in the bank, according to Opensecerets.org.

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