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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Speaker of the House William O'Brien talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Monday, May 7, 2012.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Speaker of the House William O'Brien talks with Telegraph reporters and editors Monday, May 7, 2012.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

O’Brien pledges another $400m in cuts if re-elected as House speaker

After cutting state spending nearly 18 percent, House Speaker William “Bill” O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, pledged to go further next year, paring as much as $400 million more.

“We believe, in terms of affordable government, that $10 billion to run a state government is enough,” O’Brien told The Telegraph editorial board Monday.

The current, two-year budget is $10.4 billion in total spending from state taxes, federal grants and other sources. This replaced an $11.5 billion spending plan for the previous two years when Democrats controlled the Legislature.

Cutting spending further would permit the next Legislature and a new governor to cut business taxes and private sector fees to further stimulate the economic recovery, O’Brien said.

“We really can reduce it further to allow us to give our businesses tax relief,” he said.

Lawmakers should work to lower the business tax burden, which is the fifth-heaviest in the nation, according to the Taxpayer Foundation, O’Brien said.

“We are going to be reducing business taxes more than we have done at this point,” O’Brien said. “We are going to continue to move from heavy regulation to smart, reduced regulation.”

The House leader said he’s “much more optimistic” than earlier this year that compromise will be reached on an education funding amendment to the state constitution that would go to voters this November.

O’Brien has worked with constitutional lawyers, including GOP front-runner for governor Ovide Lamontagne, on new language that gives Gov. John Lynch a concession that the state has a “responsibility” for a quality public school system.

The language would give lawmakers “full power and authority” on how to set education aid levels and what hurdles school districts must clear in a system of accountability.

Getting a 60-percent super majority, or 239 House votes for this amendment, will require the moderate middle of Republicans and Democrats to support it, O’Brien said.

“It has to be that middle 60 percent. We can no longer respond to the extremes of either side,” O’Brien said. “Sure, we need Democrats on this; we need Democrats in the House and we need Gov. Lynch, we need the governor to be involved. Yes, it has to be a bipartisan approach.”

Lynch has yet to state publicly his preference but privately has raised concerns about the latest proposal.

O’Brien said if he’s re-elected speaker, he has no plans to make up some of the $200 million in state aid for the state’s largest hospitals that was cut in the current budget.

Last week, Senate budget writers considered a plan to earmark more aid to hospitals that aren’t critical access, which are typically more rural. The current budget didn’t cut any money to the critical access group.

“It is certainly not my goal to get more money back to the 10 largest hospitals,” O’Brien said.

He said he would support policies to make health care more affordable by letting business purchase policies across state lines and have the option of purchasing coverage without mandates that consume up to 55 percent of the cost.

While the state Senate has opted for a study committee, O’Brien predicted the House would reassert its support this week for a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new public employees.

He urged the University System of New Hampshire to become more cost- efficient and lessen the debt burden on students who, upon graduation, face the highest average debt load in the country.

“What I really want is for them to provide an avenue for someone to go to college who doesn’t have a lot of resources to get a good, solid, four-year education,” O’Brien said.

The O’Brien-backed redistricting of the House faces five lawsuits, but O’Brien predicted three could be dismissed for lack of standing and he’s confident the state’s highest court will uphold the plan’s constitutionality.

“There is no need for a backup plan. We have a good plan and we are very, very confident,” he said.

The House leader described as “fair and very thorough” the four-day series in The Telegraph last week, “Rise to Power,” but said the focus should be on the agenda and not on one personality.

“This isn’t just one person; this isn’t just one leadership team,” O’Brien said. “Indeed, what we are trying to do is promote an ideal for New Hampshire that has worked so well for decades and that is for limited government, personal responsibility, liberty and family-oriented legislation.

“I am here temporarily to work towards that agenda. It is not driven by the person or personality of Bill O’Brien,” he said.

The series cited O’Brien’s accomplishments – a lean state budget, dramatic reform of public employee retirement, the first-ever education funding amendment – but O’Brien said there remains more to do.

And he said while his critics paint him an autocratic leader, the reality is that his powers and those of any speaker are limited.

“A lot of what has almost become an urban legend about how I approach the speakership in contrast to speakers in the past, it just isn’t true,” O’Brien said. “What you have to do to be a successful speaker is to stay close to legislators.”

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