State House Memo: Free skiing for lawmakers at Cannon has a long history
Re “A slippery slope” (Grant Bosse, Sunday Monitor Viewpoints, Feb. 10):
Should state lawmakers ski for free at the state ski area? Under New Hampshire law, for as long as anyone can remember, members of the Legislature skied Cannon Mountain for free because it is a state park.
All state park admission, and parking, remains free to state legislators.
The fact that Franconia Notch State Park operates as a ski area in the winter is secondary to that.
The $25 limit on gifts to legislators comes from a bill sponsored by none other than former House speaker Bill O’Brien. As Bosse noted, House and Senate members receive a number of perks, none of which cost the state much money.
Keep in mind that skiing – particularly the icy, windy and difficult terrain found at Cannon – is not exactly for the fainthearted, and the average age of our legislators is something north of 60. Most younger people I know don’t like the harsh conditions typically found at Cannon anyway, so I’ll go out on a limb and say that Cannon wouldn’t be the first choice for the older crowd that do actually ski.
We should also keep in mind that any New Hampshire senior citizen can ski Cannon for free mid-week, during non-holiday periods anyway, right now.
You don’t have to be a member of the Legislature.
A few years back, Barnum & Bailey came to town and offered free admission to legislators and friends to their show, and the tickets held a face value over $25. Rep. Edmond Gionet asked the leadership if legislators could take these tickets; the answer was that we could not because they were more than $25. Gionet thought this was inconsistent with the free skiing tradition and requested a ruling from the Legislative Ethics Committee, led by Martin Gross. The ruling was that technically there was a conflict in the law and suggested we should clarify it, essentially ending the lift ticket practice until the law was clarified. Clarifying the law – what Gross suggested – is what Rep. Gary Coloumbe’s new bill is trying to do.
Keep in mind that once a budget gets to the point that most House members finally have a chance to vote on it, unless they went and testified in committee or are a member of the committee that writes the budget, it is the first time they have a chance to have input on it. At this point the bill is classic legislative sausage with many line items and many hours of labor gone into it. Most floor amendments are defeated, and the proposed budget is passed by and large the way it came out of committee.
This makes Bosse’s financial patronage argument specious.
I agree the state should track who uses the perk.
In fact, the handful of times I did exercise the privilege of two tickets a day, they did indeed record my name, my seat number and my guest’s name.
Additionally, the rules were that the legislators themselves had to be there to get the tickets. They couldn’t send a buddy to will-call so he could ski for the day.
I think these were good practices.
The Cannon Mountain tradition predates most people alive today. The bottom line is that the House ethics panel simply requested that the Legislature clarify the law, and that is what Coloumbe is doing, and in a bipartisan manner. We generally respect tradition in New Hampshire, and we should continue to do so.
(Rep. Daniel Tamburello is a Republican from Londonderry.)