Capital Beat: Budget battle about to enter final stage, the all-important committee of conference
The Senate will vote Thursday on its version of the next two-year state budget.
Then comes the hard part.
The endgame of the New Hampshire’s biennial budget process is the committee of conference, where House and Senate negotiators assemble a final budget capable of passing both chambers and becoming law, either with Gov. Maggie Hassan’s approval or – more unlikely – over her veto.
Time is short, with the current biennium ending June 30. And for the first time in legislative memory, the conference committee will have to bridge the gap between political parties as well as chambers: Democrats hold a majority in the House, while Republicans control the Senate.
The last time the Legislature was under split control was in 1999, when Democrats held the Senate and Republicans held the House. But the budget that June never reached a committee of
conference: Moderate Republicans joined minority Democrats on the floor to defeat the House’s own budget, and instead voted to adopt the Senate’s budget.
Assuming things go as expected this year – the budget passes the Senate, the House non-concurs with the Senate’s changes and requests a committee of conference, the Senate accedes to the request e_SEnD Senate President Peter Bragdon and House Speaker Terie Norelli will appoint negotiators to the conference committee.
The House gets five members, plus alternates. History suggests likely candidates for the slots include Concord Democratic Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee; Lebanon Democratic Rep. Susan Almy, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee; and the Finance panel’s three division chairs, Rep. Peter Leishman of Peterborough, Rep. Dan Eaton of Stoddard and Rep. Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua, all Democrats.
The Senate gets three members plus alternates, and potentially more. Based on history, likely candidates are Republican Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; Republican Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee; and Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, the ranking Democrat on both panels.
(If Kurk, D’Allesandro or another member disagrees with the final budget, they can be replaced by an alternate for the last vote.)
Kurk, a veteran of many budget committees of conference, said the committee’s work follows “a very civil and respectful process.”
Using the Senate’s budget as a base, and with the help of the nonpartisan staff of the legislative budget assistant’s office, the two sides go through their differences, settle what they can and talk through the rest.
The meetings are open to the public, but Kurk said it’s not unusual for the two finance chairs – this year, Wallner and Morse – to meet privately and try to break any deadlocks.
To the extent this year is unusual, Kurk said, it’s because “the Senate holds all the cards.”
While the Senate Republicans’ budget spends $10.7 billion over two years, versus $11 billion in the House Democrats’ budget, spending levels are even lower in the budget for the current biennium.
“If the House doesn’t like what the Senate is doing and wants to spend more, and the Senate doesn’t want to do that . . . and there’s a stalemate, the alternative is something the House budget writers would presumably like even less than the Senate Republicans’ budget, and that is a continuation of the current budget through a continuing resolution,” Kurk said.
Such a resolution could keep the state government operating past June 30 without a new budget in place. That last happened in 2003, when governor Craig Benson vetoed the Legislature’s budget.
While Hassan won’t be on the committee itself, she could be a powerful player in the budget negotiations. She’s no stranger to the process – as a senator, she served on the budget conference committees in 2007 and 2009 – and she can help set the agenda by indicating what she wants, and what she would reject with a veto.
“It is a legislative process, but the governor plays an important role because the governor’s going to send signals about what she’s willing to accept in a final budget,” said Rich Sigel, former chief of staff to governors Jeanne Shaheen and John Lynch and now a senior advisor at the McLane Law Firm’s lobbying arm, McLane GPS.
Hassan has criticized the Senate’s draft budget on several grounds: It doesn’t expand Medicaid as she wants, it could lead to program cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services, and it requires her to find tens of millions of dollars in personnel savings that could lead to layoffs.
Those three areas could be the primary battlegrounds for budget negotiators.
As for Hassan, “she will continue to work with members of both parties in both chambers to finalize a balanced budget that invests in the priorities needed to create jobs and build a more innovative economic future,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg.
On the docket
The Senate will meet Thursday. It will deal with the capital budget, House Bill 25, as well as the two operating budget bills, House Bills 1 and 2, and several other pieces of legislation.
The House will meet Wednesday, and Thursday if necessary, to deal with remaining Senate bills and committee of conference requests.
The Executive Council will meet Wednesday.
D’Allesandro and Sen. Nancy Stiles had a good excuse for missing last Thursday’s Senate session: They were in Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II.
Stiles, a Hampton Republican, and D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, were the lead sponsors this year of a bill conferring degree-granting authority under New Hampshire law to a private Jordanian university, the American University of Madaba. (The university, while located south of Amman, is technically a nonprofit group headquartered in Concord.)
The bill was signed by Hassan last week, and the two senators traveled to Jordan last week to present a copy of the legislation to the king.
Since it wasn’t an official legislative trip, no legislative funds were used, said Senate spokeswoman Carole Alfano.
Garcia on the road
New Hampshire isn’t exactly known for racial diversity – non-Hispanic whites make up 92.2 percent of the state’s population, versus 63.4 percent for the nation as a whole, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But fourth-term state Rep. Marilinda Garcia is getting some attention beyond the Granite State’s borders for her part in a push to improve the Republican Party’s record with women and minority voters.
The Salem Republican was in Austin, Texas, last week for a meeting of the Future Majority Caucus, an effort to elect Republicans who aren’t white men.
She was one of four caucus members to speak on a conference call with reporters and Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee.
The caucus has set a goal of recruiting 200 “diverse” candidates this cycle, and electing 75 of them. And Garcia said the GOP needs to reach out to young people, citing her own experience of being elected to her first term in the House at the age of 23.
“I’m certainly looking forward to doing my part,” Garcia said.
Sen. Andy Sanborn made an oops last week on Twitter.
The Bedford Republican – and possible 2014 gubernatorial candidate – was tweeting criticism Wednesday night of Hassan for appointing an efficiency commission when he referred to the governor as “Haggie.”
He quickly deleted the tweet, blamed it on “sloppy multi-tasking” and publicly apologized to Hassan.
Democrats saw more than a typo behind the tweet. Former state party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan called it “insulting,” and Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein accused Sanborn of using a “sexist slur.”
And by Friday afternoon, a “Haggie Hassan” parody account had turned up on Twitter.
Quote of the Week
“I assure you that Secretary General (Ban Ki-)moon did not visit Stratham to tell us what to do, okay? It did not happen.”
That was Rep. Patrick Abrami, a Stratham Republican, during last Wednesday’s House session.
He was assuring his colleagues that Senate Bill 11, which deals with water and sewer districts, wasn’t a Trojan horse for the United Nations’ Agenda 21 sustainable-development standards. It passed, 254-74.
Hold the phone
The effort to overhaul New Hampshire’s ban on “push polls” has stalled.
Sen. David Pierce, an Etna Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, teamed up this year to rewrite the 1998 law.
National pollsters have companied that it’s written so broadly that it could interfere with legitimate political polling, as well as negative persuasive calls that masquerade as surveys.
It passed the Senate in April. But the House Election Law Committee voted last week to retain the bill, probably putting off a vote by the full House until early next year.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz could be the next Republican with his eye on the 2016 presidential race who finds his way to New Hampshire.
Cruz, a Tea Party Republican five months into his first term in the U.S. Senate, has been invited to give the keynote speech at Cornerstone Action’s annual fundraising dinner this fall.
Ashley Pratte, Cornerstone’s executive director, said Cruz hasn’t confirmed yet, but she expects to hear something definite soon.
Cruz isn’t the only GOP politician who may have New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on the mind.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul both spoke at GOP fundraisers last month, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio put up money to run television ads here supporting Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her vote against expanded background checks.
Potential Democratic candidates have been scarce so far – perhaps because early polls show Hillary Clinton would start with a commanding lead if she opts to run again.
News of record
∎ A special House election will be held Tuesday in Claremont’s Ward 2, with Democrat Larry Converse facing Republican Joe Osgood.
∎ Sharon Day, co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, will speak at a June 15 “grassroots campaign training seminar” in Nashua organized by the state GOP.
∎ Jim Rubens, former state senator and longtime chairman of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Expanded Gambling, is exploring a run for the Republican nomination to face Shaheen in next year’s election, the New Hampshire Union Leader first reported.
∎ New Hampshire’s congressional delegation kept up the fight last week against the so-called “internet sales tax” bill that passed the Senate in May. U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat from the 1st District, sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner saying it would hurt Granite State businesses.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)