13 things to watch for at the State House in 2013
Grant Bosse (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
As we look ahead to the top issues for the New Hampshire Legislature in 2013, let’s mention three from last year’s agenda that won’t matter much: redistricting, Right To Work and RGGI.
The controversial House redistricting plan got a state Supreme Court seal of approval this year, over my objections, and the Senate isn’t going to go redistrict anything for another nine years.
There weren’t enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto on Right To Work with a Republican super-majority. There won’t be enough to send it Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan’s desk next year.
And the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will limp along into a fifth year, but don’t be surprised if RGGI revenues are again diverted to meet other spending priorities.
Meanwhile, here are 13 issues worth paying attention to in 2013:
13. Right to Know. Our law provides broad protection for open meetings and public records but never anticipated email, PDFs or cell phone cameras. The law needs a reboot to protect the right to record public meetings and require government to keeps records so that they remain open to public inspection. Rep. Mary Beth Walz of Bow has introduced legislation to let local officials shield their deliberations behind the cloak of attorney-client privilege, even if their attorney isn’t present.
12. Pensions. We’re not going to get any significant reform of the New Hampshire Retirement System, despite an unfunded liability approaching $5 billion. The public-sector unions, and the elected officials they support, do not acknowledge the problem. The question is whether the Legislature will make it worse with more pension promises we can’t afford.
11. Nanny taxes. We know that cigarette taxes will go up again. But how about soda? Or bottled water? Which other unpopular activities will some do-gooder in the Legislature decide need to be taxed, for our own good?
10. Business taxes. Everyone agreed during the last campaign that New Hampshire’s punitive business tax climate needed reform. But no one knows where to find the money to pare back the business profits tax or business enterprise tax.
9. Voter ID. New Hampshire’s new voter ID system worked well. That won’t stop Democrats from trying to repeal it. They see laws that ensure voters are who they say they are as attempts to disenfranchise poor, minority and elderly voters.
8. Capital budget. Pay attention not only to how much we borrow to build new courthouses but also whether the Legislature tries to shoehorning operational spending into the capital budget in order to make the general fund look balanced.
7. School choice scholarships. Teachers’ unions will lead the charge to repeal New Hampshire’s modest step toward school choice, arguing that a small tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations is a threat to public schools. The absurdity of this argument will not lessen the volume with which it is delivered.
6. Education funding. New Hampshire voters aren’t likely to get an amendment that meaningfully reduces the court’s meddling in education funding decisions. Meanwhile, the formulas by which the state determines the cost of an adequate education, raises that money, and distributes it to towns are all in need of updating.
5. Gambling. The governor’s budget will have a proposal for a single casino along the southern border. If approved, it will end up at Rockingham Park. The only question is whether there are enough votes for the idea in the House. The chamber has never supported gambling, but a sitting governor has never pushed for one.
4. LGC lawsuit. The Local Government Center has for years used revenue from its local insurance to pay for other programs. The huge cost of court-ordered refunds could cause a mess big enough to require legislative action.
3. Medicaid lawsuit. If Judge Stephen McAuliffe restores the Lynch administration Medicaid reimbursement rate cuts, does the Legislature cut them again? If the state wins, do they increase Medicaid funding anyway?
2. Medicaid expansion. Hassan wants to raise the income eligibility for Medicaid, and the feds are offering to pay most of the cost over the next few years. Shifting patients from private insurance to Medicaid will hit hospitals hard and increase the Granite State’s long-term health care costs.
1. The budget. The state’s two-year budget is not only the most important bill the Legislature will debate, but it will be the vehicle through which many of the state’s top issues are decided. Hassan’s first budget proposal is due by Feb. 15. As Senate majority leader, she relied on optimistic revenue estimates and increased borrowing. Can we expect a more responsible approach in 2013?
(Grant Bosse is editor of NH Watchdog, an independent news site focusing on New Hampshire public policy.)