Editorial: An agenda for Hassan, Democrats
Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan has an enormous challenge ahead of her, but the candidate who modeled herself after Democratic Gov. John Lynch will enjoy a few advantages he didn’t have in his last term. Chief among those is an improving economy, one that should increase state revenue and reduce, to a degree, the need for social services.
Hassan also won’t have her nominations blocked and initiatives thwarted by an Executive Council that saw itself as a super-legislature with the final say in policy. She will not have a House heavy with ideologues and run by an irascible tyrant. She will have, instead, a Democratic majority in the House.
The Senate’s final makeup remains to be determined by recounts in two races, but it will likely be split 13-11 or 12-12 and more moderate than its predecessor. The changed makeup means at least a temporary end to the wasted time, distraction and animosity caused by Republican attempts to repeal the state’s gay marriage law and impose right-to-work legislation designed to lower wages for New Hampshire workers.
Much of what Hassan accomplishes will depend on her ability to work, within the confines of her pledge to veto any broad-based sales or income tax, to raise the revenue needed to undo some of the damage wrought by the last Legislature. We’re thinking of the de-funding of the UNIQUE scholarship program that allowed low-income residents to attend college, the $50 million cut to the university system’s budget and a somewhat smaller cut to the state’s community colleges. The future of New Hampshire’s economy could depend on whether her policies allow the state to develop and retain the highly-educated workforce that’s the key to a thriving economy.
Hassan and the Legislature should also allow to expire the law that sanctioned the raid on the $25 real estate surcharge. Had lawmakers not appropriated the money, it would have allowed the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program to spend $9 million over two years to buy threatened land while it was cheap and restore historic structures while construction costs were low.
When Hassan discussed the state budget on the stump, her numbers didn’t add up. The revenue sources she cited – rescinding the profoundly stupid cut to the cigarette tax, reversing the counterproductive reduction in state tax auditors and other measures – might raise enough to restore cuts to the university system but not much else. In the meantime, an armory of swords hangs over the state’s fiscal neck in the form of lawsuits over the treatment of the mentally ill, the condition of the women’s prison, the confiscation of hospital revenue and who knows what else.
Money matters aside, there’s plenty for Hassan and the new Legislature to do, and undo, next year.
The new House should start by exorcising the chamber with the abolition of the goofy but dangerous Regress of Grievances Committee. Then, with the support of the governor, the Legislature should, in short order, repeal the so-called voucher law that, contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the state Constitution, redirects money meant for the general fund to non-public education, including religious schools.
Hassan and the new Legislature should also give the recently-enacted voter ID law the ax. It risks disenfranchising some voters and, in the absence of any evidence of voter fraud, is an unnecessary and meaningless encumbrance on the process.
They should work to repeal the misguided parental notification law on abortion. And they should revisit the new “stand your ground” law and the policy that permits civilians to bring guns into the State House.
Hassan should move forward as swiftly as possible with judicial nominations to address the slowdown in the courts, seek the return of a state contract with Planned Parenthood to provide women’s health care services, and work with lawmakers to see if it’s still possible to receive federal funding to create a state health care exchange to help connect uninsured New Hampshire residents with the carriers whose policies best meet their needs.
There is much to be done next year. Fortunately, some of can be accomplished without money that the new governor will need time to find.