Capital Beat: Guns, education funding and – gasp – an income tax at the State House
Friday marked the deadline for New Hampshire House members to file their proposed bills and . . . there is one calling for an income tax. And another to expand gambling and more still to restore cuts to the state university budgets, legalize marijuana and prohibit guns from the State House unless the owner has a permit to carry concealed.
In other words, it’s shaping up to be an interesting 2013 legislative year. And along with all this, the Legislature must pass a two-year budget. Work begins in earnest in early January. State senators have until Dec. 20 to file their bill requests, though some have filed requests already.
As of Friday afternoon, there were 566 bill requests on the Legislature’s website, but there are about 250 more still to appear online, said Jill Sieveking, director of Legislative Services. She and her staff will have the rest up by Monday or Tuesday.
We caught up with several lawmakers about their bill requests last week.
Rep.-elect Delmar Burridge, a Keene Democrat who served previously, is behind the proposed income tax – with a twist. Rather than a statewide income tax, Burridge wants to give counties the right to asses a 1 percent income tax on residents’ unadjusted gross income. There would be a break for property owners because their property tax bill would be reduced by whatever amount they paid in the income tax.
Burridge would dedicate the money raised through the income tax to schools. His intention, he said, is to find some money for education while also giving homeowners property tax relief.
Capital Beat: “That’s going to be a tough fight.”
Burridge: “Everything I put in is a tough fight.”
That brings us to Burridge’s second bill request. He wants to prohibit the “open carry” of firearms at the State House and other public buildings. Kids and others come to the State House, he said, and seeing guns hanging from holsters “scares the bee-jeebies out of people,” he said.
Burridge doesn’t want to eliminate concealed carry, however. He’s had a license to carry concealed since 1969 and considers that safer because no one can get a license unless they have three character witnesses and a police chief who say it’s a good idea.
Sen.-elect Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat, filed a bill to add $100 million to the University System of New Hampshire’s budget. The state’s universities and community colleges saw their budgets cut by Republicans last session.
“At a time when New Hampshire and the rest of the country is challenged to compete globally for good jobs, nothing is more important than having a well-educated workforce,”
Fuller Clark said in release. “We owe the opportunity for all of New Hampshire’s young people to access such an affordable quality education through our university system.”
Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, issued his own statement commending Fuller Clark’s commitment to education and said he looked forward to discussing it with her. “At that time, I hope she will be willing to discuss with the (Senate Finance) Committee where she would suggest we cut spending – or which taxes she would propose to raise – in order to finance the $100 million price tag attached to this bill,” Morse said.
Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, has filed two bill requests, one reducing the business enterprise tax and the other reducing the business profits tax. New Hampshire has among the highest business taxes in the country he said. Those two taxes bring the state $500 million annually or about 40 percent of the state’s revenue.
Sanborn said yesterday he will pursue those reductions only if he can find an equal savings or revenue jump elsewhere in the budget.
Rep. Gary Richardson, a Hopkinton Democrat, has filed a bill to improve education funding by targeting aid to the more needy communities while still covering the cost of an adequate education for the rest of the state. Richardson wants a constitutional amendment that would not only target aid but also retain a role for the Legislature to provide educational funding and the courts to enforce that obligation.
The state already targets aid to needy districts but does it after sending money to all districts – and only to the degree that there is additional money. Richardson would like to rework the formula so the targeting of aid happens first. He doesn’t believe his bill would require the state to spend more on education. It would instead allocate the money differently.
Rep. Edmond Gionet, a Lincoln Republican, is wasting no time trying to expand gambling, something he’s supported for years. He’s filed a bill allowing for two gambling sites, one in the southern part of the state and another farther north. He said studies have show Lincoln, in fact, would be perfect. Plus, he said, there’s a resort owner interested.
“The bottom line is that out of necessity, we need to create jobs,” Gionet said. “We need a new revenue source, and we don’t need new taxes.”
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, wants to legalize the recreational use of marijuana as Colorado and Washington voters did recently. Lighting up remains a federal offense, and Vaillancourt would like to change that.
“If enough states get on board, it will send a message to the feds to get out of the business of legislating this bit of morality,” he said in an email. “Marijuana is a more benign substance than liquor, which is perfectly legal. As a libertarian, I believe people ought to decide which ‘evil’ substance they will use.”
Vaillancourt, who is also cosponsoring a bill to allow the medical use of marijuana, doesn’t believe the measure will pass e_SEnD this time. “Hopefully, we can get this into a study committee, which will set the stage for the future . . . as we often do,” he wrote. “Martin Luther King holiday failed many times – six or seven – before it finally passed.”
That’s a lot of appointments
We’re guessing one of the more fun tasks of being governor is picking the attorney general, the banking commissioner and . . . the poet laureate. Hassan will get to fill those three posts any many more over the next two years as the terms of several sitting commissioners expire.
A few posts are open now: director of homeland security, commissioner of the Department of Labor, commissioner of Department of Resources and Economic Development and one of the three liquor commissioner jobs. Hassan may very well hold off on that last one to see whether the Legislature passes a bill calling for a single commissioner and one deputy.
And the five-year term of Commissioner Lorraine Stuart Merrill of the Department of Agriculture, expired this month, though she remains in the job.
In 2013, terms will end for Banking Commissioner Ronald Wilbur (January); Attorney General Michael Delaney (March); Education Commissioner Virginia Barry (March); Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny (June); Commissioner of Cultural Resources Van McLeod (September); and Corrections Commissioner William Wrenn (October).
In 2014, terms are up for Poet Laureate Walter Butts (March); George Copadis, head of the Department of Employment Security (April) and Tom Burack, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services (July).
In addition, Hassan will get to appoint three of the seven-member state Board of Education and two members of the parole board. Hassan won’t, however, get to nominate anyone to the state Supreme Court unless one of the sitting justices chooses to retire before age 70, when they must retire.
We should say it’s quite possible Hassan will keep some of the current commissioners in their jobs. McLeod has been serving four-year terms since 1992. And Sevigny and Wrenn are both serving their second terms.
We asked Hassan’s office if she has plans for the current vacancies.
“Gov.-Elect Hassan intends to take a comprehensive approach to appointments to identify highly qualified individuals that will best serve the people of New Hampshire,” Hassan’s spokesman Marc Goldberg, said. “But no decisions have been made on specific appointments.”
When the Democrats assumed occupancy of the House leadership offices last week, they found a little something left behind by the other party. And it was that other party that tipped us off.
In the majority office, there was a Guy Fawkes mask. This stylized mask of a man with a wide, thin mustache became a common sign of protest at Occupy Wall Street gatherings this year. Fawkes earned his fame back in 1605 while attempting to blow up the House of Lords in Britain.
The desk in the deputy speaker’s office contained the clipping of a newspaper column titled “NH Democrats, you taxed yourselves out of office.”
Accompanying it was a hand-written note asking “Who is John Galt?” This one is a reference to Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Galt is the good guy fighting a society stifled by socialism and bureaucrats.
When the Democrats lost the majority in the House two years ago, they also left the incoming Republicans a message. But it needed less deciphering.
There was a note that promised, “We’ll be back” with a date of the 2012 election.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter got a swat last week from OpenSecrets.org for allegedly failing to provide legally required information about most of the people who donated to her campaign.
OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks money in politics, said Shea-Porter was one of five newly elected members of Congress who gave insufficient information for less than 60 percent of her donors. According to the group, Shea-Porter disclosed the necessary information for just 34.2 percent of the $842,000 large-dollar donations.
The required information, needed for any gift over $200, is pretty simple: donor’s name, address, occupation and employer. The campaign is required by law to attempt to get that information even if it’s not provided by the donor in the first place.
The group said Shea-Porter should have known better, given that she served two terms in Congress before losing her seat to Frank Guinta in 2010. She reclaimed that seat in the November election.
We couldn’t connect with Shea-Porter’s office by deadline.
If being governor really is like herding cats, Gov. John Lynch is well-prepared for more time at home when he leaves office next month.
As every fourth-grader who visits the governor’s office learns, Lynch and his wife, Susan, are cat lovers. According to the young tipster who dropped this in our lap, the First Couple has five cats at home. This we had to confirm when Lynch dropped by the Monitor last week for a final interview with editors.
Turns out, Lynch tells all his visiting fourth-graders that he and his wife have had five cats. What he doesn’t tell them is that two have passed away, so they’ve got only three now. Lynch told us said he never wanted to give the fourth-graders the bad news.
Maybe Lynch was more a politician than we thought.
Come one, come all
Newly elected Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern of Concord is launching a listening this tour to meet with constituents – and if you can’t make it in person, he wants to get your e-thoughts.
Van Ostern will be at City Hall in Concord on Dec. 17, either by appointment from 8 a.m. to noon or for unscheduled drop-in visits from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. You can schedule an appointment by visiting vanostern.com.
That website will also allow you to send Van Ostern thoughts and questions about his upcoming term if you can’t catch him in person.
A petition for a petition
If you’re following the “fiscal cliff” back-and-forth, you may have heard about the “discharge petition” going around Washington. With enough signatures, the petition could bring a bill granting middle-class tax cuts to the House floor without the support of House leadership. The Democrats are signing on. The Republicans, not so much.
A local political advocacy group, The Action, is promoting a petition urging Congressmen Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta to sign the discharge petition.
“An extension of the middle-class tax cut is through the Senate, but Speaker (John) Boehner won’t bring it to the House floor for an up or down vote,” said Taylor Coots, state director for The Action. “It is high time Congressmen Bass and Guinta do the right thing, break with the speaker, and put New Hampshire middle-class families ahead of Washington politics.”
To find out more about The Action’s petition, visit granitestateprogress.org.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, email@example.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benleubsdorf.)