GOP: Jobs are No. 1 priority

Last modified: 2/3/2012 12:00:00 AM
House Republicans want you to make no mistake about it: Jobs are their No. 1 priority.

For the second time this year, House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt held a press conference inside the Legislative Office Building to make that point, this time as he officially laid out his caucus's 2012 agenda.

Bettencourt said the Republican-controlled House made "tough choices" last year as it focused on crafting a budget that cut deep into state agencies to reduce spending by 11 percent.

"Because of these hard decisions, the shared sacrifice, because we stuck to our discipline, we can now focus squarely this year on getting Granite Staters back to work," Bettencourt said.

The 2012 Republican House agenda was borne out of listening to "job creators," Bettencourt said.

"We need more jobs here in New Hampshire. We need careers to pull our state out of this recession for good," Bettencourt said. "We need to work with our job creators, not against them."

At a press conference in January, before the legislative session began, the Salem Republican chastised Democrats and the news media for being "obsessed with social issues." The session was then led off by a trio of Republican-backed bills seeking to bolster Second Amendment protections by prohibiting colleges from banning guns on campus, letting people carry concealed guns without a permit and allowing loaded rifles and shotguns in motor vehicles.

Yesterday's agenda sought to highlight the less glamorous side of lawmaking, championing bills to "eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy," "make state government more user friendly" and "rein in excessive agency rules and tort reform."

Not mentioned in the agenda are hot-button bills to repeal same-sex marriage and legalize casinos in the state. The agenda pushes for a school funding constitutional amendment using language that passed the House last year. On Wednesday, Senate Republican leaders presented a different version of the amendment more in line with what Gov. John Lynch would prefer.

House Republicans are also backing a tax credit that would allow businesses to instead contribute scholarship money for students attending private schools. Another bill would allow parents to withdraw their child from a school district if it adopts the international baccalaureate program.

"We must abandon the old debate that has taken too much time in New Hampshire about adequacy and rather pursue an education based on excellence," Bettencourt said.

The agenda seeks to reform New Hampshire's corporate tax structure, with one bill raising the threshold businesses must cross before being subject to the state's business enterprise tax. In hopes of spurring economic development, another proposal would restrict local officials from adopting new building code regulations or reviving those that have expired.

Bettencourt acknowledged a call for civility by Lynch in his State of the State address on Tuesday, saying he hopes to work with Democrats to "change the tone in Concord and turn down the temperature on the rhetoric."

"While this must be a two-way street, I'm willing to lead by example," he said.

Democrats were unmoved by the Republicans' agenda. But with nearly three Republicans to every one Democrat in the House, the minority party has little power to object.

"In honor of Groundhog's Day, my colleagues across the aisle re-launched their agenda for the 103rd time," said House Minority Leader Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat. "Once again they claimed to be focused on jobs and the economy, when in reality the opposite is true."

Norelli said the Republicans have put forward "an inordinate number of irresponsible bills forcing a Tea Party agenda on the state of New Hampshire and pursuing fringe issues." She singled out one Republican leadership-backed bill, House Bill 1282, that she said would harm the state's economy by allowing towns and cities to decide whether to approve work-force housing in their communities.

"The elimination of work-force housing with HB 1282 will have a direct negative impact on businesses' access to that work force across the state," Norelli said. "Just as a successful business needs qualified employees, a strong economy requires a strong work force.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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