Ahead of veto override day, Senate President Donna Soucy stands behind minimum wage law

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu tells protestors he's close to a budget deal with Democratic leaders in the legislature after his appearance at the Upper Valley Senior Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Sept. 16, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

  • In this April 17, 2014 photo, state Sen. Donna Soucy speaks in favor of repealing the state's death sentence in Concord, N.H. The senate later voted 12-12, which kept the century old death sentence on the books. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Published: 9/16/2019 5:37:49 PM

New Hampshire Senate President Donna Soucy isn’t betting the farm on Senate Bill 10 – her bill to increase New Hampshire’s minimum wage – securing the votes to overcome Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto this Thursday. But she’s pushing for it anyway.

On a conference call Monday, the Manchester Democrat praised the bill, which would raise the minimum wage to $12 for many businesses by 2022. 

“If you’re a single mother trying to work two jobs … you just can’t get by,” she said. “You can’t get by without government assistance on a minimum wage.”

But Sununu vetoed the bill earlier this year, arguing it would hurt businesses and cost jobs. And with only 14 “yes” votes in the Senate the last time around – two short of the number to complete the override – the chances of that changing when senators return to vote Thursday are low.

New Hampshire presently doesn't have a state minimum wage, reverting to the default federal $7.25 an hour. That’s been the case since 2006; Soucy and other supporters argue that the bottom rung of the wage ladder has not kept pace with inflation and is hurting the ability of the state to attract workers.

 “Costs of everything – from gasoline to milk and bread to daycare – are all increasing, thereby making it much more difficult for those working at a minimum wage rate,” she said.

Sununu and others have decried the proposed hike as an unnecessary cost-driving mandate on businesses, arguing that many of them already do pay well over $7 an hour but that mandating $12 would hurt some employers’ bottom lines – which could lead to lost jobs. 

“This bill would have a detrimental effect not only on the very Granite Staters it purports to help, but also the New Hampshire advantage,” the governor said in his veto message.

“While our current economic boom means that New Hampshire has more open positions than unemployed workers, the next recession or economic slowdown will eventually occur, and the impact of these labor cost increases will cause real harm to those workers, usually young people, who cannot create enough value to warrant the higher mandated wage,” he said.

The bill is one of a deluge of vetoes sent over from the governor’s office this year: 55 in total. 

But with not enough Democrats in either chamber to hit the two-thirds threshold and override the vetoes on their own, the prognosis for success for most bills is low. Any override attempt will need to include some Republican support. 

And amid a likely highly-charged partisan atmosphere, it is possible that both parties may circle the wagons and vote against each other.

Soucy said another factor this year could make it easier to attract that support: sheer volume. The number of vetoed bills could create opportunities for some lawmakers to splinter, she argued Monday.

“(It) sort of gives people license I think to veer – particularly Republicans – to support overrides,” Soucy said. She pointed to one cited by Democrats this year as a place of common ground: energy. 

House Bill 365 would raise a state-wide cap on net metering – the process of selling renewable energy back into the grid – to a level five times higher than the present limit. And House Bill 183 would add subsidies for biomass power plants, many of which have become financially strapped with the surge of cheaper natural gas. 

Both efforts have attracted Republican support – not least because renewable energy projects and biomass plants alike are embedded in some Republicans’ districts. Soucy argued that support could extend into this week, despite the fraught politics at hand.

“(Those) were issues that had very broad bipartisan support, and that were really geographically very important for certain senators and House members. “I think those have a real possibility.”

The Senate president also pointed to a bipartisan medical marijuana bill – Senate Bill 145 – as a possible potential swing against Sununu. That bill would allow non-profit “alternative treatment centers” to become for-profit, a move Sununu has said would lead to commercialization of the medical marijuana industry. 

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)




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