Capital Beat: Lawmakers gamble on budget with kindergarten funding plan

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Sunday, June 18, 2017

It’s the New Hampshire way. Get people gambling so the state can afford to pay for services.

Averse to raising taxes or fees, Republicans are leaning hard this year on lottery money to balance the state budget.

But the bet has risks. Tethering full-day kindergarten to keno, in a move some clever legislators are calling “Kenogarten,” may doom the entire bill.

That would deal a blow to Gov. Chris Sununu, who’s made all-day kindergarten money a major policy goal.

In the legislation, House conservatives, who oppose funding a full-day, and Democrats, who dislike expanded lottery, both have things to hate.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, who in the past have been a driving force behind the policy, may oppose it after they say Republicans went back on a deal.

The issue has been a tricky one since the beginning. At first, the marriage of keno and kindergarten seemed like a poison pill from the Republican-led House, since the electronic lottery game has never found favor in the Senate. But then lawmakers embraced it as a potential way to get the legislation passed.

That will be put to the test this week.

Initially, Senate Democrats said they agreed to a deal where keno money would go into state education coffers and districts with full-day kindergarten would get funded.

Republicans walked into the conference committee last week with something new, they said. In it, full-day kindergarten money is dependent on how much the state raises through keno. If it’s a windfall year, school districts will get more dollars, but the opposite is also true.

The change was meant to please House members worried about where the money would come from, according to one member. But Democrats were left livid.

“We think we shouldn’t gamble on our kids’ future,” said Concord Sen. Dan Feltes. “It was a partisan backroom 11th-hour deal that makes full adequacy contingent upon keno.”

House Democrats aren’t taking such a strong position, but Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff expects some against expanded gambling will oppose it. He will urge the caucus to vote their conscience. Right now, Shurtleff’s leaning toward support.

Red line

Business tax cuts are a rallying cry among State House Republicans. But in closed-door budget negotiations last week, the GOP was far from united on how to move forward with this session’s planned cuts.

House negotiators wanted built-in safeties, meaning if state revenues plummeted, the tax cuts would stop. Former Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan demanded similar triggers when she agreed to a budget last session with a set of business tax reductions.

But Senate leaders said no and their position prevailed.

“I think it’s a good idea to have the safety built in,” said House Speaker Shawn Jasper. “Ultimately, we felt that having the tax cuts was more important than having the triggers.”

The cuts are one way Republicans are trying to woo House conservatives, who helped kill the chamber’s budget earlier this year. With Democrats opposed, the conservative group will make the difference in whether the next state budget passes or goes up in flames.

Call me pumpkin

Andy Sanborn just wants voters to call him Andy, but he’s picked up a new nickname at the State House: Pumpkin.

In his two-minute video announcing a run for U.S. Congress, Sanborn listed off a litany of titles. But it’s the kitchy nickname he got from his state representative wife that has his colleagues snickering.

Other parts of the video raise eyebrows.

Sanborn, sitting in front of a bar, proclaims he “never wanted to be a politician.” But he has certainly made efforts to remain in the state Senate.

Sanborn relocated to Bedford after being squeezed out of his Henniker district in a redistricting plan passed in 2012. He cited a desire to be closer to his wife’s family. Perhaps it was coincidence that the incumbent senator in Bedford had decided not to run for re-election that year.

The move to Bedford may also be a boost to Sanborn’s congressional chances. In Henniker, he would have had to face-off against Democrat Annie Kuster, who has fended off Republican challengers in the last three elections. The First District, however, has ping-ponged between the parties every two years. With a Democrat in this session, history tells us it’s looking up for Sanborn.

Unbearable behavior

First Gov. Chris Sununu pardoned the Hanover bears. Next will he pardon famed artist Richard Whitney?

The Stoddard man has painted the official portraits of at least five state governors, including Sununu’s father and most recently Craig Benson.

But now the artist finds himself in headlines for decidedly less fancy reasons. Whitney and his wife are charged with intentionally feeding bears near their home. They face a $1,000 fine and frustration from the neighbors, who reportedly “cannot enjoy the neighborhood or even their own backyards” due to the constant presence of black bears, according to state Fish and Game.

A quick hello

In a six-minute video filmed at his Rye home, former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown introduced himself to his newest constituency: the kiwis.

Showing off his road bikes, which happen to be placed right in front of a table packed with medals and trophies, Brown says he’s “psyched” to race against other triathletes on the islands.

He may be leaving New Hampshire to become ambassador to New Zealand, but he’s certainly bringing his competitive spirit down under.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)