Capital Comments: Gov. Hassan unveils budget Feb. 14

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The long wait to learn what Governor Maggie Hassan is putting into her budget will end on Thursday.  Promptly at 10 o’clock in the morning, she will be introduced into Representatives Hall and with little ceremony will be introduced again for the purpose of making her budget address.

This happens in New Hampshire every two years.  And the Governor’s address sets the framework for the work the House and Senate will do before passing a two year budget in June for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Briefings give budget writers plenty to ponder

Senator Bob OdellCapital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

One newspaper’s front page headline on Tuesday read, “For NH budget writers, it’s doom and gloom.”

The article was about a long day of briefings for House and Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committee members. Every two years the House and Senate invite in economic experts and analysts to put things in perspective as the budget writing process is beginning.

I remind my colleagues that the Governor will take the first step next month when she announces her budget plan in an address to a joint session of the legislature. That address will set out her spending plans that will tell us her policy goals. And she will explain her predictions on revenue for the next two years beginning on July 1.

Here is some of the news legislators heard.

First, economic growth is anemic. It is taking us longer to recover from the recession which officially ended months ago. And New Hampshire for the first time in memory is recovering more slowly than other states in New England except for Rhode Island. New England is also recovering more slowly than the rest of the country. That’s not good. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Senator Bradgon announces committee assignments

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Organization Day, held on the first Wednesday in December in election years, is the opportunity for the new Senate and House to meet for the first time.  It is an occasion for legislators to share a special day with family and friends. Continue reading

Capital Comments: N.H. biennial budget process underway

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The sparring over the size of the state’s next biennial budget began last week.  Over three days, agency heads offered their wish lists for appropriations for the two year budget cycle that begins on July 1.

Presentations at the Governor’s Fiscal Year 2014-15 Operating Budget Hearing, one of several steps in the budget process, gave department heads a chance to tell their stories publicly for the first time.  They will have plenty of other opportunities down the road.

The agency heads were providing the Governor, legislators and the public with what they think the costs will be to run the current programs in each department for the next two years. Their “maintenance” budgets do not take into consideration any new programs or activities … they simply keep programs as they are.

What does that get you?  Adding up all agency requests, if approved and they won’t be, there would be additional spending of $3.3 billion over the next two years, an increase of 26 percent over current spending levels. Continue reading

Capital Comments: N.H. Medicaid and the new healthcare law

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

A constituent that I hear from periodically wants me to introduce a bill to nullify the new federal health care plan.  He writes, “Obama Care must be nullified within our state to eliminate the vast, new, unconstitutional powers over health care …”

In the days following the election, some legislators, government officials, stakeholders like insurance companies and health care providers and the media are focusing on the implications for New Hampshire of the Affordable Care Act, which even the President has said is appropriate to call Obama Care.   About 100 of them turned out last week at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters to be briefed on the part of the new law dealing with Medicaid.

HHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas introduced the program explaining that while the U.S. Supreme found the new law constitutional, the federal government cannot force states to increase the number of people on Medicaid, the program that provides services to indigent people.  Commissioner Toumpas said policy makers, the legislature and the Governor need to determine whether or not we will expand the number of people on our Medicaid rolls.

After support for public schools, Medicaid is the next largest spending line in the budget.  To serve about 120,000 Medicaid eligible New Hampshire residents, the state spends $600 million annually that is matched by another $600 million from the federal government. Continue reading

2012 Election brings dramatic changes to Concord

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The voters spoke last week and brought dramatic changes to Concord.

Most attention was focused on the election of a new Governor, former State Senator Maggie Hassan, and the reversal of a three to one Republican majority in the House to a 222 to 178 Democrat majority.  There is much less attention on the changes in the makeup of the State Senate.

Broadly speaking, the Republicans retained a narrow majority of 13 to 11 but that is down from 19 to 5.  Given the wholesale GOP losses in House contests, it is surprising only one Republican incumbent, Jim Luther (Hollis), lost.  And he lost to Peggy Gilmour, also of Hollis, who he defeated two years ago.

The 24 newly elected Senators will be sworn in by Governor Lynch on December 5 as required by the state constitution.  There are 14 Senators who were re-elected last week and three who are returning after being out one term having been defeated two years ago.  And there will be seven new members with four of them moving from the House to the Senate including David Pierce (Lebanon).

In 2006, history was made when the New Hampshire Senate became the first state legislative body in the country to have women make up a majority of its membership.  There were 13 women Senators between 2006 and 2010.  There will be nine women in the new Senate.

Republicans and Democrats moved quickly to choose their respective leaders.  Senator Sylvia Larsen (Concord) is the senior Senator in terms of service with ten terms and she was chosen by her Democrat caucus to lead the Senate Democrats.  Senator Peter Bragdon (Milford) was selected to lead the Republicans and with their majority he will be formally elected Senate President for a second term when the Senators gather on December 5. Continue reading

Capital Comments: Senate colleauges applaud Matt Houde

From State Senator Bob Odell

In the State Senate your age or length of service are not measures of the respect your colleagues have for you. Matt Houde (Plainfield) has proven that.

The Senate will meet in regular session just one more time, on June 6, so tradition calls for departing Senators to make some farewell remarks leading up to our final day in Concord. That started last week when Senator Ray White (Bedford) did a roll call of departing Senators with some special and often humorous comments. Senator White is leaving the Senate himself after just one term.

When he came to Matt Houde, Senator White called him a “class act” and noted that as one of the five members of the minority in the Senate, he has often been on the “losing side” over the past two years. But Senator Houde never lost his patience nor took things personally or even raised his voice in debates.

The week before Senator Houde had received a standing ovation from Senators for his work leading the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is the only member of the minority to have a committee chairmanship and the reward was an avalanche of bills to manage through the legislative process. This year more bills found themselves in Senator Houde’s committee than any other. Continue reading

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