Capital Comments: PUC Gets OK-$5 Million for Energy Assistance

By State Senator Bob Odell
Twice last Wednesday I climbed a State House staircase for events in the Executive Council Chamber.  The chamber is on the second floor of the State House and serves as a multi purpose room.

It is often used for bill signings and other ceremonial events, meetings with the Governor when there are too many people to meet in his office, and other activities that are part of the government process.  The chamber itself is quite grand with 18-foot high ceilings.  With paintings of our earliest governors on the walls, students on tour always smile or giggle a bit at the hair styles of these governors dating back before the Revolution.

My first visit to the Executive Council Chamber was to stand with Representatives Beverly Rodeschin (Newport) and Tom Howard (Croydon) and others as Steve Cunningham was sworn into office as a new representative by Governor Lynch.  Steve, a Republican, competed with former two term representative, Art Jillette for the seat.

The election was on Tuesday and when the results were in Steve had won.  Art generously signed a letter indicating he would not contest the election results allowing Steve to be sworn in the next day.  Importantly, given that the House was meeting that day, Steve was able to be voting on the House floor less than a day after the polls closed.

Congratulations to Steve who lives in Croydon.  And thanks to Art Jillette for his willingness concede the election and allow the decision of the voters to be implemented right away.  Without Art’s letter, Steve would have missed an opportunity to be sworn quickly and participate in the long but important House session last week.

*   *   *

The second time I climbed the steps to the Executive Council Chamber was to speak on behalf of Governor Lynch’s nomination of Joe Mollica from Sunapee to be a member of the three person state Liquor Commission.  New Hampshire, with our constitutional tools for keeping a check on the power of the governor, has given the responsibility to the Executive Council to approve nominations by the governor to key state positions.

Part 2, Article 47 of the state constitution says that the governor’s appointments face a “negative on each other” which means that the governor’s appointments face a potential negative vote by the executive councilors.  There are five councilors so a nomination by the governor needs three votes to be approved.

In the early 1960’s, Councilor James Hayes (Concord) pushed the policy of having the Governor submit nominations and let them be viewed by the public prior to Council action.  That is why there was a public hearing on the nomination of Joe Mollica.

The hearing started with the nominee taking a seat at the 5-foot by 13-foot conference table.  Joe’s hearing was chaired by Councilor Debora Pignatelli (Nashua).

He had an opportunity to take present his case as to why he is a worthy candidate for the commissioner’s job.  And then others from the area like Joel Maiola, on his own behalf and that of his dad, spoke in favor of Joe’s nomination.  Joel’s dad, Tony Maiola, as many readers know, was a long time liquor commissioner and finished out his tenure at the commission as its chair.

Others from the area who spoke on Joe’s behalf included Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill and Jay Gamble from Mount Sunapee.   No one spoke in opposition.  The Council meets next on January 27 and a vote on Joe’s nomination is likely.

*   *   *

The Senate vote was 22-0.  The House voted quickly and with the Governor’s signature, the Public Utilities Commission had authority to move $5 million over the next 18 months from an energy efficiency program to the energy assistance program.  Based upon family income and size, electric customers can get a discount on their monthly bill.  Partisan wounds had been opened over whether to delay passage of the bill, SB 300, for one week so a public hearing could be held instead of a less formal approach of an informational session.

While everyone agrees on the importance of helping low income people with their electric bills, the fact that we held a public hearing was important to make sure all individuals or organizations had their opportunity to speak in favor or against this use of money that comes from the systems benefit charge on every consumer’s bill each month.

*   *   *

This week’s major event in Concord will be the Governor’s annual State of the State address on Thursday.  The last couple of months have been strong in terms of revenue meeting monthly projections but the overall revenue picture is uncertain.  The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is being asked to use almost all of our “rainy day” money to balance the budget that ended back on June 30th.

And the Governor and legislators await the decision of the State Supreme Court to see if the government can claim the $110 million in the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA) account.  Does this money belong to the state or does it belong to the medical professionals who bought insurance through the JUA.

The list of other items the Governor may address goes on and on.  Most importantly, I hope he will lay out possible scenarios that could be employed in building a balanced budget for the next biennium.

NH State Senator Bob Odell (District 8) is chairman of Ways and Means, a member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. Senate District 8 comprises: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

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