In this week’s Capital Comments, Senator Odell writes about the Senate Finance Committee and its works on the budget; the performance of “Annie” at the Newport Opera House; and Turning Points.
By State Senator Bob Odell
While Mondays and Fridays are usually quiet days in the State House, the Senate Finance Committee is using those days to hear budget presentations from departments and agencies.
Our meetings are held in Room 103 on the first floor of the State House. On Friday, we could hear voices and cheering from the plaza in front of the State House as Tea Party adherents and others held an anti-tax rally. On the other side of the State House, protesters in yellow shirts chanted loudly against cuts to higher education funding.
And in the corridor outside Room 103, a dozen men and women, some in religious garb, quietly stood or sat on the floor. They have steadfastly been there whenever the Senate Finance Committee is in session. One of their signs identifies them as the Interfaith Voices for a Humane Budget.
The hearing room itself is historic. For many years, it was part of the office of the state treasurer. The treasurer’s office now is across the street in the State House annex. But left from the old days is a good sized vault in the back of the room along with a sliver metal spiral staircase that goes to a second vault in the upper half of the back wall.
With the vaults and staircase, the room is a bit unusual for a meeting room. But it will be home to the Finance Committee budget process as we move along toward final votes on the Senate’s budget plan in late May.
Jay Flanders from Sunapee is the Senate’s chief of staff. He knows Room 103 well as his dad was the state treasurer from 1965 until 1984.
Although being on the Finance Committee requires many extra days in Concord, it is where the legislative action is as we build a Senate budget version. The job includes making corrections and adjustments to the budget sent to us by the House along with some major policy decisions. Those include deciding on the elimination of entire departments, reducing dramatically some Health and Human Services Department expenditures that will hit local service agencies. Along the way we need to make sure our spending is balanced against our revenue projections. We must live within our means over the next two years.
When I am not in committee meetings or on the Senate floor, I meet with citizens and lobbyists in Concord and individuals back here in the district on budget issues. A state two-year budget that in aggregate is more than $10 billion impacts every community and all of our citizens in one way or another.
I am pleased to be vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. I have served on the committee for each of my terms in the Senate. But I emphasize that there is a huge difference between being chair and a committee member.
An example: The Commissioner of Corrections, William Wrenn, suggested that with the proposed cuts in his budget from the House of Representatives, he would have to close the Berlin prison. At the committee meeting last Friday, the chair of the Finance Committee, Chuck Morse (Salem) was pretty clear. “It’s a non-starter,” Senator Morse told the Commissioner. He continued, “we need to work together, stop talking about closing Berlin and then we can move forward.” No one in the Room doubted that a decision about not closing the Berlin prison had just been made.
That is a Finance Chairman who is in charge. The Senate’s version of the budget for the next two years will have the imprint of Senator Morse all over it. Thankfully, he is the right person, at the right time to lead us through this challenging budget season.
Congratulations to everyone involved with The Newport Opera House production of “Annie” last weekend. To the cast, musicians and volunteers, to Executive Director Charles Massey and the financial supporters, thank you. The show was a tremendous gift to our community. Special thanks, too, to the generous sponsor, Roy Malool, who helped once again to make the impossible possible at the Newport Opera House.
Although I had seen “Annie” a couple of times in the past, the last time was quite a few years ago. Annie’s story is an uplifting one ideal for children and adults alike. And it was great theater, too.
I started Saturday by participating in the Turning Points fifth annual fund-raising walk in Claremont. The 5K event drew hundreds although the morning was cold and windy. But spirits were high and as a walker with me said, “there seem to be a lot of new faces this year.” That appeared to be the case.
Organizers read off the names of financial and in-kind donors. It was a long list. There was another long list of teams which had signed up to walk and fund-raise. This annual event gets bigger and bigger each year.
Turning Points is the Sullivan County agency that helps and sometimes rescues victims of domestic violence. It also tries to prevent domestic violence before it happens including anti-bullying programs focused on youth.
A portion of the fee paid for a marriage license goes to the statewide network of domestic violence agencies across New Hampshire. In the House version of the upcoming budget, about half of that money is being taken for other expenses. Representative Rodeschin, a member of the House Finance Committee, worked hard to keep those monies in the budget.
Senator Odell represents Senate District 8: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland. He is the chairman of the following committees: Ways and Means; Energy, Environment and Economic Development; and Finance. He is also on the Capital Budget Committee.