Capital Comments: Learning for legislators is on-going

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Each week I shuttle between meetings in my office and committee rooms in the State House and the Legislative Office Building across the street.  Every meeting, whether with a constituent, a lobbyist or government official, is a learning experience.

If I were in school, a reader might compare it to moving between classrooms as much of a legislator’s role is being educated.  That means not listening to just one side of the story on legislation … but hearing the other side, too.

Last week I jotted down some information I gained from some of my meetings.

Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee:  As if we needed reminding, state governments have become very dependent upon federal government payments to states.  New Hampshire spent $2.271 billion of money received from the federal government in fiscal year 2011 that ended last June.  Total spending by the state in the same year, depending upon the figure used, was roughly $5 billion.  That means about 45 percent of state spending comes from Washington.

The implications for New Hampshire and other states are serious.  Spending from money we raise in-state  in the current two-year budget is down 11 percent from the prior biennium.  If the federal government, as advocated by leaders of both parties, cuts spending to reduce the national deficit and long term debt, some of those reductions will hit state governments.

The presentation of the 2011 Single Audit of Federal Financial Assistance Programs of state spending of federal funds was made by the state’s auditors, KPMG, and the State Comptroller, Ed Carter.  There are 26 major programs and the auditors review each program to insure that the state is complying with federal regulations.  The report, over 300 pages, is evidence of the dependence our state has on federal money.

Members of the Fiscal Committee also received their 12 page monthly American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Stimulus Funding report printed on green sheets to distinguish it from the other papers on our desks.  Total stimulus money spent in New Hampshire, $812 million.  Next to that number are two columns titled, temporary positions established, full-time and another one, part-time.  The figure in the full-time column is 56, the number in the part-time column is 22.

Economic historians will be studying the effect of stimulus spending to help the nation recover from the recession for decades to come.  Will our experience in this recession help future leaders be more effective in moving the nation out of the inevitable downturns of business cycles ahead?

Ways and Means:  April revenues, the second largest income month, are a critical measure of how the state is doing.  March is a bigger month for revenue but that is because we “book” $363 million from the statewide property in one transaction.  We can do that because this state tax is raised locally and retained by the local communities as part of the state’s aid to local education.  Of the nearly $600 million goal for March, we were off by just $1.2 million.

April revenues in the last two years were seriously below projections.  That forced the Governor to take action to reduce spending and otherwise adjust operations to help keep the overall annual budget in balance.  And he was able to do that.

This year the budget calls for $253 million to come in this month.  Revenue watchers will be checking daily to see how we are doing.

On the Senate Floor:  Right to work has been debated back and forth over the past two years.  There is a straight forward difference of opinion about the role of unions and whether or not employees in workplaces that are organized shall be required to pay for the costs of being represented by a union if they chose not to join a union

The House passed a right to work bill last year and the Senate did, too.  The Governor vetoed the bill.  House leadership waited months to try to find an opportune day to override the Governor’s veto.  When that day came, there were not enough votes to override and the bill died.

This year the House passed a bill again.   Faced with the same veto by the Governor and the inability of the House to override, the Senate put the right to work bill on the table.  The Speaker expressed his disappointment over the Senate’s action.  The Senate President said the bill will stay on the table ending the debate on right to work for this legislature.

Back Home:  Evenings, too, are busy.  Last Tuesday night, at the library at New England College, I taped a series of TV interviews on current issues that are broadcast on the Comcast 20 channel that is seen in parts of our region.

Senator Matt Houde (Plainfield), Representative David Kidder (New London) and I spent an hour with members of the Colby-Sawyer College History Club on Wednesday night.  It is always interesting to be with students at a local college and especially with the students from other countries.

And on Thursday night, I met with the Upper Valley Homebuilders group.  The report from the state association’s Executive Vice President, Kendall Buck, was encouraging.  There seems to be steady improvement in the industry.  Home building and renovation is a foundation of our local economy so any good news on that front is welcome.

Learning for legislators is ongoing and comes from many directions.

Senator Odell represents New Hampshire 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.

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