Capital Comments: Hassan sworn in as governor, sets out priorities

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

Inaugurations of New Hampshire governors are always exciting and each one ties us to our long history of democracy as a state and nation.

Governor Maggie Hassan, a former State Senate colleague of mine for four years, is the second woman to be governor of New Hampshire and the first Democrat to replace another Democrat since the 19th century. Last Thursday, she was also the first woman sworn in by a female Supreme Court Chief Justice.

There is plenty of pageantry that surrounding inauguration ceremonies that are held in Representatives Hall with its 400 seats. Senators were the first group to join House members on Thursday morning. They were called into the chamber by the House Sergeant-at-Arms, Walter Sword, who announced, “Madame Speaker, the Honorable Senate.” Senators marched in taking seats in the front row on the sides of the room.

The Sergeant-at-Arms continued to announce a long list of people into the chamber including friends, family and supporters of the new Governor, state officials, members of the judiciary and participants in the day’s program such as members of the clergy. There were former Governors, too, who were welcomed.

The last people introduced were Governor John Lynch and his wife Susan. The applause and cheers were loud and enthusiastic. John Lynch was leaving the State House as the longest serving Governor in the state’s history. And he was leaving as a genuinely beloved and appreciated leader who nearly everyone who met and worked with him over the past eight years considers a friend.

With John and Susan Lynch seated, there was still 15 minutes left before the noon hour when the new Governor and her family would be welcomed to the chamber. There is nothing like the noise of 500 plus elected, appointed and politically oriented people with a few minutes to talk.

Just before noon, the Sergeant-at-Arms announced Maggie Hassan, her husband Tom and their children, Ben and Meg into Representatives Hall. Maggie Hassan was quickly sworn in by Chief Justice Linda Dalianis and became the state’s 81st governor. The new Governor then swore in the five members of the Governor’s Council.

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The swearing in was done, the ceremonies for the moment were over and now it was time for the Governor’s inaugural address. The speech had been much anticipated since the Nov. 4 election.

My appraisal of the Governor’s address suggests she made a statement about how she is going to work and not much about what she is going to work on. The biggest cheer came when she said, “… we will together end the era of hasty, reactive government.” That was a polite but focused statement that the style of leadership in the State House will be different from what many saw in the House of Representatives over the last two years.

The Governor was also clear about priorities starting with education and the state’s commitment to higher education as a building block for a future strong economy. Education must, she believes, like government and business, innovate to be successful. Public safety for schools and communities, especially she noted in light of the Newtown, Conn., tragic killings, will also be a key policy issue in her administration.

Two other commitments made by the Governor could not be missed. On taxes, Governor Hassan said, “To those of you who believe deeply in an income tax, I ask you to put it aside. I will veto an income or sales tax.” That is clear and now she follows the pattern of John Lynch who stated the same in each of his inaugural addresses.

There were no specifics about legislative priorities with one exception. That is her commitment to double the research and development tax credit from $1 million to $2 million. This is an important issue but not a major one in terms of the scale of the state’s budget or economy.

As I did last year at the request of Governor Lynch, I have introduced a bill to double the research and development tax credit. It is possible that all the other Senators will join me by co-sponsoring this legislation as I know of no opposition. This same bill passed the Senate last year on a 24-0 roll call vote.

The Governor’s next major address will be her speech introducing her budget. She must present her budget to the legislature by Feb. 15. That address will be filled with specifics about her vision of state government for the two years beginning on July 1.

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The new Governor starts off her term with state revenues in pretty good shape for the current fiscal year. I will remind her and readers that the reason revenue is matching budget estimates is that revenue projections were conservative and very responsible.

The first half of the current fiscal year ended on Dec. 31. For the six months, $863.5 million was received against the budget plan of $876.6 million. That is a shortfall of $13.1 million or 1.5 percent. The results year to date would be strongly positive if it were not for $34 million of anticipated Medicaid Enhancement Tax revenue that has not been paid by some hospitals.

This level of shortfall is not serious but the fact that estimates are off by only 1.5 percent shows how responsible the revenue estimating process is in New Hampshire.

Sen. Bob Odell (R-Lempster) represents District 8: Acworth, Antrim, Bennington, Bradford, Croydon, Deering, Francestown, Grantham, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, New London, Newbury, Newport, Springfield, Stoddard, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Washington, Weare and Windsor.

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