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: 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

Sue Gottling asks for your vote in N.H. House race

In the House race for District 2 in New Hampshire’s Sullivan County,  Sunapee and Croydon, former state Rep. Sue Gottling (D-Sunapee) is running against one-term incumbent Spec Bowers (R-Sunapee). asked both candidates for voter information. Election Day is November 6, 2012.

By Sue Gottling

My name is Sue Gottling and I am running for State Representative in District 2, Sunapee and Croydon. Having served in the N.H. House from 2006 to 2010, I believe voters are ready for a return to cooperation and common sense.

Here is why I ask for YOUR vote in this important election.

First: The best legislation emerges when all sides work together. During my time in the House, I worked cooperatively with Republicans, including Senator Odell and Representative Kidder, sponsoring bills, serving on committees and chairing the Land Use Commission.

Second: I paid attention to my town by attending most Selectboard meetings for four years and sponsoring bills for the Board and constituents.

Third: As a member of the Resources Committee, I expedited help from DES [Department of Environmental Services] and DRED [Department of Resources and Economic Development] when crucial local issues arose.

Fourth: As an educator, I know the value of quality public education. I oppose the bills that threaten public education: 50% reduction of state support for our University system, making Kindergarten optional, removing vital curriculum components from state standards, and raiding the UNIQUE fund, the last vestige of state scholarships for college students.

New Hampshire does not need to be the only state that provides no money for scholarships, ranks last in financial support for higher education, and continues the highest rate of student loan debt for graduates. If employers come to N.H. because of our educated work force, then the present legislature is shortsighted and hypocritical when it claims its focus is Jobs.

Finally, I would never insult our small business entrepreneurs and skilled workers by attempting to take away their licenses. The prime sponsor of these bills was my opponent who took advantage of his narrow election to pursue an ideological agenda. My responsibility is to the whole community and to act in its best interest.

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. Continue reading

NH’s economy: good news balanced by challenges

Capital Comments from Senator Bob Odell

“Crossover” or midpoint in the 2012 session, was finished a week earlier amidst some of the busiest legislative days of the year.  That meant last week there were too few bills ready for either the House or Senate to meet.

A Wednesday not in Concord is very rare.  The day off gave me an opportunity to participate in an economic development breakfast in Newport hosted by Sugar River Bank in partnership with Public Service of New Hampshire.

The event brought out a roomful of business and community leaders to hear a presentation by PSNH’s Patrick McDermott on the status of the New Hampshire economy.  And while the recovery from the recession is slow, there are some positive long term indicators of the state’s economy and our quality of life. Continue reading