NH1 News Political Report: June 18, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet
The battle over a two-year state budget is finally reaching crunch time but we know enough by now to conclude who’s up and who’s down.
The New Hampshire Political Report was the first to report more than a month ago that Gov. Maggie Hassan was privately assuring Democratic lawmakers that she would veto a final GOP budget plan if it wasn’t too her liking.
In the interim, we heard plenty of skeptical voices from both the right and the left insisting that when she stared into the political abyss, the usually cautious Hassan would flinch before grabbing the veto pen.
Well, it looks like she wasn’t kidding and to date let’s look at some of the notable winners and losers.
WINNER: Gov. Maggie Hassan
This isn’t partisan or a long-term prognostication. The reality is undeniable. After being largely irrelevant in crafting the state budget over the past several months, Hassan is about to use the one tool she has to block a plan that’s unacceptable to her.
More importantly, she has the liberal base of her party rallying to her with fervor that surely has not been seen since her re-election campaign last fall.
Like any good pol, Hassan feeds the base well during election time but moves to the middle while governing and often leaves many liberals feeling unwanted or ignored.
They are fully engaged and over the coming weeks and she’ll need them and here’s why.
Once the fallout starts over a continuing resolution [-] new jobs not created, projects put on hold or slowed down [-] all the angst over that falls on one person in this state, the governor.
LOSER: Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare
It’s been a turbulent few months for the chairman of the House Finance Committee. For starters, he stumbled in crafting the House’s own spending plan needing ex-House Speaker William O’Brien and his allies to come up with changes that could pass that body.
Then thanks to an improving economy, senators got to add $117 million more in spending to their budget at no political cost.
Kurk himself admitted as much, complementing counterpart Senate Finance Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, for getting more of what she wanted than any of Kurk’s budget peers had over the past two decades.
One thing to remember. Kurk has already had more political lives than a Cheshire cat and on policy issues he remains an adversary on the House floor you do not want to go up against.
At the proper time, Kurk will make yet another recovery.
WINNER: Sen. Kelly Ayotte
This one is a slam dunk. By any definition, her re-election hopes improve the longer Hassan is tied up with a state budget impasse and that’s true whether Hassan ends up running or not.
While the weeks and months tick on by, Ayotte gets to add more millions to her war chest and rev up her political organization.
Meanwhile even some close to Hassan concede this veto fight is not the best optic that any a Democrat running as a challenger for a US Senate seat would want this year.
For better or worse, the loyal opposition has in the bank the footage of Hassan railing against Republican ``excess’’ and not sounding at all like a consensus building leader.
LOSER: Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kington
This former chairman of the House Finance Committee actually did quite well in the Republican compromise budget that comes up for the up or down vote Wednesday.
Weyler has for years been the champion for giving public charter schools more state taxpayer-financed tuition assistance; the final deal granted his wish to bump it up by $1,000 per student.
Then there’s Weyler’s crusade to prevent the state’s highway fund to be spent more on road and bridge work and less drained away by other supportive agencies such as the State Police and the judicial branch.
After a few budgets of ignoring, hard budget percentages Weyler put in place more than a decade ago, this GOP plan would bring them back.
Unfortunately, the veto and resulting continuing resolution means these two become just another pair of chips that Hassan and legislative leaders must play with before consensus is reached.
WINNER: House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson
On one level, this one seems unlikely. After all, the new House leader was in danger of losing his own House budget position in March until conservatives stepped in the breech and helped rescue him.
So what makes Jasper a winner now that the compromise budget has given the State Senate leadership virtually all that it wanted?
Thank you, Governor Hassan.
The veto threat will no doubt align all of the tribes in the House Republican caucus because there is nothing like a common enemy to get everyone working together.
House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, added another reason why the GOP Legislature is in no mood to find the $12 million for a state employee pay raise.
Jasper said in so many words that legislative leaders are tired of the take-it-or-leave-it nature of collective bargaining with public employees.
The governor and unions have their negotiators but no elected representatives are at the table, Jasper said.
A 20-year veteran of local budgets and contracts, Jasper points out the selectmen serve as the ``elected representatives’’ for property taxpayers who foot the bill.
"We have no one at the table and I’ve heard concern expressed about that by both political parties over the years,’’ Jasper said.
Speaking of a seat at the table, both Jasper and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, would have one with the compromise budget on the University System Board of Trustees.
Morse first came up with the proposal and when there was plenty of flak raised by trustees and their allies, he and Jasper both agreed to make their seats non-voting.
This one is also personal for Jasper since he’s a University of New Hampshire alumni.
Despite the fact Republicans took control of the Legislature in 2014, this was a pretty good year for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
The latest installment was their influence on the GOP-led State Senate, locking them into not giving the House any concession over whether to outlaw fetal homicide.
Senate GOP leaders made clear that while they had passed the bill, 13-11, to define a fetus at viability as a person under criminal law, they could not move an inch to accommodate the House which had defined a protected fetus at eight weeks.
The House bill’s prime sponsor, State Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, said he hasn’t given up and hopes to revive the issue with another fetal homicide bill the House kicked back to committee last spring.
That measure will come back to the full House for final action early in 2016.
The House and Senate negotiators did come together on making further restrictions on EBT card use with two different bills coming up for a final vote next week.
They include banning them to be used for tattooing, cigars, tobacco shops and medical marijuana.
The reforms further prevent those on public assistance from using the card and then the cash from it to gamble and to buy alcohol.
All told, there were eight bills of the 44 conferences committees created that fell apart without any agreement.