Mar 12, 2015 8:36 AM

NH1 News Political Report March 12, 2015: The must-read tip sheet on everything NH politics

Don't look now, but House Speaker Shawn Jasper's budget insiders are looking seriously at endorsing the registration fee increase of Gov. Maggie Hassan aimed at bailing out the state's highway fund.

Now yes, Virginia, the Republican Caucus priority list for 2015 includes crafting a two-year state budget without any tax or fee increases.

This was before the Jasper budget work group got a look at the hare-brained schemes played over the past decade to keep the highway fund afloat.

They included selling a portion of Interstate 95 to the turnpike system to get the fund $120 million.

"The one-time fixes are done; the piper has to be paid,'' said one Jasper confidante Wednesday.

No final decisions have been made, but Hassan's average 35 percent fee increase - which looked dead on arrival a month ago - is still breathing.

Don't look for the same serious treatment in the State Senate. President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, has no inclination to give the highway fund the $50 million injection Hassan wants.


A House Finance Committee working group narrowly averted a Right-to-Know crisis this week.

Division 2 of the budget subcommittee made plans to meet during Wednesday's House session in the legislative break room.

Oops! That's a transparency no-no since only legislators - not the public or the press - are allowed in that anteroom.

They called off the discussion noting they had failed to publicly notice the session far enough in advance.

Find a public room, people.

Meanwhile, The New Hampshire Political Report confirmed the group made an initial decision to try and make room in that highway fund by cutting $20 million in winter maintenance.

In fact, there are some upper-echelon House budget writers that would like to move all of the Department of Safety spending off the highway fund and into the general budget.

This sounds fine, but it means you just added nearly another $20 million to the General Fund requirements.

Good luck with that.


So what's the House Democratic caucus asking price for supporting a budget that Jasper's GOP brain trust puts together.

It's a high ask.

They want the N.H. Health Protection Program - aka Medicaid Expansion - made permanent.

It's scheduled to end without further legislative action at the end of 2015.

The State Senate today is expected to kill a Senate Democratic bill to accomplish that permanent status for Hassan's favorite health care initiative.

Would Jasper go along with that request in order to get a budget through the House with its many tribes?

You can bet former House Speaker Bill O'Brien and his cohorts would bitterly fight that one on the floor.

Insiders have already come up with a moniker for the strange bedfellows' alliance that might be needed to get a spending plan through.

They are called Jasper-crats.


Former speaker O'Brien has an open house today for his alternative Republican caucus group.

Rep. Steve Stepanek, R-Amherst, found a location right across the street from the State House that was once the headquarters for the Republican State Committee.

"We are coming along, communicating well as a group, I'm very satisfied how things have been going,'' O'Brien said during an interview.

Jasper spies have been keeping a close eye on O'Brien's comings and goings; they estimate only 40 showed up for a pre-House session event Wednesday.

They estimate O'Brien "controls'' about 80 votes on the House floor.

On any given issue, that's enough to frustrate Jasper's desires.

So far that hasn't happened.

We saw another Jasper GOP-Democratic tandem work like a charm this week when the House approved a $5 increase in the marriage license fee dedicated to anti-domestic violence programs.


The International Association of Fire Fighters got a steady parade of presidential hopefuls to its annual meeting this week at the Capitol Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C.

N.H. President Dave Lang reported the speakers included Vice President Joe Biden, Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders, ex-N.Y. governor George Pataki and even Tea Party favorite, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush sent a video.

Rank-and-file firefighters noticed and got a little miffed by the Cruz act as the Texas senator deliberately would not speak in front of the IAFF emblem so there would be no, pro-union looking pictures or videos streamed from the event.


Bush has confirmed he, too, will speak at the Republican Leadership Summit in April making the GOP State Committee the first, genuine cattle call for the N.H. primary campaign.

The Nashua event now has confirmed plans from nine candidates and counting already making this April 17-18 confab a huge success for Chairman Jennifer Horn.

In fact the only prominent names who have not yet signed up after Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker who arrives here Friday - N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and Dr. Ben Carson.


The campaign to make New Hampshire join more than half the states with Right-to-Work laws politically is in the ICU unit.

O'Brien and his forces managed to keep the cause barely alive Wednesday night when the House voted, 149-146, to advance to the Senate a bill banning union dues or a bargaining fee mandate in public employment.

But we saw last week the State Senate deadlocked, 12-12, on the issue and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, doesn't see that changing for 2015.

"I think all 24 of us are pretty well dug in,'' Bradley said during an interview. "This issue is not going away but I think it's pretty well settled for 2015.''


Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream co-founder Ben Cohen continues his push for campaign finance reform.

The Vermont businessman participated in the second annual walk across New Hampshire in January.

On Wednesday, Cohen was the guest speaker for a reform rally outside the State House that drew a decent crowd.

The Stamp Stampede group intends to keep the pressure up on all presidential candidates - Democrat and Republican - to commit to finding a way to reduce if not erase the corruptive influence of big money in politics.


A familiar name and prominent Republican strategist has joined Bush's team.

Rob Varsalone was political director who played a big part in helping Craig Benson become governor in 2002.

Varsalone now heads up his own campaign consulting firm.

Bush also brought on Nate Lamb who had been a field organizer for U.S. Senate hopeful Scott Brown last year.


Watch New Hampshire Democrats keep the pressure on Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her signing the tough letter on Iran.

They stepped it up after Ariz. Sen. John McCain expressed misgivings about being a signatory along with 46 other Senate Republicans

The Senate GOP leadership insists it was important for Iran's government to well understand whatever nuclear deal Secretary of State John Kerry makes is not binding on a Republican president who could take office in 2017.


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