Mar 19, 2015 1:25 PM
NH1 News Political Report: March 19, 2015 - The must-read, weekly NH political tip sheet
Before too long, Gov. Maggie Hassan will have some very big shoes to fill.
The NH Political Report has confirmed that Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas does not want reappointment and is likely to leave the post in the coming months.
There was some thought Toumpas would wait to make this move until after his agency's budget is secure for the next two years.
Word is Toumpas already has a landing spot at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. This would make life easier for the Rye resident than having to make the daily ride to Concord and back.
So who would replace Toumpas?
Good question. The key is finding someone who can get at least one Republican vote on the council. This could delay Toumpas' departure date.
Among the names to surface are HHS Deputy Commissioner Marilee Nihan, Assistant Commissioner Jeff Meyers and former Medicaid Director Steve Norton.
While with HHS, Norton had some private run-ins with ex-Commissioner John Stephen, which surely would not help him get council support.
Meyers at present looks to be the frontrunner.
House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, certainly has a mind of his own.
Clearly, he's determined to try to present a lean budget proposal that doesn't dramatically increase taxes and fees.
Kurk said he supports cutting the Department of Transportation's budget by $88 million in a separate bill the House Finance Committee took up Thursday.
But in the same breath, Kurk said he would support an increase in the gasoline tax to erase the need for much of the cuts.
What's up with that?
As The New Hampshire Political Report first disclosed, there are many in House Speaker Shawn Jasper's leadership team that see the need for DOT to have more revenue. It's clear the agency has been living on one-time financial fixes for the better part of a decade.
So Kurk is hearing from those folks but still wants to present a very fiscally conservative front as the chief House budget writer.
Hassan prefers increasing motor vehicle registration fees rather than the gas tax to close the gap.
Whichever form the revenue increase takes before the full House early next month, this will be a good test of the strength of former House Speaker Bill O'Brien's group.
There isn't any question that all House Democrats would support the revenue option.
How many Republicans will join Kurk in supporting more money for DOT? Supporters will need about 40 of them to cross ranks to pass the increase.
Whatever the outcome, raising more revenue for the highway fund will be an even tougher sell in the state Senate.
Congressman Frank Guinta, R-N.H., is politically astute to signal as soon as possible that he's running again for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2016.
The move keeps other Republicans from coveting this spot, assuming Guinta could choose to move on and run for governor especially if Hassan went for the U.S. Senate.
Since her defeat, we have heard very little from former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter about whether she would be up for a fourth contest with Guinta.
Guinta is young enough that he has plenty of political future ahead of him. He could easily serve up to another decade in the U.S. House, moving up the GOP pecking order before deciding to return to the state and seek the corner office.
There's no announcement planned any time soon but Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, is making all the internal moves you might expect of someone eying his own run for governor.
Now that Republicans control the council, Sununu no longer has to play the role of partisan maverick. He's settled into becoming more of a consensus builder among the group.
Should Hassan move on next year, the race for governor might just turn into a council spat pitting Sununu against fellow Councilor Colin Van Ostern, D-Concord.
Like Sununu, Van Ostern is very much keeping his options open.
Meanwhile, there are Queen City Democrats touting Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, as gubernatorial material.
Other party leaders think Pappas would be a great, next generation opponent for Guinta next year.
Even a few years ago it was hard to imagine that the former Public Service Company of New Hampshire would willingly shed their own power plants.
They had fought divestiture legislation at the Statehouse for years.
But now that PSNH has been reorganized into the umbrella Eversource, it looks like the executive management became perfectly fine with the company becoming not a power generator but a power supplier.
Anyone who looks at this market can't help but conclude that the plants and their operating costs have held back the state's largest electric utility.
As a result, the firm has been losing customers by the bucket load to competitive suppliers over the past five years.
Large energy users in the state aren't happy with the terms of the deal that force them to have to pay some of the "stranded costs" from the sale even if they don't get their power from PSNH.
This opposition, however, should not block this agreement from clearing the Legislature.
The state's medical providers won a big victory this week over reforming the state's on-the-job injury insurance system.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved a worker's compensation package Thursday that will reduce rates by 18 percent over the next three years.
What the plan does not do, however, is to include a fee schedule that would limit how much providers could charge for procedures.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said these high costs are a big concern and need to be addressed but the Senate GOP group did not support the concept of "government-driven price controls."
A Hassan-named commission made small recommendations for change but the majority balked at mandating a fee schedule.
Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny had endorsed the idea.
This won't likely end the discussion, however. House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan, R-Brookline, is among House GOP leaders who like the fee schedule option.