The budget agreement and another loss for N.H.
On June 22, the Legislature passed the state budget, the product of long hours of work by House and Senate conferees. While most of the work of the conferees went smoothly, there were testy moments when House Speaker William O'Brien insisted on a 10-cent reduction in the tobacco tax on each pack of cigarettes.This year, more so than in most budget years, an awful lot of substantive legislation was packed into House Bill 2, the "trailer bill" that contains the structural aspects of change that are necessary to effect what is in the actual budget, HB 1. Among the many provisions that were included were a number of last-minute additions, inserted as strategic responses to other legislative action.Notably, the substantive portions of a bill that revised the state Shoreland Protection Act were included in HB 2, since the separate bill that passed the Senate on that subject had been amended in the House, which added a repeal of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, prompting Gov. John Lynch to promise a veto. In order to preserve the changes to the Shoreland Protection Act (themselves controversial among environmentalists who assert that the changes "gut" the act and threaten the environment), the Senate bill will be preserved since the governor would have to veto HB 2 in its entirety in order to delete those provisions.Critics of the budget believe that the cuts made to services for people with special needs, eliminating state scholarships, increasing tuition by drastically reducing the university and community college systems budgets and a number of other serious changes, will have to save their fight for another day.In connection with the budget compromise, a number of controversial provisions were rejected in order to get the 10-cent-per-pack tax decrease. Among them were rejection of the proposal to make public employees "at will" employees when their contracts expire and including a sunset proposal so the tobacco tax proposal will be reversed if revenue targets are not met, the argument for the decrease being that it would spur cigarette sales and result in more revenue even though the tax was less.After the compromise, both Senate and House conferees expressed support, although Democrats were critical. Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, summed up the message in the budget as, "Sick people will have to get well, poor people will have to get rich, uneducated people will have to get educated."The business community argued for more spending on Medicaid and uncompensated care in hospitals, arguing that the cuts in the budget will result in higher premiums for health insurance which will have to be paid either by businesses or their employees.As enacted bills reach Governor Lynch's desk, he is faced with the decision of whether and what to veto. He vetoed the so-called parental notification bill, requiring minors to give parents notification before abortions can be performed, stating his objections to it, and that veto was quickly overridden. He vetoed the RGGI repeal bill and previously vetoed the "right-to-work" bill.Although Speaker O'Brien threatened to bring up the right-to-work veto on several occasions, he has not done so, leading observers to believe that he does not have the votes required to override. Interestingly, under New Hampshire law, the Legislature has until the end of the calendar year to act on vetoes. Reports indicate action will wait for the fall on the right-to-work veto.*****New Hampshire lost another notable citizen when John W. "Babe" Sargent died in mid-June.Sargent, longtime resident of the Georges Mills section of Sunapee, and more recently of New London, was the proprietor of Sargents Marina on Lake Sunapee. However, those who knew him knew he was much more than that.Babe Sargent was an artist whose paintings of steamships on Lake Sunapee, as well as his illustrations, aerial photographs and the like were not only remarkable but also well known in the Sunapee region. With his father, he took thousands of aerial photographs, many of which were turned into a book. Babe Sargent was an actor, writer, friend and notable citizen. He was a deputy sheriff, active politically, interested in everything with which he came in contact, and his laugh will be missed at breakfast time at McKenna's Restaurant in New London.His wife Priscilla, son and daughter and grandchildren were among those who filled the First Baptist Church in New London for a funeral at which there were as many laughs as there were tears.New Hampshire lost a unique character when Babe Sargent left the stage.