Cook On Concord

OK students, listen up! It is time for mid-term grades and a review of the class project, the 2005 legislative session.

Both houses passed a budget that was in the billions of dollars and a compromise. Citing the fact that it was “the best budget we are going to get,” legislative leadership pushed for it and the Senate passed it easily, with the House approving it by a relatively close 198-172 vote. Democrats in the House almost unanimously opposed the budget because of several provisions, including health and human services spending and because it pushes costs down to the county level, which will result in higher property tax bills, not lower spending overall. Governor Lynch indicated he would sign the bill.

Another interesting bill was the “trailer” bill, House Bill 2. This is the budget implementation bill and into it are put many measures that have questionable relevance to the budget. For example, a virtually identical provision to a bill awaiting Governor Lynch’s signature was put in the trailer bill so that it would be sure to become law even if he did not approve the independent bill. Tax law revisions were tucked in as well. A lot of special interest legislation also was put into the bill, which was likened to a “Christmas tree” by several opponents.

In any event, after strong urging by legislative leadership, the House passed HB 2, 194-179.

So how did the class project go? Remember, these grades are mid-term grades only, since this is the first of a two-year term.

As a group, the Legislature gets a B-/C+, as usual. When there are 424 participants, it is not unusual to have stars and followers and a few members whose unusual amount of absences makes it questionable whether they should be allowed to pass at all.

A legislature that continues the rather constant themes of education funding, incremental tax increases and lack of a comprehensive theory cannot be given a particularly high mark, although the group clearly passes when it can fashion a budget without going beyond its deadlines, reach consensus on key measures and know the value of compromise.

Many of the players in the process need to have their grades assigned individually. These include:

• John Lynch, new governor. To many, Lynch was a surprising new member of the class, having defeated his predecessor, who was only allowed to participate in class activities for two years. Craig Benson, the predecessor, generally got a D in sandbox, not knowing how to play well with others. Lynch on the other hand gets an A in the same category, an A- for leadership and a B+ for compromise. He showed remarkable ability to communicate with the Legislature, both leadership and members, accomplished much of his agenda, got along with that small seminar group called the Executive Council pretty well and would get an A for compromise but for his somewhat curious stance on the Sunapee expansion, on which his rigidity has raised eyebrows all over Concord and the state. However, his accomplishments in influencing the budget, small group health-care reform and education funding, while not complete victories, showed his influence and ability to put many of those matters he pushed into law. A good effort for a new member of the class.

• House Speaker Doug Scamman gets an A. Thrust into the position at the last minute, he formed a team that started somewhat slowly but finished strong. Of course, Scamman is repeating the course, having been speaker before, but his ability to get things done and make people like him was evident. His flexibility on issues like the cigarette tax showed real leadership.

• Deputy Speaker Ken Weyler, becoming a member of leadership from a relatively outside position, also gets an A. He is not repeating the course, although he has much experience in the class and conducted his leadership position with skill, graciousness and, when in the chair, great ability and good humor.

• Senate President Tom Eaton and Majority Leader Bob Clegg get a B-. They seem to be the “odd men out” on occasion, unable to lead their body effectively, given the independence of certain members of their own party and the increased number of Democrats. The Senate as a whole gets a B+, however, as it showed the ability to compromise and get along with the governor and House, notwithstanding certain positions taken by leadership.

• Individual senators get varying grades, but those who stand out are newcomer Peter Bragdon of Milford, who ran the Senate Education Committee well, veteran Lou D’Allesandro, whose good humor and presence is always welcome, Nashua attorneys Joseph Foster and David Gottesman, who did their jobs conscientiously, and outsiders Dick Green and Ted Gatsas, Republicans out of favor with leadership, who were steadfast in their ability to try to make the process work, notwithstanding certain organizational problems. In fact, it is hard to find any of the 24 who did not pull his or her weight. As a group, they get high marks.

Of course, as stated, these are mid-term grades, and there will be independent studies going on between now and November by committees set up to study certain bills. The entire class gets back together next January to finish its two-year job.

While much of the heavy lifting was done this year in terms of budget, education funding and the like, there is no shortage of business left to do, as always. However, all should go home satisfied that they did their job, predicted huge budget deficits somehow were handled and hopefully eliminated and the process, no matter how imperfect, worked.

For that, all citizens of New Hampshire should be grateful to these people who serve us well, if imperfectly.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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