Cook On Concord: Plenty of work awaits Democratic majorities as 2007 begins
Gov. John Lynch was inaugurated with his fellow executive branch members on Jan. 4, taking the oath of office before the new Legislature with its Democratic majorities, after which he swore in his Executive Council, composed of Republicans Ray Burton and Ray Wieczorek and Democrats Deborah Pignatelli, Beverly Hollingworth and John Shea.
The Lynch family was on the podium. The ceremony was attended by former governors, state commissioners, the judiciary, legislators and citizens of various political stripes.
Lynch started his inaugural address traditionally, thanking the state and its voters and citing the historic nature of the transition evidenced by an inauguration. He moved quickly to the school-funding issue, noting that the Supreme Court had laid down a matter that had to be addressed by governor and Legislature quickly.
Lynch said that defining “adequate education” would be attainable, using present regulations on standards for student achievement as the foundation. He then moved to a more controversial subject and proposed a “limited constitutional amendment” that would allow “targeted aid” as a means for addressing the quality of education in New Hampshire.
His concept of an amendment would not allow for the elimination of the judicial branch involvement, nor would it call for reducing the state’s contribution to education — but it would enable a legal “targeted aid” plan to be constitutional.
Lacking detail, Lynch’s proposal intrigued all those in attendance. Republicans seemed more enthused than Democrats, but everyone awaits the specific proposal.
Lynch noted in his speech that the voters had eliminated a broad-based tax (read that sales or income) from the tools available for funding education or any other service. He never mentioned gambling, pro or con, in his speech. There has been much speculation that gambling will be the only available option, with sales, income, statewide property, business taxes or other revenue devices eliminated from the option list politicians claim they will consider. This undoubtedly will draw tremendous opposition from those who think gambling will detract from the state’s quality of life and present a possible logjam at budget time.
Lynch went on to call for increased funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (“LCHIP”), protection of state parks, protection of state groundwater and other programs affecting the environment.
He urged that the present moratorium on burning construction waste and debris be made into a total ban. Some of these proposals may draw the opposition of parts of the business community when details emerge.
He also called for an increase in the public school dropout age from 16 to 18 and for the institution of programs for alternate education for those who have to stay in school.
The Lynch program will be in addition to many new proposals from legislators. Indeed, with new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, many of the Legislature’s bills have not been printed at this writing. There promise to be bills on every proposal the governor mentioned in his speech, as well as those for civil unions, gay marriage, increased funding for LCHIP, gambling, and every other proposal one can think of.
Several laws passed in 2006 are the subject of bills to amend or “fix” perceived problems. One is the new executive branch lobbying bill, passed under the heading of “ethics” legislation, which has proven to be burdensome and confusing to those attempting to figure out when and to whom it applies. It also is criticized as depriving experts the chance to serve on state advisory bodies in this state, which relies heavily on volunteers. Another, the “medical advance directives” law, was criticized as having been rushed through in defective form, and several bills are aimed at changing provisions deemed problematic.
Political advisers and observers have noted that vast difference between Governor Lynch as “a great conciliator” during his first term when he, as a Democratic governor, faced Republican majorities, and now, facing Democratic majorities that he has to lead. A moderate, Lynch will have to deal with liberal Democrats and various other constituents. He stressed the continuing need of all segments of the Legislature to work together in his address.
Lynch’s inauguration was followed the next Saturday night with the most elegant of inaugural balls that observers could remember.
The Center of New Hampshire/Radisson in Manchester was decked out for the hundreds of participants and, after a fine dinner, the Governor introduced Gary Lewis and the Playboys, a singing group from the ‘50s and ‘60s, who kept those in attendance dancing for two hours straight, whether their hips could take it or not! That was followed by a receiving line, dessert and many opportunities for networking.
All of this was a precursor to the serious business that faces lawmakers over the next five months. While they are presently engaged in training, education and preparation, the real tests are about to begin for Senate President Sylvia Larsen, House Speaker Terie Norelli and Governor Lynch, as the historic Democratic state government has to produce.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.