Cook on Concord: The more things change, the more things change
The last column in this space started with the observation that just when you think the political environment is stable for a moment or two, things change dramatically. The topic was the nomination of U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg as commerce secretary and Governor Lynch’s expressed intent to name Bonnie Newman to his seat.
Gregg, as everyone knows now, withdrew his name from consideration as commerce secretary, announcing at the same time that he would not run for re-election in 2010.
That certainly changed his life, Bonnie Newman’s life and the political landscape in New Hampshire — although not as much as it would have had he stated that he would in fact run again. The scramble is still on to succeed Gregg in the Senate in 2010, although the circumstances have changed dramatically.
Gregg should be taken at his word as to the reasons for his actions which appear to have been principled, although somewhat embarrassing since he had to reverse course. He was gracious in accepting the responsibility and wishing President Obama well.
In an extensive and impressive performance, Governor Lynch delivered his budget address to the Legislature. He was forced to face economic conditions as they are and proposed many cost-cutting measures including the closure of the Laconia correctional facility, the Tobey School and the layoff of many state employees.
Notable in the address was Lynch’s sticking to his pledge to veto a sales or income tax, expressing continued strong skepticism about expanded gambling as a source of revenue. He also advocated several increased revenue measures, closing eight district courts and changes in how the liquor commission operates.
Republicans applauded the cuts, although many noted with irony that had they been proposed by a Republican governor, there would have been wailing and gnashing of teeth by Democrats. There was some of that from Democrats, although the majority of legislators seemed to accept the governor’s need to face revenue shortfalls and the recession head on.
What the Legislature will do with the proposed budget has yet to be seen, although the governor invited other ideas than those he presented within the boundaries he established as to revenue sources.
There is an assumption in Concord this year that any bill that requires new spending is dead on arrival, there being no appetite to make the budget problem worse. However, that has not kept legislators from introducing all sorts of bills.
Business organizations are following a number of the bills. Among then are:
• House Bill 104, which would repeal the law authorizing the Supreme Court to establish a business and commercial dispute docket in the Superior Court and have one court dedicated to business disputes. The business court idea was championed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick and supported by the business community last year.
• House Bill 613, which would establish a committee to study the advantages and disadvantages of the state acquiring remaining rail corridors. The whole subject of rail transportation in New Hampshire is one that has been supported by various business groups, although the economics of rail transportation merit study as well.
• House Bill 321 would delay the effective date of the workforce housing law, passed last year. Many planning boards and municipal government agencies are wary of the law, while the business community pushed for it and opposes any delay.
• SB 152, “relative to an investigation by the Public Utilities Commission to determine whether the scrubber installation at the Merrimack station is in the public interest of retail customers.” Public Service of New Hampshire is installing the scrubbers to comply with clean air standards and opponents of coal-burning plants are mounting several efforts to keep the scrubbers from being installed which would effectively force the plant to close.
• SB 139, which would establish a moratorium on the Shoreline Protection Act and establish a commission to study revision of it.
• In addition to the taxes listed above, a number of bills address revenues, including: HB 627, which would raise the insurance premium tax; HB 628, which would establish a tangible personal property inventory and use tax; HB 644, which would increase the rate of road tolls; and two bills to reintroduce the estate tax to New Hampshire.
New Hampshire last had an estate tax in 2001, when the tax applied only to bequests to “non-lineal descendants,” exempting bequests to spouses, children, grandchildren, etc. One of the proposals would restore that 18 percent tax. The other would impose an 8 percent tax on all estates, with a $2 million exemption.
Opponents say establishment of a new such tax undoubtedly would drive some wealthy residents to establish domicile in Florida, which would deprive the state not only of the estate tax revenue but also interest and dividends taxes and other sources of funds. It will be interesting to see if these two proposals get anywhere.
Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.