N.H., the nation have plenty in store for ‘11

I am not sure how others feel, but the older I get, the faster the years pass and 2011 is here, way too soon!Both New Hampshire and the United States face huge fiscal issues in the coming year. Largely, this is a zero-sum game. If the federal government gets its act together and moves toward balancing the budget (and recent compromises by President Obama and the Congress do not make that hope optimistic), undoubtedly there will be an effect on the amount of federal dollars flowing to states and the amount left in taxpayers’ pockets. All of this will have an effect on the economy.Likewise, if the state of New Hampshire is to balance its budget, which it is required to do and which the new conservative majorities in the House and Senate promise will be done by cutting spending, surely a ramification of that will be less aid to cities and towns.If cities and towns are to keep their spending at existing levels, that will mean higher property taxes, which will take more dollars out of property owners’ pockets.If concomitant cuts are made, the amount of services available will decrease, largely aid to the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It would be worthwhile for everyone to contemplate priorities as the New Year begins.*****With all the talk in Washington about a “fairer” tax code, whatever that means, perhaps it would be worthwhile in New Hampshire to contemplate whether our revenue-raising is fair or even rational.The makeup of the Legislature does not make change probable, but perhaps the next two years could be spent with some kind of examination of what the system should look like if it is going to be sustainable.New Hampshire allegedly has a “structural deficit,” which means there is not enough revenue available from the existing sources, so such a study would be helpful.Governor Lynch, in what arguably is his final term, could make a lasting contribution to the state by commissioning such a study.Also in New Hampshire, there is increasing notice of the effect of budget cuts on fundamental services.Recent reports about reduced hours in district courts, reduced civil jury trial availability, closed courts, vacant judgeships and the like point out the need for serious examination both of funding levels for the justice system and its structure.If more money is not going to be available, perhaps it is time to examine computerized access to the state court system, similar to that available to the federal system, whether it makes sense to have a superior court in each county, the number and location of district courts, the structure of the probate court system (and the largest court, Hillsborough County, has not had a judge for a couple of years now).Newly installed Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Dalianis should take a serious look at all of this, since the present system cannot continue if we are going to preserve the myth of access to justice and efficiency of the courts.On the good news side, the economy looks as if it is getting better, businesses appear to be poised to make investments in equipment and personnel, and we all hope the jobless rate will fall and tax revenue will rise as profits improve.Young people continue to attend our fine institutions of higher learning, the Community College System of New Hampshire has record rates of applications and attendance, the university system is strong, the private colleges healthy and New Hampshire remains a great place to live!So, notwithstanding the problems, there is reason to be optimistic and I am pleased to wish all readers a very happy new year!*****At the end of 2010, New Hampshire lost a notable citizen – Charles Contas, 92, of Keene, who passed away just before Christmas.He was the longtime clerk of the Cheshire County Superior Court before being elevated to be a Superior Court judge. Always friendly, optimistic and humble, he was a major contributor to the state, contributed much and will be missed.Contas will be remembered by New Hampshire attorneys as one of the long-term, reliable clerks of court who ran a tight ship and gave good advice to young lawyers trying to learn the ropes – including me.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.