Gregg: Concord Shuffle
With Democrats having swept back into power in the New Hampshire House, several Upper Valley lawmakers are again likely to play central roles in setting fiscal and budget policy.
Although Democrats still have to settle who will be the Speaker next term at their caucus on Saturday — Portsmouth Democrat Terie Norelli, the former speaker, is trying to fend off a challenge from Nashua Democrat David Campbell — it’s likely that Hanover Democrats Sharon Nordgren and Bernie Benn will play top roles on the House Finance Committee, where Nordgren is the senior Democrat.
And state Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, may well again become chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Asked what changes Democrats would seek, Almy said, “We’re going to do the easy stuff as soon as possible, and I’m not yet sure what part of it is easy.”
But that could include restoring auditors in the Department of Revenue Administration, where GOP cuts led to an estimated decrease of at least $21 million of tax collections in the first year alone.
And a sharply contested House GOP cut in the tobacco tax will sunset next summer, though lawmakers could push to add back the 10-cent differential sooner.
Almy said there is clearly no short-term appetite to consider a broadbased sales or income tax — given Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan’s opposition to same — but that it’s “not realistic” to think that Democrats can restore all the budget cuts made in the past two years without new revenue.
State Rep. Laurie Harding, a Lebanon Democrat who is likey to return as a top Democrat on the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, also cautioned that restoring budget cuts will be difficult.
“The bottom line is the budget is still going to be really stretched, and I guess my anxiety about the coming two years is a lot of people have expectations about what Democrats are going to be able to do or undo, and we’re still faced with the fiscal realities,” Harding said. “I’d like to think we’ll be more thoughtful and kinder. ... It’s everything in moderation this time around.”
State Sen. Bob Odell, the Newport-area Republican who has served as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is also likely to play a major role in fiscal and tax policy. That’s all good news for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which suffered some of the biggest budget cuts and is part of a major lawsuit against the state to restore Medicaid funding.
Frank McDougall, DHMC’s top lobbyist who earlier wise-cracked — correctly — that Republican House Speaker Bill O’Brien and his supporters would “extinguish themselves” on Election Day, said this week that the Lebanon-based hospital has “a solid working relationship” with Hassan and with legislative leaders in both chambers. (State Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Lebanon native and Bedford Republican, won his recount this week, so the GOP is likely to hold a 13-11 majority in the Senate, though one race is still subject to a recount.)
“The one big change, and we view it as very positive, is that unlike the last session on the House side, we will be dealing with legislators who take a practical and common-sense approach rather than a purely ideological one to the challenges we collectively face,” McDougall said by email.
State Rep. Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican who is more moderate than many of O’Brien’s allies, wrote in an email thread that “reality needs to set in about what happened to Republicans” in New Hampshire. Jasper said Granite State Republicans lost 115 of the 170 legislative seats the party lost around the country.
“Just because we believe in something, does not mean that we are right. But if we truly believe that we are, our first job should be to sell the idea to the voters, not to try to ram it down their throats,” Jasper wrote.
∎ Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is moving some of this top aides around, including having chief of staff Bill Lofy shift to a role with the Democratic Governors Association, which Shumlin is expected to lead. Translation — look for Shumlin, who pushed for passage of gay marriage in Vermont and took on nuclear power, to start showing up on Meet the Press as he raises his national profile and tries to elect fellow Democrats.
As planned, Tunbridge resident Steve Kimbell, 68, is stepping down as commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. Kimbell was the experienced Montpelier hand who played a key role in helping Shumlin get his Green Mountain Care board going and move toward a single-payer health care system.
∎ Former Boston Herald reporter Joe Heaney died last week at 82. He got an early start with the Valley News , and in 1957, he and Terri Dudley went to what was then town hall in Lebanon, where Selectman Joe Perley physically denied them acess to tax assessing records, a story that set the stage for the vote that made Lebanon a city with a more open government.