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N.H. Democrats Wary as GOP Celebrates Statehouse Control

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2016 11:44:21 PM
Modified: 11/30/2016 4:16:58 PM

West Lebanon — As the New Hampshire Legislature prepares for its upcoming session, Upper Valley Republicans are celebrating their party’s newly won control of the Governor’s Office, along with extending control in the House and Senate, saying they’re now positioned to tackle more conservative measures.

Control of all three likely means the return of bills supporting school choice, repealing concealed-carry permitting and a budget with increased tax cuts, they said.

Meanwhile, area Democrats are lamenting their losses, and said measures they once held dear are likely dead on arrival to the Republican majority.

“I think the Legislature is probably going to concentrate on spending,” Sen.-elect Ruth Ward, a Stoddard Republican who will represent the Newport area, said last week. “Where is there waste and where can we make some significant cuts?”

The budget will be one of Republicans’ first marks on state government in the coming year. Gov.-elect Chris Sununu is due to present his budget proposal to the Legislature on Feb. 15, and has said he “will not let frugality out the window,” according to the Associated Press.

Sununu also has said he’s in favor of decreasing business taxes, furthering cuts made two years ago.

“Obviously the budget will be front and center,” said returning state Rep. Duane Brown, R-Wentworth, whose district includes Canaan, Dorchester and Orange.

“I think it should be a nonpartisan, nonpolitical issue to have more business in New Hampshire,” he said, referencing potential tax cuts.

But Democrats worry continually cutting taxes will put the state at a revenue disadvantage. They’re also concerned there’s little they can do to stop it.

“We are going to have a really bad revenue crunch in the next two years if we do that,” said state Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, who’s returning for an 11th term and sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.

She said the $130 million surplus New Hampshire boasted at the end of its fiscal year is already being diminished by state-issued tax refunds. If the state were to see another recession, she said, tax cuts limit any response it could mount.

Almy said she’s awaiting the selection of a House speaker before assessing the upcoming session. House Speaker Shawn Jasper, who was elected to the post with the help of Democrats, is being challenged by three fellow Republicans for the spot this year.

“It could be the same person or it could be somebody else,” Almy said. “(With) at least some of the somebody elses, I don’t think I could do much more than observe and report.”

Regardless of leadership, Ward said she’s excited to start working on education bills supporting school vouchers and school choice and repealing Common Core standards.

“Some of (the Republicans) would like to see New Hampshire become a right-to-work state,” Ward said.

Right-to-work legislation would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that compel employees to join a labor union or pay union dues against their will. Past attempts to pass legislation have hit a gridlocked Senate or veto by Democratic governors, but Ward said she would still support the measure.

Brown said he’s also expecting legislation that would repeal the licensing requirements for concealed-carry permits. Known as “constitutional carry,” a similar measure was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan in the past.

“I would support that,” he said. “In addition, I would still have the ability to get a concealed-carry license for reciprocity in other states.”

“I think we will be able to get a lot more done,” Brown said. “Probably not everything I would hope for and other Republicans hope for, but I’m optimistic.”

Sen.-elect Martha Hennessy, D-Hanover, said the election likely dashed hope for Democratic initiatives such as increasing the minimum wage, but she’s still hopeful common ground can be reached.

“Medicaid expansion, I think, is something that all of the Democrats and some of the Republicans are going to be paying attention to and keep going,” she said.

The expansion, which insures roughly 49,000 people, is up for renewal in 2018, and Sununu hasn’t said whether he would support continuing the program.

Hennessy said she would like to see legislation funding full-day kindergarten, a push Sununu also supports.

Incoming state Rep. Timothy Josephson, D-Canaan, also is hopeful the two sides can work together. In the coming two years, he said, the Legislature can work together to pass bills legalizing marijuana and fully funding school districts.

Otherwise, he said, Democrats need to form a party that stands up to the majority, especially when legislation impacts Granite Staters.

“(We should) become the voice for people that need a voice, those people that should be most affected by things like the Medicaid expansion,” Josephson said. “I think that is where we’ll find our most important place to be.”

The House Republican Caucus is likely to choose the next speaker today, and the Legislature’s “Organization Day” is set for next Wednesday.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Correction

Right-to-work legislation in New Hampshire would prohibit collective bargaining agreements that compel employees to join a labor union or pay union dues against their will. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point. 




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