News & Issues

The Man Behind the Curtain

The Man Behind the Curtain

Is Chris Sununu!

Chris Sununu loudly proclaimed that he supported an independent redistricting commission and would never veto such a bill. Of course as he is saying that, he knows that his friends in the legislature would never let an independent redistricting bill get to his desk.

He continues to claim that he is pro-choice even though he signed the budget bill which includes the 24-week no excuse abortion ban, with only an exception for the life of the mother. Unable to garner enough votes to pass the anti-abortion bill directly, with the Governor’s approval, legislators included it as a non-germane amendment to the budget bill.

Sununu claims to care about those struggling in our state. Yet he went along with Senate Republicans when they voted against funding for the homeless and against child care for at risk families. They then turned around and voted to approve $10 million to compensate people taken in by the Financial Resources Mortgage ponzi scheme.

There is nothing in the budget that was not agreed to by Gov. Sununu. He owns the damage to human and civil rights included in the budget as well as the insufficient state money shared with municipalities and drained from our public schools. Yes, the man behind the curtain is Chris Sununu.

So let’s take a look at what happened to the voting bills, tax impact bills, and energy bills that we have been following this session.

Fate of Voting Bills

Former President Trump claimed loudly, and largely without evidence, that there was massive voter fraud and illegal votes in the 2020 election. As a result, many bills were submitted to suppress the vote (make it harder to vote.) Others were submitted to expand the vote (make it easier to vote.)

Of the bills that largely were intended to make it harder to vote, 3 passed, 9 were retained, and 3 were killed. Of the bills that largely made it easier to vote, 2 passed, 2 were retained, and 7 were killed.

Two of the 3 bills (HB 285, HB 523) that passed that make it harder to vote impact the registration checklist. The third (SB 31) returns eligibility to vote absentee to pre-Covid requirements and requires the removal of a voter from the checklist if they appear to have registered in another state. This could be a problem for voters with similar names. One of the two bills that make voting easier (HB 555) expands absentee voting to persons in jail awaiting trial or convicted of a misdemeanor. The other (HB 98) moves the date of the primary up five weeks to provide more time to verify vote counts and get ballots to overseas and military voters. The Governor has signaled that he may veto this bill as unnecessary. The shorter time between the primary and the general election is seen as an advantage to incumbents. A longer time period gives more time for military, overseas, and absentee voters to get their ballots in.

There were three bills to verify the machine count (HB 524, HB 480, and SB 79.) All three of these bills were retained.

The 14 retained bills will be assigned to study committees which will meet in the Fall to improve the bill or recommend that it be killed. The legislature will take up the retained bills early next January without any further committee action or public input. This is an opportunity to slip some nasty bills through unnoticed.

On balance, bills that would expand voting opportunities were sidelined, and bills that would suppress voting opportunities were either passed or retained.

Fate of Bills Impacting Property Taxes

Of the bills that we have been following that can impact local property taxes, only the budget bills, HB 1 and HB 2, had roll call votes. Two other tax reduction bills (HB 10, HB 210) were rolled into the budget. Thus, legislators avoided a roll call vote on bills that cut taxes largely for out-of-state corporations and well-to-do individuals. In the process they decreased state revenues. Lack of sufficient state revenues provides an excuse for not meeting the state’s obligation for general revenue sharing with municipalities.

Three sweeping school voucher bills (HB 20, HB 607, and SB 130), were merged and included as a part of the budget, even though hundreds spoke out against the House bills during public hearings. As reported by Garry Rayno in InDepthNH on June 24, “the voucher bill could cost up to $70 million during the first full year according to a Legislative Budget Assistant.” This is money destined to come out of local school budgets.

When the state shirks its responsibility, it is the local property taxpayers who have to pick up the slack. So, in essence, all the bills that reduce state revenues and thus funds available to share with municipalities were hidden in the budget bills and passed without any Democratic votes. The Governor liked the budget bills so much that he signed them within 24 hours of legislative passage.

Eight bills were introduced that would increase revenues shared with municipalities. Two were rolled into the budget. One (SB 135) will base adequacy funding on students enrolled in free and reduced meals in the 2019-20 school year rather than the Covid influenced 2020-21 school year. Another (SB 99) changed the Meals and Rooms tax revenue municipal share to 30% of revenues instead of a fixed amount that worked out to be about 20%.

Four bills that would increase revenue sharing with municipalities were killed outright. Two bills (HB 274 and SB 72) dealt with paying the state’s retirement share. One (SB 158) included a study commission’s recommendations for adequately funding education. And one (SB 118) provided a guaranteed property tax relief of up to $20 million in both fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The lost revenue represented by these four bills easily outstrips the gains represented in the three bills that passed or were included in the budget.

Two bills (HB 623 and SB 145) were retained. HB 623 provided that the education grant in school year 2021-22 cannot decrease from the previous year. SB 145 would base education grant amounts on student attendance in the 2019-20 school year rather than the Covid impacted attendance in school year 2020-21. Whether these will survive or not depends on future state revenues. Neither were specifically included in the budget and will likely die if adequate revenues are not predicted.

Good News About Energy Bills

Eleven energy bills were proposed that would allow municipalities to reduce their energy costs and thus property taxes by funding renewable energy projects up to 5 MW. Three (HB 309, HB 315, and SB 91) were passed and another 4 (HB 106, HB 148, SB 109, and SB 151) were rolled into bills that passed.

Of the remaining four bills, two were killed outright and 2 were retained. One (HB 225) was killed that would have reduced the net metering rate to the wholesale rate. If this bill had passed, it would have killed municipal energy projects as financially unfeasible. According to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, SB 78, which was also killed, would have smoothed the continuous transfer of renewable energy funds to the Public Utilities Commission. Without this bill, fund transfers will continue to be interrupted by transitions from one fiscal year to another.

One bill (HB 549) was retained that would put the legislature in charge of overseeing the renewable energy programs in NH instead of the Public Utilities Commission — a very bad idea. HB 167 was retained but will likely be killed. It would have raised the net metering rate to 5 MW for both private and government projects. The government projects were included in SB 109 which passed. Thus HB 549 would only apply net metering to private projects up to 5 MW. This is unpopular in many circles, including Eversource.

Overall, energy legislation this year enables municipalities to provide property tax relief. They can pursue renewable energy opportunities and avoid higher non-renewable energy costs.

The Bottom Line

Increased public education costs at the local level and continued refusal of the state to meet its obligations under the state retirement program, and its refusal to reinstate general revenue sharing will continue to be a burden on local property taxpayers.

As reported in an op-ed in InDepth NH on June 26, Rep David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) lamented the impact of the Education Freedom Accounts (school vouchers) included in the 2021-22 state budget on local property taxpayers. He said, “59 cities and towns will see a decrease in state education aid. Berlin, Derry, Manchester, and Rochester will suffer declines of more than $1 million each. But the hit to property taxpayers extends beyond these communities. Assuming that every city and town held their property tax rate steady, over 60% of cities and towns would be worse off under this budget and have to make cuts to services.”

This is in spite of the one time transfer of $100 million in general funds to reduce the state education property tax by about 50 cents per $1000 valuation in 2023. Note the school voucher program has no end date. This cut in the state education property tax is a one time event.

Overall, although you will hear Republicans bragging about the tax cuts, largely for out-of-state corporations and the well -to-do, and the reduction in the state education property tax (for one year only), you can expect to see your property taxes continue to rise.

So Long For Now

The 2021 NH Legislative session comes to a close. It will reopen again in January, 2022. I hope you have found traveling with me through this session an eye-opener about how the legislature actually works.

We saw how to save bills that do not have enough individual support to pass on their own by simply slipping them into the budget. We learned of the many tried and true ways to kill a bill by voting it down, by laying it on the senate committee table and letting it die there, by retaining it in committee, and the new way devised by the Republican House leadership, simply close the session on cross-over day without addressing over 70, mostly Democratic, sponsored bills.

So this will be my last newsletter for this session. I remind you to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to join with others in support of causes near and dear to your heart or those that simply make you mad. Most of all, you need to remember in the November, 2022, elections who it was that stood with you and who had other priorities. Elections have consequences as the 2021-22 NH budget bill reveals.