Down in Concord

“Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” — Otto von Bismarck

The House and Senate have just over 200 bills left to deal with by the end of June. The House has the easier job with just 89 bills in committee. The Senate has 114 in committee; three of those are the big budget bills.

Almost all of those bills have had public hearings. In the next two weeks there will be some 30 more public hearings. Of the seven hearings in the House, it is hard to find a one that might be interesting to any of us around here. Is there anyone eager to testify about a bill that changes “district court” to “circuit court”?

The Senate hearings are not particularly interesting either. Does a bill “establishing a right of discovery to a carrier’s investigation of claims in workers’ compensation cases” excite anyone?

The Senate does have three bills that probably will interest large numbers of people. On Tuesday, May 7, there is a public hearing on the massive gas tax increase. You may recall that it was initially proposed as an 83% increase in the gas tax. When that news spread around the state, they trimmed it way, way back to a mere 67% increase. They said it would all be used for roads and bridges but their budget spends even LESS on the department of transportation then current law provides. Word from the Senate is that the gas tax is dead on arrival.

The Senate will hold its public hearing on the budget on May 9th in the late afternoon and evening so working stiffs will be able to attend without having to take time away from work.

There is one bill in the House that is consuming thousands of man-hours and might be accepting public input for another week or two. The gambling bill, SB 152, is being considered by a special joint committee of Finance and Ways & Means. They already had their regular public hearing but now they are divided into three subcommittees, each taking more input.

The Regulations subcommittee “will focus on the bidding process, regulations, oversight, accountability and enforcement.” We heard at the public hearing that it will not be possible for the rules and regulations to be written and approved before the bill’s stated deadline for choosing the winning bidder.

The subcommittee on Revenue “will address all issues related to revenue generation and loss, specification of casino size and composition to achieve maximum revenue, and allocation of revenues designated for specific purposes.” Proponents say the casino would be high-end but opponents note that compared to the costs of casinos in other states, the bill does not require the casino developer to spend anywhere near enough money.

The third subcommittee, Community Impact, “will explore impacts on municipalities, counties and the state including job creation, impact on existing businesses, traffic and highway maintenance, public safety and other social costs.” Proponents minimize the social costs. Opponents say that it will cannibalize sales from existing restaurants, hotels, and theaters.

Closer to home, the Sullivan county commissioners will meet Monday, May 6. According to published reports their proposed county budget will increase property taxes by $400,000. The next step in the budget process is for the Executive Finance Committee (EFC) to review and amend the budget proposal, then for the full county delegation to meet, possibly amend, and vote on the budget.

Why do I mention the county budget in a column about state legislative happenings? Most people don’t know it, but our State legislators are also county legislators. The thirteen Reps from the various districts in Sullivan county are the legislative body for county government. The commissioners are the governing body, analogous to town selectmen. They recommend a budget but the State Reps, analogous to a town’s voters, are the ones to approve the budget.

Last year, the commissioners recommended a budget that raised taxes by 2%. The county delegation consisting of 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted instead to cut taxes. It will be interesting to see if this year’s delegation, now controlled by Democrats, will go along with a tax increase or whether they will cut taxes. Given that almost every Democrat in the House voted to raise multiple taxes, I would be surprised if they vote to cut taxes in Sullivan county.

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