House GOP passes bills to end shutdown

Why are Democrats against opening the National Parks? Why are Democrats against Women, Infants, and Children? Why are they against cancer research? Those are just some of the bills that House Democrats voted against in the last week.

House Republicans have passed 11 (so far) bills to open parts of government. Most Democrats voted against them. Democrat Harry Reid is blocking all of them from a vote in the Senate.

  1. allows our nation’s capital to continue operating using its own funding.
  2. opens all of our national parks and museums, including the WWII Memorial.
  3. funds the National Institute of Health, which is responsible for lifesaving medical innovations and cancer research.
  4. ensures the government shutdown doesn’t affect pay for our National Guard and Reserve.
  5. provides immediate funding for critical veterans benefits and services.
  6. provides immediate funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  7. provides immediate funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
  8. provides immediate funding for the Food and Drug Administration.
  9. providing critical education funding to support Head Start programs.
  10. provides immediate funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  11. ensures that death benefits to families of fallen troops will continue to be disbursed.

All of these programs could be open tomorrow, many could have been opened last week if Democrats were willing to start ending the shutdown. It seems they would rather have the shutdown as a political issue.

UPDATE: October 9, added bills #10 and #11.

Down in Concord

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. — Indira Gandhi

Just like high school or college kids making up for lost time, the House leaders (Democrats) finished the budget process with a late, late, late night session. After wasting most of Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, the budget conferees met Wednesday at 9 am and did not finish until Thursday in the wee hours of the morning, 3:42 am to be precise.

The short story is that the House is to be congratulated for persuading the Senate to agree to all of the Senate’s demands. That’s right, the final budget is pretty much the Senate (Republican-led), not the House (Democrat-led), budget.

Observers tell me that the Democrats opposed this budget up until the very end when they caved. Senior leaders, including representatives of the governor, were holed up behind locked doors for hours apparently searching for a way out. There was even talk that they would reject the budget and go for a Continuing Resolution (CR) while they tried to negotiate a better budget. In the end, “the House acceded to the Senate” on almost every issue.

House Democrats are trying to put the best spin on it. The Democrat chairman of the House Finance Committee wrote that they “… produced a balanced and fiscally responsible budget investing in the priorities of the people of New Hampshire without increasing taxes or fees. … there is a great deal for us to be proud of in this budget.” But the fact is that the budget is almost entirely what was passed by Senate Republicans, which every single Senate Democrat voted against.

The Governor “applauded the bipartisan budget agreement” even though it is virtually identical to the Senate Finance Committee budget, which three weeks ago she slammed for (so-called) “deep cuts”, “nothing short of devastating”, and a “fiscally irresponsible approach”. Now she labels that same budget as “fiscally responsible” (which it is) and praises the restored funding (added by Senate Republicans).

Why do so many politicians not tell the truth? Either they lied weeks ago when they decried the Senate budget as terrible, or they are lying now when they say it is great. Perhaps both. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.)

I would have more respect for them if they admitted, “We don’t like this budget. We wanted to spend much more money; we wanted to eliminate some programs and create other programs. We agreed to the Senate plan because we didn’t have a good alternative. Our only fallback was a Continuing Resolution, which would have given us even less money to spend.”

But politicians like to take credit for everything – even if they had nothing to do with them. If they told the truth now and admitted they don’t like the budget they couldn’t take credit for it.

Democrats cannot be happy about this budget. Total spending is $400 million less than the Governor requested, $300 million under what the House Democrats approved.

This budget has zero tax or fee increases. Democrats had proposed numerous new taxes or fees. They voted overwhelmingly (155-35) for a beer tax; they didn’t get it. They really, really wanted a massive increase in the gas tax; they didn’t get it. Ditto an increase in cigarette taxes. They proposed to delay scheduled business tax decreases; the Senate nixed that idea. Democrats passed increases in the Salt Water Fishing license fee and the Marriage License fee; Senate Republicans removed them.

Democrats included a provision letting the Governor raid 400 dedicated funds to spend the money elsewhere. Senate Republicans said no.

Senate Republicans added funds for LCHIP (the Land Conservation and Heritage Improvement Program) and for the UNIQUE scholarship program. The Senate increased State Aid Grants for water treatment projects. Democrats now try to take credit for these increases.

Democrats reduced funding for Charter Schools and put in a moratorium. Senate Republicans fully funded them and removed the moratorium. House Democrats repealed the school choice scholarship program passed last year. Senate Republicans killed that bill and removed a parallel provision from the budget.

Democrats had been emphatic about expanding Medicaid as part of Obamacare. The Speaker of the House, Terie Norelli, had declared that without Medicaid expansion, “I do not know if I could get the votes in the House to support the budget.” As late as Wednesday afternoon, conference Chairwoman Wallner said there would not be a budget agreement unless the Senate budged. The Senate replied that this issue was too important to rush into without a thorough study, they called her bluff and the Democrats folded.

In addition to the budget bills, there were 22 other bills reported back by conference committees. The changes appear to be slight and the bills seem uninteresting. There were eight bills where House and Senate conferees could not reach agreement. These bill also seem uninteresting; few will mourn their loss.

On Wednesday, July 26, the House and Senate will each meet to vote on conference reports. It is very likely that all will be passed and go to the governor for signing.

Down in Concord

Survival in politics requires denying mistakes and sticking with the policies you advocated, while blaming others for the bad results. — Thomas Sowell

Suppose that you have a term paper due June 20. You have known for months that it will be due that afternoon. Would you begin your research on June 17 and start writing it on June 18? Would any of us wait until the last minute to start work on the paper?

Well, that is what House Democrats are doing with the state budget. They have known to a certainty that the Senate would amend their budget. They have known officially since June 6, that the Senate did in fact amend the budget. They have known for literally years that a Committee of Conference is how the legislature resolves differences between the House version and the Senate version of a bill. Last Wednesday, June 12, the Senate formally agreed to a conference.

House leaders, knowing that there are major differences to resolve, could have scheduled an all day conference last Friday, the 14th. They could have met through the weekend. Instead, they have scheduled an informational meeting for Monday, June 17, and the first work session for June 18. The conferees will have two and a half days to reach an agreement on 800 pages of budget bills, and then a few hours to write their report.

The House leadership and the Governor know that the current state budget ends June 30. Without legislative action the state government will have no authority to spend a dime after June 30. In theory, the state government will shut down July 1 unless the House and Senate agree on a budget.

One wonders if the Democrat leaders of the House are deliberately trying to create a budget crisis. They had the option to schedule twice as much time for conference meetings. (The House controls scheduling of House bills, including the budget bills; the Senate controls scheduling of Senate bills.) Are they scheduling so little time because they plan simply to accede to the Senate’s recommendations? Somehow I doubt it. Do they expect the Senate to quickly give in? Bad idea.

If the House Democrats are not playing a game of chicken, knowing that a deadline is approaching and hoping that the Senate will blink first, then what are they doing?

Perhaps they are planning a government shutdown and they will blame it on Senate Republicans. But why would they think that would work? When two sides cannot agree, which side is at fault? The Senate is proposing a 7% increase in spending. That is hardly a cut. They offer a larger amount than the House proposed for HHS spending. Why would anyone think that the shutdown would be the fault of the Senate more than of the House?

There are only two ways to avoid a government shutdown July 1. The usual is to pass a budget and for the governor to sign it (or at least not veto it). The second is to pass what is called a Continuing Resolution (CR). In essence that is a short-term extension of the current budget. Spending would continue at the current rate for about a month. That gives the two sides time to negotiate a full two-year budget.

The current rate of spending is roughly 10% less than the House and the Governor have proposed. So one would think they would prefer the Senate budget, which would allow about 7% higher spending.

Perhaps the Governor plans to call a Special Session to pass a new budget. A CR would allow the government to operate until a new budget is passed. But why would the the Governor and House expect the Senate to pass a budget significantly higher than what they just passed?

To this short-term budget watcher and to other long-term watchers, the current budget process doesn’t make much sense on the House side. Given the June 20 deadline for the budget conference to file a report, we will know the budget plans in a few days.

*****

In the meantime, the House and Senate are in Conference on 40 bills other than the two budget bills. Some conferences started last week on June 10 and 11 and seven have already reached agreement. Others won’t start until this coming Monday, Tuesday, and even Wednesday. Since all reports are due by Thursday, I expect that the committees not meeting until Wednesday will deal with very small differences that can be resolved quickly.

By Thursday afternoon, we should know the story for all bills. Next Wednesday, June 26, the House will meet to vote on all conference committee reports.

 

Down in Concord

“The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.” — Milton Friedman

The House is not in session this week or next. Many members will be busy in Committees of Conference trying to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of bills. Each conference committee crafts a compromise on one bill, then submits the compromise bill with explanation to both the House and the Senate by June 20. This year there are 26 bills headed to conference. The biggest and most important bills are, of course, the budget bills.  On June 26, the House will vote on conference committee reports, and that should be their last session of the year.

Most of the bills other than the budget bills will be of little interest to most people. (Does a bill “consolidating the property appraisal division and the municipal services division of the department of revenue administration” interest anyone?) Most people probably aren’t particularly interested even in the budget bills – for the simple reason that most people have little interest in anything to do with politics.

There is one bill that might interest quite a few people. And that is the Medical Marijuana bill, HB 573. The House approved it by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, but the governor said she had problems with parts of the bill, so the Senate amended it, and then passed it by a 3-1 bipartisan majority. Advocates of medical marijuana no doubt will be contacting their representatives trying to influence the conference committee.

Down in Concord, the most difficult, time-consuming, and important conference will be on the budget. The numbers aren’t all that different – the Senate increases spending by 7%, the House increases by 10%. The Senate spends $23 million more than the House on the Department of Health and Human Services. Governor Hassan labels that increase a “devastating cut”.

In the State House there is an Office of Legislative Budget Assistant (LBA), staffed with professional number crunchers. One of the many documents they produce is a line by line – 1611 pages worth – comparison of the House and Senate budgets. One column shows the dollar difference between the two versions. On page after page after page the difference is zero. I managed to get through about 800 pages before I ran out of energy. It is fair to say that over 90%, perhaps closer to 99% of the spending proposals are identical.

The numbers aren’t the problem. The contentious debate won’t be about a million here, a million there. The debate will be about expanding Medicaid to cover not just the poor but people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Proponents say that it will help thousands of poor people, that it will cost us nothing because the federal government will pay 100% of the cost for three years.

Opponents reply that “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” There are always unintended consequences from any program, especially from a federal government program. Let’s look at the long-term effect of this program.

People often complain that politicians rarely plan beyond the next election. Well, the New Hampshire Senate is now saying let’s look beyond the two years of this budget to study whether this program will be good for the long term.

Politicians all too often judge a program by its intentions, not by its results. They feel good for how much money they spend, rather than how many people are actually better off. They create some new program, congratulate themselves for how well it will work, but only rarely measure the results of the last program they created.

Supporters of expanding Medicaid live in a fantasy world where every program works as intended. Let’s look at the real world.

A study of 13,000 Oregonians conducted by Harvard and MIT economists and recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first two years.”

A University of Virginia study of 1 million surgeries showed Medicaid patients were twice as likely to die as those with private insurance. The same study showed that compared to NO insurance, Medicaid patients were 13% more likely to die.

A Journal of Cancer article showed that Medicaid cancer patients are two to three times more likely to die than other patients.

Our neighboring state of Maine 11 years ago decided to expand its Medicaid coverage. Supporters thought it would reduce the number of uninsured, thus reducing the costs of uncompensated care. A decade later, the number of uninsured was unchanged at 12 percent. Medicaid participation grew 7 percent but private health insurance dropped by 7 percent. The main effect of expanding Medicaid is shifting people from private insurance to government insurance and sticking taxpayers with the bill.

Medicaid is a program of low quality and high cost – not just in dollars but also to the well-being of the recipients of poor care. If we truly care about people who need help – not just feeling good about throwing money at a problem – we should try to find a replacement, not expand Medicaid.

Down in Concord

“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” — Calvin Coolidge

Down in Concord, the Senate Finance Committee has made its recommendation about the State budget. The full Senate no doubt will approve it next Thursday, June 6. Their version of the budget calls for spending $10.7 billion. The Governor initially proposed $11.1 billion, which the House reduced to $11 billion. The budget for the current two years is about $10 billion, so the new budget will be an increase of about 7%, perhaps more.

A piece of the budget that has received little press is downshifting of Medicaid costs to the county budgets. In Sullivan county, and I think in most counties, the single biggest expense is not the nursing home, not the jail, it is paying for Medicaid. Last I looked at the Sullivan county budget, we had to write a $4.5 million check to the state to pay for Medicaid. Our next largest expense was a net cost of $3 million for the county nursing home. The House-passed budget downshifts an additional $8 million Medicaid expense to the counties. The Senate budget still downshifts but not as badly – about $3.5 million.

One of the main reasons for the difference between House and Senate spending is a difference in revenue estimates. E.g., the House estimates $107 million more revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax than the Senate estimates. Given that the House revenue estimators have consistently overestimated revenue for more than four years, I trust the Senate estimates more than the House estimates.

Opponents of the Senate budget quickly demonstrated a lack of understanding of simple arithmetic or the English language. Gov. Hassan and other Democrat leaders complained about “devastating cuts” to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Try this quiz: Which is higher, $1296 or $1319? The Senate budget increases spending on HHS from the House-passed $1296 million to $1319 million. Is higher spending a “cut”? Is it “devastating”?

For Developmental Services, the Senate proposes spending the exact same amount as the Governor and as the House. All three budgets increase spending over the current budget by about $38 million, or about a 15% increase. What is Hassan’s definition of “devastating”? As the old saying puts it, “She is entitled to her own opinion but not to her own facts.”

In terms of the legislative process, the House has not officially received the Senate amendment to the budget. You and I have heard about it, but the full Senate has not yet voted on it and the House has not received written notification about it. In the meantime the House continues with routine business. Wednesday, June 5, it will vote on the last of its Senate bills. If it doesn’t finish them Wednesday, it will meet the next day because its deadline for all Senate bills is June 6. This week and for the next few weeks, committees will meet to work on retained bills. (If you have been reading my columns, you know all about retained bills.)

On Thursday, June 6, the Senate will meet to vote on the last of its House bills, including the Finance Committee’s recommendations on the budget bills. When the Senate has voted on the proposed budget, it will send an official message to the House declaring that it “has passed House Bill 2 with an amendment and requests the House concurrence thereon.”

When it meets on June 12, the House will officially receive the Senate message. It then has three options: 1) It can Concur with the Senate amendment, thereby sending the Senate budget to the Governor for signature. It won’t do that. 2) It can Non-concur, which would have the effect of killing the bill, leaving the state without a budget. It won’t do that. 3) What the House will do is Non-concur and request a committee of conference.

The Senate, meeting on June 13, will receive the House request for a conference and will “Accede” to that request. On occasion, and only on relatively unimportant bills, the Senate might refuse a request for conference. It won’t refuse a conference on a budget bill. So finally, more than two weeks after everybody knows what is in the Senate budget, finally the committee of conference will meet to discuss an agreement on the budget. Their deadline is just seven days later, June 20, so I expect they will be rather busy in those seven days.

The House and Senate conferees must reach a unanimous agreement on the compromise budget. On occasion the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate will replace a conferee with someone more willing to accept a compromise. Once a compromise has been reached, the bill will go to the House for a vote on June 26, and to the Senate for a vote on June 27. The votes will be up or down, no amendments will be allowed.

In the unlikely event the two sides cannot reach an agreement, they will vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running past the June 30 deadline. That CR would be based on the current budget, which is less than either the House or the Senate budget, so they and the Governor behind the scenes have some motivation to pass a normal budget.

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.

Down in Concord

“Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.” — Dick Armey

There is an old fable about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains that this is simply its nature.

It seems that it is the nature of Democrat politicians to raise taxes and fees. Taxpayers, especially those of us with lower incomes, are the ones who get stung. The Democrats previously passed five bills to increase taxes or fees. As part of their budget they increased six other taxes or fees.

Democrats increased by 25% a tax on fuel oil. They made permanent a “temporary” tax increase they originally passed in 2009 that doubled boat registration fees. They raised a license fee for youth skill camps by 300%; increased the cigarette tax by 30 cents per pack; and increased the gas tax by 67%. On all of these bills Democrats voted more than 90% in favor of an increased tax or fee, Republicans voted more than 90% against the tax or fee increase.

The Democrats’ budget delays for a year – and nobody should be surprised if next year they delay it again – a business tax reduction dealing with loss carry-forwards. That change would have been especially useful for high-tech R&D firms. Don’t we want more such companies to come to NH? Their budget similarly delays two other business tax reductions.

They increased the fee for a marriage license and the fee for a saltwater fishing license. They stung property tax payers by downshifting costs for the county nursing homes. Which brings to mind one other change that will sting county property tax payers. The House Democrats and the Governor have indicated that they will adopt expanded Medicaid. This will cost the state tens of millions of dollars, and will also cost the counties millions of dollars. The counties lose money on every Medicaid patient – more patients means more losses, which the county property tax payers have to make up.

On a normal day, the House deals with about 30 bills. Last Wednesday it had only the three budget bills to deal with, but it still took almost all day. What took most of the time was debating 16 separate amendments to HB 2, which has all of the changes to law necessary to make the spending numbers legal. For example, current law says that not less than 73% of the Highway fund will go to the department of Transportation. The Democrats wanted to spend only 67% of the fund on actual highways, so they wrote in HB 2 a section which says that it is okay for them to break that part of the law.

The first proposed amendment was to delete the downshifting of county nursing home expenses. The Democrats are shifting $11 million in expenses from the state to the counties. The cost to property tax payers of Sullivan county will be approximately $400,000. Republicans opposed downshifting; Democrats voted for raising your property taxes.

The Governor and House Democrats want to spend more money than the state will collect in revenue. They propose to make up the difference by raiding so-called “dedicated” funds. These are funds set up for a specific purpose. E.g. a part of the motorcycle license fee is intended to be used for motorcycle safety training and nothing else. Democrats want to use these funds as piggy-banks to pay for all sorts of other things. Their budget authorizes the Governor to raid any and all funds as she deems appropriate.

Republicans proposed to mark just one dozen of these dedicated funds as off-limits. Money in those funds could be used only for the specific purpose for which people paid the fee, not raided for unrelated purposes. These dozen funds were intended for such purposes as: dam maintenance, the 911 system, unemployment compensation, the Land and Community Heritage Investment trust Program (LCHIP), and search and rescue. Fifteen Democrats crossed over to vote with the unanimous Republicans but they fell just one vote shy.

Other amendments would have deleted the three increases in business taxes, deleted the increased license fee for saltwater fishing, reduced the 30 cent increase in the cigarette tax to 20 cents. Republicans were concerned that such a large increase in the cigarette tax would hurt small businesses near the borders where people from neighboring states come to save money. Republicans almost unanimously voted for lower taxes and fees; Democrats almost unanimously voted for higher taxes and fees.

It should be no surprise to anybody that the Democrats have new taxes, higher taxes and fees, and that they have much higher spending. It is mildly surprising that they have absolutely no new spending on roads and bridges. They sold the new gas tax on the basis that it was needed to repair our crumbling infrastructure. But their budget actually spends LESS on the department of Transportation than last year’s budget spent. It’s almost as if the Democrats didn’t really believe their own talking points.

Down in Concord

“Politicians and diapers have one thing in common: they should both be changed regularly… and for the same reason.” — unknown

Last week the House finished all of its bills except for the three big budget bills. Two bills, HB 135 and HB 617, received lengthy debate as expected.

By a narrow margin of 189-184, the House passed HB 135, restricting the right to defend self, family, and community against deadly force. Sullivan County Republicans Grenier, Rollins, and Smith voted to protect your rights; Democrats Cloutier, Gagnon, Gottling, Irwin, Lefebvre, O’Hearn, Schmidt, and Sweeney voted to restrict your rights.

HB 617, increasing the gas tax by 67% – the largest tax increase in state history – was passed on a mostly party-line vote. Both sides agreed that we should spend more money on roads and bridges. Republicans argued that the Highway Fund has more than enough money if we would simply spend it on actual highways rather than diverting one-third of it to agencies that have nothing to do with constructing and maintaining our highways. Every Sullivan County Democrat voted for the tax increase. Republicans Rollins and Smith voted against the tax increase.

The House has finished all but three of its bills. Those three are the big budget bills, HB 1 and HB 2, which deal with the operating budget, and HB 25, which does the capital budget. When I say “big” I mean both literally and figuratively – HB 1 is about 800 pages long. Total appropriations are more than $11 billion, or 10.2% higher than the current budget.

The operating budget is divided into two parts. HB 1 is a giant spreadsheet. (As of this writing it is available only as a PDF file. Later it will be downloadable as an Excel file.) If you suffer from insomnia, trying to read all of those numbers should put you to sleep. By contrast, HB 2 is lots of words. It has changes to the law to allow money to be spent the way HB 1 says.

Current law may say one thing about how money is to be spent, but if the budget writers want to spend it differently, they just add a section to HB 2 to make it legal for them to break the law. A typical example is Sec. 2, which states “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, … revenue sharing with cities and towns shall be suspended for the biennium”. The word “suspend” appears 23 times in HB 2; “notwithstanding” appears 44 times.

When debating HB 617, the massive gas tax increase, Democrats promised that all the new money would go to roads and bridges. The proposed HB 2 budget bill illustrates how easily the budget writers can break a promise. They just add a short paragraph saying that a section of law is suspended for the biennium.

Interestingly, the proposed budget does not spend any more money on roads and bridges. In fact, it spends LESS. The  department of Transportation (DOT) portion of the Highway Fund is reduced from $222 million in the current budget down to $192 million in the proposed budget. Total DOT spending from all funds is down from $567 million this year to less than $551 million next year. Yes, that’s right. After telling us how important it is to spend more money on roads and bridges, they propose to spend less money in their new budget. Tell me again why taxpayers have to cough up MORE money for the new gas tax, when the Democrats plan to spend LESS money. More and more it appears that they want the new gas tax not to improve our highway infrastructure, but to pay for all sorts of other programs.

There is (at least) one other way the budget writers break past promises. They grab money that was promised to be used for a specific purpose. Within state government there are hundreds of programs that collect fees to pay for particular activities. These moneys are supposedly dedicated to a particular purpose separate from all other general government activities. One prominent example is the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). A $25 fee on mortgage transactions is intended to fund land and historic conservation. For five years, when money was tight, that money was moved out of the dedicated fund to the general fund to balance the budget.

Two years ago, the budget writers had the decency to transparently specify in the budget that they were taking money from LCHIP for the general fund. This year the budgeteers don’t say what dedicated funds they will raid. They delegate to the governor authority to choose which funds to raid to come up with $22 million to “balance” the budget.

The new budget was passed by the House Finance Committee just two days ago. It has been visible to the public for not much more than one day. As people have more time to scrutinize, no doubt we will learn even more troubling details.

The Finance Committee will hold a public briefing on the two big budget bills. I don’t want to suggest that their budget is a joke but the briefing is on April Fools’ Day.

On April 3rd, the full House will vote on these three budget bills, then during the next two months the Senate will amend – perhaps extensively – the House budget.

Massive new gas tax not needed

The claim by Reps. Carson et al. (letter, March 19) that their votes for an 83% increase in the gas tax were necessary to fix our deteriorating infrastructure is just plain wrong.

Oh, their intentions are good – my town of Sunapee could dearly use more money for roads – but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The bill they voted for does not do what they say it will.

The fact is that HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. Their rhetoric simply does not match reality.

Their massive tax increase does not mean there will be an increase in spending on roads and bridges. The budget writers can always find a way to divert money elsewhere. The proposed budget actually diverts $28 million away from the department of Transportation (DOT). When their budget spends LESS money on roads and bridges, why should struggling taxpayers put MORE money into the highway fund?

There is an alternative, a way to send more money to towns and cities, and to spend more money on roads and bridges, without a huge tax increase. The first step is the budget writers should stop diverting money away from DOT. Before taxpayers are forced to spend a dime more on new taxes, make sure the old taxes are spent the right way.

The Highway Fund collects more than $270 million per year via the current gas tax and vehicle registration fees. That would be more than enough money to maintain and improve our highway infrastructure if it were all spent on actual highways. The problem is that a full $80 million per year is siphoned off and spent on things that have nothing to do with building or maintaining roads and bridges.

The proposed budget allocates just 67% of the Highway Fund to the DOT. (Current law says that “no less than 73%” should go to DOT, but budget writers simply change the law when they want money to go somewhere else. That is exactly what they could do with the new gas tax despite promises to the contrary.)

Without raising the gas tax a penny, instead by reallocating and prioritizing spending, the legislature could raise more money for roads and bridges. The legislature should increase the DOT’s allocation of existing highway money to 80%, 90%, or a full 100%.

Currently, $30 million goes in block grants to towns and cities. The legislature could increase that amount to $35 million. That would actually be more money to municipalities than the new gas tax would produce.

Those two changes – dedicating Highway Fund expenditures to actual highways, not diverting to other agencies, and increasing the block grants to localities – those two changes would provide more money for roads and bridges than the new gas tax would. There is simply no need for higher taxes.

But what about all those other agencies currently funded with gas tax money? They are a little more than 1% of the whole budget. Let them find money in the rest of the budget. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending.

The new tax lets our legislators avoid making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. If they won’t cut other spending then the net effect of new taxes is to provide more money for low priority items.

(Printed in InterTown Record, April 2, 2013.)

Down in Concord

“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” — Frederic Bastiat

Bastiat’s maxim was on display at the regional public hearing in Claremont last Monday (March 18). With a few exceptions, the participants were saying, “Please government, take money from everyone else so that my favorite program might live.” Sooner or later, they might understand another Bastiat quote: “People are beginning to realize that the apparatus of government is costly. But what they do not know is that the burden falls inevitably on them.”

At the hearing, I spoke against the new gas tax. I did not speak well, but apparently people did understand that I oppose the massive increase in the gas tax because the existing highway funds would be enough if even 83%, not to mention 100%, of the highway funds were dedicated to roads and bridges instead of having a full one-third diverted to things that have nothing to do with building and maintaining our road system.

The House began the year with 604 bills. To date, 234 have been killed, 207 were passed and will go to the Senate, 127 were retained in committees for more work in the Spring and Fall. The House will vote on 32 bills next week. The three big budget bills and a related resolution are still being drafted. The committees will make their budget recommendations by Thursday next week for floor action on April 4.

Last week the House met in session on both Wednesday and Thursday to act on 69 bills. It killed some good bills and some bad bills, passed some good bills and some bad bills. Most bills are fairly innocuous and of little interest to most people. There were three bills (at least) that many people might find interesting. The House killed HB 665, a casino gambling bill, by a bipartisan 4-1 vote. It passed HB 573, medical marijuana, by a similar bipartisan vote. By a smaller, but still bipartisan, 3-2 margin, the House passed HB 621, making possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana a violation instead of a misdemeanor.

Next week the House will vote on 32 bills. Many of these bills went to a first committee, then passed the House, and were referred to a second committee. Having passed the House once already, they likely will pass the House when they come back for a second vote.

One bill that no doubt will be debated is HB 135, requiring would-be victims to try to retreat from an assailant before they are allowed to use a weapon to defend themselves, their families, or their community. There have been many instances of an armed civilian stopping a gun massacre before it became a massacre. If they had retreated to save themselves, those incidents would have turned into full-blown massacres. E.g. a woman in church killed a shooter who was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammo. Under HB 135, she would have had to escape to safety instead of using her handgun to save the lives of dozens of church-goers.

Another bill to be debated is HB 617, the largest tax increase in state history. Republicans will oppose it as unnecessary; we should just stop diverting $80 million each year away from the department of Transportation (DOT). Before the House takes even more money from struggling taxpayers it should ensure that the existing gas tax is used almost entirely for roads and bridges and not spent on agencies that have nothing to do with building and fixing our highways.

Proponents of this massive tax hike claim that we need it to fix our “crumbling” infrastructure. But HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. With their arguments they are trying to tie together taxes and spending but the two are separate. The legislature could spend the exact same amount on roads and bridges with or without HB 617. For instance, they could allocate 100% of the highway fund to DOT, and that would actually put more money into DOT than the new gas tax would.

Conversely, the legislature could raise this new tax, and still not spend a dime extra on roads and bridges. Even if they keep their promise to put all the new money into roads and bridges, they could divert all the old money into state police and courts, welcome centers, etc.

Even if people favor the new spending, that does not mean we should accept the new taxes. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending – e.g. send less money to rich faculty and administrators in the university system.

The new tax lets them get away without making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. The net effect of a new tax will be more money available for low priority items.

And finally, the House Finance Committee will hold a budget briefing on the two big budget bills. I don’t want to suggest that the budget will be a joke but the briefing is on Monday, April 1st.

Down in Concord

Q: How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to assure the public that everything possible is being done while the other screws it into a water faucet.

This is the time of year known legislatively as Crossover. House bills cross over to the Senate and Senate bills cross over to the House. The House has a deadline of Thursday, March 14 for some bills; Thursday, March 28 for other bills; and Thursday, April 4 for the big budget bills. With 252 bills left to vote on, the House will be meeting not just on the normal Wednesdays but also on some Thursdays.

The House started with 609 bills. Every single bill has a public hearing, where anyone at all can testify without any advance notice. Then it has one or more committee meetings, all open to the public, a committee vote, and finally a floor vote by the full House. Some bills then go to a second House committee where the process is repeated – another public hearing, a committee vote, then back to the House floor.

The House has passed 106 bills, killed 132, and “retained” 107 bills. Retained means that the committee decided to do further study on the bill later in the Spring, through Summer, and into Fall. They might retain a bill because the idea seems good, but the language of the bill might not be quite right, or perhaps complex enough that they want to spend more time making sure that there aren’t any unintended consequences. I often remark that there is one law that a legislature can never repeal, and that is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Because the House is so close to its deadlines, the only bills still having public hearings are those that passed the House only to be sent to a second committee, or the big budget bills which have later deadlines.

On Thursday, March 14 at 1:30 there will be a public hearing for HB 617, the monstrous gas tax increase. They have scheduled it in Representatives Hall because they rightly expect a large crowd of people testifying or observing. My guess is that outside the State House will be a large crowd of protesters against the proposed 83% increase of the gasoline tax.

For some families this tax will be an extra $300 they have to cough up every year. By the Democrats own estimates, taxpayers will have to pony up an extra one billion dollars during the next decade. The trucks that deliver almost all of our goods will pay much more in higher diesel taxes, which means that the price of almost every product would go up.

The Democrats claim that the tax is necessary to fix our crumbling roads and bridges but that is almost a bait and switch. More than a million dollars of the new gas tax will go to Fish&Game every year according to the sponsor’s own memo. Other money will go for snowmobile trails; the largest chunk will go toward state police. All of those may be admirable but they have nothing to do with fixing and improving our roads and bridges.

The Highway Fund has more than enough money to construct and maintain our highway infrastructure. The problem is that a large chunk of the Fund is diverted away from the department of Transportation (DOT) to other agencies. The Democrats’ proposed budget spends only 67% on the DOT.

Before we raise the gas tax by 83%, we should dedicate 83% – not just 67% – of the Highway Fund to actual highways. The tax-raising Democrats want taxpayers to pay more money for roads and bridges at the same time their proposed budget diverts $160 million away from roads and bridges. Does that really make sense?

Opponents of this simple idea – that we use the existing money as efficiently as possible before we impose a new burden on struggling taxpayers – raise the absurd objection that this would devastate the state police who dip into the Highway Fund. Does anyone seriously think that the legislature would fail to fund the State Police? This is a standard scare tactic of governments everywhere – they threaten that the most important or most desired programs will be killed if the taxpayers don’t come up with more money.

The total proposed budget is $11 billion. If we took just 1.5% of that budget for state police and related agencies, then we could dedicate 100% of the Highway Fund to the DOT to work on roads and bridges. Does anyone really think that there is not 1.5% of waste or lower priority programs in that massive budget?

Let’s tell our Representatives to stop siphoning gas tax money out of the Highway Fund before telling us to put more money into the fund.

On Monday, March 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. we will have a second opportunity to tell them to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. There will be a state budget hearing in Claremont at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, 111 South Street. I plan to attend and testify that the budget should use realistic – not pie in the sky – revenue estimates, should prioritize spending, and should stop diverting money from the Highway Fund before telling taxpayers to put more money into the fund.

Please join me in opposing the largest tax increase in state history.

NH budget hearing in Claremont

The House Finance committee is holding five regional budget hearings. One will be in Claremont, Monday, March 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, 111 South Street, Claremont.

If you oppose the 83% increase of the gas tax then attend the hearing and say so.

If you think that the Highway Fund should be spent on actual highways, not on things that have nothing to do with fixing and maintaining roads and bridges, then go and say so.

If you think that the budget should assume realistic revenue estimates, and that it should be balanced without hypothetical casino revenue, then go and tell your Representatives.

If you want to balance out the many special interests requesting more spending for their particular programs, then show up and testify.

Testifying is easy. Hey, if I could learn to do it, then anyone can.

Plenty of waste to sequester

The sequester is a mere 2% of the federal budget. If they really wanted to cut spending don’t you think they just might be able to find 2% of waste in that enormous budget. How about they start by trimming these items:

  1. $2,908,000 for shrimp aquaculture research
  2. $1,454,000 for mosquito trapping research
  3. $4,841,000 for wood utilization research
  4. $2,573,000 for potato research
  5. $775,000 for “Pickle Science and Technology”
  6. $500,000 for helicopter logging
  7. $600,000 for a “gurgling toad sculpture” in DoD building
  8. $8.3 million for golf course renovation in Louisiana
  9. $1.4 million for decorative rocks in Nevada
  10. $500,000 for food at Justice Department banquets
  11. $1 million for sugar cain research center in Louisiana
  12. $623 million for the National Endowment for the arts
  13. $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings.
  14. $200 million for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.
  15. $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
  16. $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.
  17. $75 million for “smoking cessation activities.”
  18. $18 million to rebuild recovery.gov website
  19. $461 million for “salmon restoration”
  20. $480 million for a “redundant” F-35 engine
  21. $15 million for a “Barbasol museum”
  22. $19 million for a “Free clam benefit” for people who have never eaten clams
  23. $10 million for attorneys of illegal immigrants
  24. $700,000 for a bike trail in Minnesota
  25. $1 million for a river walk in Massachusetts
  26. $213,000 for olive fruit fly research in…France
  27. $200,000 for a hunting and fishing museum in Pennsylvania
  28. $200,000 for a post office museum in Las Vegas
  29. $350,000 for “Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Inc.”
  30. $150,000 for turf grass research
  31. $10 million to connect a dead-end street to I-75
  32. $11.4 billion for Amtrack bailout
  33. $1.5 billion for the Metro Transit system in Washington D.C.
  34. $1.2 million to study the habits of the woodchuck
  35.   $150,000 to study the Hatfield-McCoy feud
  36. $1 million to study why people don’t ride bikes to work
  37. $219,000 to teach college students how to watch television
  38. $3.1 million to convert a ferry boat into a crab restaurant in Baltimore
  39. $13 million to repair a privately owned dam in South Carolina
  40. $4.3 million for a privately owned museum in Johnstown, Pennsylvania
  41. $2.7 million for a catfish farm in Arkansas
  42. $500,000 for a swimming pool in Banning, Calif
  43. $500 million to bail out ship building company
  44. $2 million for “kitchen relocation” in Fairbanks, Alaska
  45. $1.5 million to “transport naturally chilled water” from Lake Ontario to Lake Onondaga
  46. $167,000 for “Horn fly research” in Alabama
  47. $450,000 for the Baseball Hall of Fame
  48. $11 million to buy “business attire” for job seekers
  49. $750,000 for a soccer field at Guantanamo Bay
  50. $15 million on Internal Revenue Service public relations efforts

The author reports that he found this $22 billion of savings in about 40 minutes. Don’t you think the politicians in Washington could find $85 billion of non-essential spending in a couple days time?

No, the Obama administration will try to find the most painful things to cut so as to put pressure on for no cuts at all.

Down in Concord

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.
— Groucho Marx

The House has passed 82 bills and has killed 89. There are about 380 House bills left to consider. March 14 is the last day for the House to act on most bills. Some bills, mostly those that have a fiscal impact, go to a second committee. Those bills have a deadline of March 28. The monster budget bills have a deadline of April 7.

In my last column, I mentioned that it is rare for the House to overturn a committee recommendation. Perhaps that statement jinxed the proceedings because, lo and behold, the House did it again, twice.
HB 325, relative to public employee suggestions for cost-saving measures, would reward state employees with a cash bonus for any cost-saving suggestions they make. The committee recommended Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) on a split decision. The House vote was a very rare tie vote with the Speaker voting to create the tie. Since a tie vote is not enough for a motion to succeed, there was then a motion to pass the bill, which then passed by a 199-162 vote.
HB 388, provides civil immunity to the owner of a firearm in the event the firearm is stolen and used in the commission of a felony or a misdemeanor. The committee recommended ITL by 12-6 but the House defeated that motion by 167-192, then passed the bill by 211-151.

As I forecast last time, the House killed on a voice vote, HB 330, which would have allowed counties to adopt an income tax. It voted by 201-135 for an increase in the tobacco tax, voted 192-161 against slowly reducing the business enterprise tax, and repealed the education tax credit program by 188-151.

In an earlier column I wrote against HB 148, which proposed to change the way New Hampshire casts its votes for President. Our electoral votes would have been awarded to the winner of the national popular vote, even if New Hampshire voters went overwhelmingly for the other candidate. The House Election Law committee has recommended to kill that awful bill and I trust the full House will go along next Wednesday.

In last week’s column I wrote about four bills with public hearings on 2/19 or 2/21. HB 617, raising the gas tax, not only had a hearing it had a committee recommendation. Sadly, but not terribly surprising, the committee recommended to increase the gas tax – by a whopping 83%! The House will vote on 2/27 so there is time for you to contact your representatives and oppose this tax increase. They likely will respond that our roads and bridges badly need maintenance, but that answer is a non sequitur. It is not necessary to increase taxes; what is needed is to set priorities to use our existing taxes for road maintenance. The new taxes – amounting to $1 billion over the next decade – allow them to spend more money on other programs.

Four gun bills had lengthy – almost all day – hearings in Reps’ Hall. I estimate 80-100 people showed up, overwhelmingly on the side of law-abiding citizens having the right to bear arms in defense of self, family, and community. I spoke in favor of HB 451 and HB 609, and against HB 290 and HB 396. All four bills are scheduled for committee Executive Sessions on 2/28. My guess is that the two bad bills will be recommended ITL unanimously, and the two good bills will be ITL’d on party line votes.

The week of February 26-29, there will be another 26 public hearings, and the House will vote on 103 more bills. Here are some of the more interesting bills to be heard:

HB 544, repealing the prohibition on a state health exchange (part of Obamacare). Almost weekly there is more evidence that we were wise last year to prohibit a health exchange. Obamacare will cost much more than originally promised, it raises taxes on almost everybody (not just the “rich”), and it is costing jobs. Instead of lowering the costs of health care, it is increasing those costs. We should avoid every possible connection with it. But Democrats all too often judge a program by its intentions, not by its results. Obamacare “intends” to reduce health care costs so therefore they think it actually does. HB 544 is a step toward entrapment in the tentacles of the Obamacare monster. It should be defeated but the Democrats are calling for full steam ahead toward government-run health care.

HB 606, relative to community rating, actually would reduce health insurance costs so naturally the Democrats will oppose it. “Community rating” was then-Governor Shaheen’s plan to reform health insurance. It quickly (and predictably) led to the departure of most insurance companies and some of the highest health insurance rates in the country. HB 606 would reverse that bad decision and eventually bring more competition and lower costs back to the New Hampshire insurance market.

We still don’t know much more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget because she has not delivered her draft of HB 2, which is an essential part of the budget process. By law it was due on February 15.

The left’s real enemy isn’t Republicans, it is arithmetic

That is the line of the day. It’s from this column:

Liberals are feeling triumphant these days, but in the backs of their minds there must be a sense of foreboding. They won this year by demonizing Republicans and by bribing various demographic groups with government largesse. But the Left’s tactical victory can’t conceal the fact that its ideology is bankrupt. The left’s real enemy isn’t Republicans, it is arithmetic.

Senate Democrats have not prepared a budget in four years, probably because they realize that it would show without a doubt that there is not enough money in the world to do what they want. Sooner or later they will run out of other people’s money.