Down in Concord

“The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that the pickpocket doesn’t get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.” — Joseph Sobran

The big news down in Concord is the gambling bill, SB 152. Of course, when I say “big news” what I mean is big political news because for most people anything political is by definition not important. Most of the time even the biggest political news is small potatoes compared to other news.

The special committee for this bill voted by the slimmest margin (23-22) that SB 152 was Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). The full house will vote Wednesday, May 22, on the committee recommendation. Nobody is predicting which way the vote will go. Democrats are divided – the committee chairman wrote the report opposing the bill; a division chairman wrote the report in support. Republicans are similarly divided. The vote will be bipartisan for and against.

If members were to vote on the general idea of allowing a casino, they might vote yes. But they won’t be voting on an idea; they will be voting on a specific 41-page bill – and opponents think that the words of that bill are badly flawed.

Supporters of the bill claim that SB 152 would authorize “the licensing of one highly regulated, high-end destination casino through a competitive bidding process.” Opponents counter that the claim is laughable:

  1. it won’t be highly regulated because the regulatory process cannot be completed in time for the contract-signing timeline specified in the bill;
  2. it won’t be “high-end” at all because the money proposed to be spent on the casino is less than half what has been required for high-end casinos elsewhere;
  3. the bidding process is anything but competitive because the language of the bill was written by one particular bidder, Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, and the terms cannot be satisfied by another bidder.

One of the sponsors of the bill stated that casino gambling would be similar to the lottery – there was much opposition in the beginning but it worked out okay. A major difference is that lottery machines are allowed in thousands of businesses all over the state. A casino would be a state-protected monopoly allowed in just one place. The monopoly aspect is one of the main reasons many members oppose the bill. There might be much more support for a bill that said slot machines (and other forms of gambling) were allowed anywhere with the payment of an up-front tax and a share of the take.

Supporters say that the casino would bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Opponents respond that it would reduce revenue from existing sources. Very few casino customers would come from Massachusetts where there will be bigger and brighter casinos. The customers would be NH citizens spending their money in slot machines instead of at local restaurants, theaters, and other entertainment sources. That would mean less Meals & Rentals tax receipts and less business tax revenue.

They say the casino would create many jobs. During construction it would, but those could very well be jobs for Massachusetts workers. The proposed casino location is very close to the Mass border and workers could easily commute from Mass instead of being NH workers. Later, when the casino is in operation, it would hurt jobs in existing businesses. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston advises that a casino “may have no net ancillary economic impacts. Residents patronizing such casinos may simply substitute gambling for other goods and services.”

Supporters promise that there will be so much extra revenue that it will pay for widening I-93, and will fund school building aid, higher education, uncompensated hospital care, and economic development assistance to the North Country. To which another Democrat at the public hearing responded, “Poppycock.” Even if casino gambling brought in all the money the supporters imagine with none of the costly side effects that opponents fear, it still would not fund all of those. It might do a little here, a little there, but it could not do all of them. It would be roughly a 1% increase in state revenue.

Governor Hassan has been inviting freshmen Democrat representatives for one-on-one chats. If she is like too many politicians she will promise one thing to one representative, something else to another, promising whatever it takes to get the member’s vote, then be unable to deliver on her promises.

In July, 2009, Governor Lynch created a Gaming Study Commission (GSC). In May, 2010, the commission issued a 170 page report. One wonders if the authors of SB 152 ever read that report. In the short time that the House committee has been evaluating the bill, the committee discovered all sorts of problems. They had time enough to identify problems but one month was not enough time to find solutions.

Wise representatives will remind themselves of the old saying “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Rushing to pass a bill in the hope of receiving money quickly, instead of taking the time to fix the bill, is setting up the state for big problems later on.

UPDATE: The House voted 199-164 to kill the bill. I expected a closer vote.

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Down in Concord

“The difference between a politician and a pickpocket is that the pickpocket doesn’t get indignant when you tell him to keep his hands to himself.” — Joseph Sobran

The big news down in Concord is the gambling bill, SB 152. Of course, when I say “big news” what I mean is big political news because for most people anything political is by definition not important. Most of the time even the biggest political news is small potatoes compared to other news.

The special committee for this bill voted by the slimmest margin (23-22) that SB 152 was Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL). The full house will vote Wednesday, May 22, on the committee recommendation. Nobody is predicting which way the vote will go. Democrats are divided – the committee chairman wrote the report opposing the bill; a division chairman wrote the report in support. Republicans are similarly divided. The vote will be bipartisan for and against.

If members were to vote on the general idea of allowing a casino, they might vote yes. But they won’t be voting on an idea; they will be voting on a specific 41-page bill – and opponents think that the words of that bill are badly flawed.

Supporters of the bill claim that SB 152 would authorize “the licensing of one highly regulated, high-end destination casino through a competitive bidding process.” Opponents counter that the claim is laughable:

  1. it won’t be highly regulated because the regulatory process cannot be completed in time for the contract-signing timeline specified in the bill;
  2. it won’t be “high-end” at all because the money proposed to be spent on the casino is less than half what has been required for high-end casinos elsewhere;
  3. the bidding process is anything but competitive because the language of the bill was written by one particular bidder, Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas, and the terms cannot be satisfied by another bidder.

One of the sponsors of the bill stated that casino gambling would be similar to the lottery – there was much opposition in the beginning but it worked out okay. A major difference is that lottery machines are allowed in thousands of businesses all over the state. A casino would be a state-protected monopoly allowed in just one place. The monopoly aspect is one of the main reasons many members oppose the bill. There might be much more support for a bill that said slot machines (and other forms of gambling) were allowed anywhere with the payment of an up-front tax and a share of the take.

Supporters say that the casino would bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Opponents respond that it would reduce revenue from existing sources. Very few casino customers would come from Massachusetts where there will be bigger and brighter casinos. The customers would be NH citizens spending their money in slot machines instead of at local restaurants, theaters, and other entertainment sources. That would mean less Meals & Rentals tax receipts and less business tax revenue.

They say the casino would create many jobs. During construction it would, but those could very well be jobs for Massachusetts workers. The proposed casino location is very close to the Mass border and workers could easily commute from Mass instead of being NH workers. Later, when the casino is in operation, it would hurt jobs in existing businesses. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston advises that a casino “may have no net ancillary economic impacts. Residents patronizing such casinos may simply substitute gambling for other goods and services.”

Supporters promise that there will be so much extra revenue that it will pay for widening I-93, and will fund school building aid, higher education, uncompensated hospital care, and economic development assistance to the North Country. To which another Democrat at the public hearing responded, “Poppycock.” Even if casino gambling brought in all the money the supporters imagine with none of the costly side effects that opponents fear, it still would not fund all of those. It might do a little here, a little there, but it could not do all of them. It would be roughly a 1% increase in state revenue.

Governor Hassan has been inviting freshmen Democrat representatives for one-on-one chats. If she is like too many politicians she will promise one thing to one representative, something else to another, promising whatever it takes to get the member’s vote, then be unable to deliver on her promises.

In July, 2009, Governor Lynch created a Gaming Study Commission (GSC). In May, 2010, the commission issued a 170 page report. One wonders if the authors of SB 152 ever read that report. In the short time that the House committee has been evaluating the bill, the committee discovered all sorts of problems. They had time enough to identify problems but one month was not enough time to find solutions.

Wise representatives will remind themselves of the old saying “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Rushing to pass a bill in the hope of receiving money quickly, instead of taking the time to fix the bill, is setting up the state for big problems later on.

Down in Concord

“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.” — Ambrose Bierce
“Politics was never meant to be a profession.” — Duane Alan Hahn

Down in Concord, last week and next week seem fairly quiet, with no sessions either week. But it only seems quiet. The House and Senate finished acting on their own bills but now the surviving bills have crossed over – House bills to the Senate, Senate bills to the House – and the process starts all over.

The House started with 604 bills. It killed 248, passed 229, and “retained” 127. Just what is “retained”, you ask. Most bills are short, just a page or two long. And most bills are not brand new laws; they are modifications to existing laws. So most of the text of a bill is the current law with changes marked to show how the law would read if the bill is passed. It usually doesn’t take long to understand what a bill will do.

Some bills are longer and take more time to understand. Sometimes a bill is short and easy to understand but members are uncertain as to whether it is good or bad. Often they want to study what other states do in their laws, or read some analyses. When a committee wants more time to consider a bill it asks the full House to retain the bill. The committee works on the bill in the Spring and Fall, makes a recommendation in late Fall, and the House votes next January.

The Senate started with 202 bills. It killed 36, passed 147, and rereferred 19. “Rereferred” is the Senate’s word for “retained”. What surprised me in these numbers is that the Senate passed a much, much higher percentage of its bills than did the House. In the House the numbers killed and passed were roughly equal, and that was my impression also from the last two years. The Senate passed four times as many as it killed. I have not looked at previous bienniums (biennia?) to see if this is normal for the Senate.

Now the House is dealing with the 147 bills that passed the Senate and the Senate is dealing with the 229 bills that passed the House. The Senate now has more work to do in less time than at the start of the year – and three of those bills are the huge budget bills. The House has many fewer bills than it started the year with, so it will have some time to deal with its retained bills.

So, now that I have bored you with some of the arcane details of how our legislature does its work, what is happening next week? Not much. Down in Concord it’s fairly quiet. What!? Did I just waste four hundred words and precious minutes of your time only to repeat what I said in the beginning?

Okay, it’s not all that quiet. The House has 47 public hearings; the Senate 15. Every bill is interesting to someone, but most of these bills will be interesting to fairly few people. There are three bills that might be interesting to more than a few people – possibly even to a great many people.

The Senate is hearing HB 399, establishing the New Hampshire liberty act. This bill passed the House with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote because many people on both sides of the aisle are outraged by an assault on our rights. The federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2012 authorizes the arrest and indefinite detention without trial of American citizens on American soil. HB 399 declares that the NDAA violates many Constitutional rights, prohibits the State of New Hampshire from participating in any such arrests, and urges the Attorney General to file suit challenging the Constitutionality of that law.

The House has a public hearing on SB 126, a special interest bill for car dealers. Auto manufacturers require as part of their contracts with dealers that the dealers periodically do things that the car dealers say are stupid, that cost lots of money, and that don’t help sell cars. The car dealers don’t like these contracts and are asking the legislature to change the law to make parts of their contracts illegal. Gee, I wonder if ordinary people could get a law making parts of our contracts illegal, e.g. an auto purchase agreement is illegal unless it includes lifetime gasoline and free service?

House leaders expect a huge crowd for the hearing on SB 152, authorizing Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas to build one casino in Salem, NH. That is not precisely what the bill states but it might as well be. The wording, said to have been written by Millennium’s lobbyists, is so restrictive and the bill has such tight deadlines that it is impossible for any other potential casino company to compete against Millennium.

Members of both parties are divided on the general question of casino gambling. On specifically this bill, some members are asking, “How come only Salem? How about Manchester or how about the North Country?” Other members oppose the idea of granting a monopoly to one specific company. If gambling is a good thing then allow it anywhere; if it is bad prohibit it everywhere. If this bill is passed, it will be legal to play poker at the casino, but illegal to play poker in your own home.