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.

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Down in Concord

“To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.”
– Mark Twain

The House and Senate are winding down. The House meets in a short session May 29 to deal with a dozen bills it did not get to last week due to lengthy debate on bills such as the casino gambling bill. You probably heard that it was defeated by a large margin. I had thought the vote would be close.

Of the roughly 800 bills at the start of the year, the Governor has signed 32. Another 137 have passed both the House and Senate and are on their way to or on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature.

House and Senate committees are still considering some 30 bills, including the two huge budget bills. The deadline for the House or Senate to vote on all bills is June 6. Then they have three weeks to resolve differences between House versions and Senate versions. June 27th, if everything goes according to plan, the legislature will have finished all its business and the people will again be safe. (“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”)

Technically, the legislature is in session 24/7. It never adjourns; it goes into recess. Huh?  “Wait a minute,” you say. “I’ve heard motions to adjourn.” Ah, but you only think you heard motions to adjourn. They weren’t really motions to adjourn. Well, sort of.

One of the surprising things the House does as the first item of business every session day is a motion to adjourn. Huh? At the beginning of the day it adjourns??? Yep. And at the end of the day there is a second motion to adjourn, but it doesn’t really adjourn. What you see when hundreds of members are present and conducting business, that is what is called the “early” session. At the end of the day, the House adjourns from the early session, only to enter the “late” session.

When the House meets, usually on a Wednesday, the first thing it does is adjourn from the previous late session. Then it begins the early session. At the end of the day, the House adjourns from the early session, and enters the late session. At that time, you may occasionally hear a speech or two on “unanimous consent”, often to memorialize some person(s).

Last week, members spoke about Memorial Day. By all appearances those speeches were part of that day’s session. But the early session had actually adjourned; those remarks were part of the late session. At the end of the day, the House recessed. As of this writing, the House is still in the late session of May 22, and will continue that day’s session until it adjourns at the beginning of May 29, to begin a new session day.

So why is there a late session? Why is the House still in session on a Sunday? The House actually conducts legislative business during the late session. If you listen carefully at the end of day (when the House has adjourned from the early session, and is in the late session) there is a motion to recess for “purposes of … enrolled bill amendments, enrolled bill reports …”.

After a bill has passed both the House and Senate, it goes through the enrolled bill process. A team of lawyers in the Office of Legislative Services (OLS), carefully examines every word, every piece of punctuation. On occasion there is a misspelling, wrong punctuation, two words run together, or some sort of tiny error. If they find an error, they write an amendment to fix it. The OLS staff cannot fix substantive errors but they can fix tiny errors that do not affect the meaning of a bill.

To be more precise, the OLS staff cannot by themselves even dot an “i” or cross a “t”. They can draft an amendment but only the legislature can approve the amendment. The House and the Senate have to vote on the amendment. Even if the OLS staff find no errors, the House and Senate have to vote on the report that there are no errors.

One of the neat things about the late session is that a mere two members can act for the entire body of 400 Representatives (or 24 Senators). One member acts as the Speaker of the House, the other member acts for the entire House. One day I happened to be in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) after most other Reps had left, when a staff member and one of my colleagues entered with some paperwork and said, “Oh, there’s a member.” My colleague told me I was about to be the House; he was the temporary Speaker. He called the House (i.e. me) to order, recognized me to offer an Enrolled Bill Amendment, and then to vote on it. Then he declared the House in recess. The same thing happened on the Senate side, then the bill headed to the Governor’s desk.

The late session allows for small but important business to be conducted between “real” sessions.

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.

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

“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

“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.

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.