ObamaCare problems and solutions

“A government which robs Peter to pay Paul, can always count on the support of Paul.” — George Bernard Shaw

“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Do you remember that promise? President Obama spoke those words dozens of times. Well, it wasn’t true – and he knew it. His own Department of HHS estimated and published in the Federal Register in 2010 that 93 million Americans would have their policies canceled in order to meet the requirements of ObamaCare. For the next three years, Obama continued to tell people they could keep their plans, even though he knew it was not true.

The fact checking organization, PolitiFact, rated Obama’s statement as “Lie of the Year” for 2013. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave it four Pinocchios and also ranked it “Lie of the Year.”

New Hampshire’s Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter joined in Obama’s lie of the year, repeating it many times. It is possible that they did not know it was a lie, but they certainly should have known it.

Then last year, cancellation letters went out to some 4 million Americans. Millions of people were perfectly happy with their plans, but the ObamaCare law did not allow them to keep their plans. Virtually every major NH newspaper has run stories about the turmoil caused by ObamaCare-mandated cancellations.

People lost the plans they liked, may have lost their nearby hospital, may have lost the doctor they’d been visiting for decades. In New Hampshire, the one and only insurer on the ObamaCare exchange nixed 10 of the 26 New Hampshire hospitals. In parts of the state, you may have to drive 2 or 3 hours, halfway across the state to go to a new hospital, driving right by your old, much closer hospital. Some people had to give up the doctor they have been seeing for decades and find a new doctor perhaps hours away.

Even worse is that the new ObamaCare policies don’t cover care in hospitals outside NH. Some of the best doctors and hospitals in the country are in Boston, but NH citizens cannot go there. The Union Leader reported about a woman who was told by her Nashua hospital that her cancer was untreatable. Under her old insurance she was allowed to go to a Massachusetts hospital for treatment and now three years later she is doing well. Under her new ObamaCare insurance she would be dead.

And then there are the premiums and deductibles. I have talked with people who say the combination of higher premiums and higher deductibles is costing them an extra $1,000 per month. I asked an insurance agent if her clients were seeing increases like that. She responded that most were not quite that high, but she could believe that some were paying that much extra. Another insurance agent told me that his clients were seeing up to a 100% increase but the average was about 20% to 40% increase. 

Nationally, Aetna’s CEO reported that premiums have increased an average of 30% to 40%. He also reported seeing lower employment overall and more part-time employment. A large union similarly reported seeing a shift to part-time work by companies seeking to avoid ObamaCare’s requirements. The Congressional Budget Office recently predicted that ObamaCare during the next ten years will cause job losses equivalent to 2.5 million people.
 
It’s no surprise that a recent Gallup poll found that more than twice as many Americans say that ObamaCare has hurt them or their families compared to the number it has helped. It might be a surprise that most (63%) say it has made little difference but that is only a matter of time. Most people get their insurance via their employer and that part of ObamaCare has been delayed and delayed – for political reasons.

As the New York Times reported, “[The recent change] is designed to provide political cover for Democratic senators facing tough re-election campaigns.” The law as written would have had millions more cancellation notices going out a month or two before Election Day. So with a stroke of his pen, without any authority granted to him, Obama decided to change the law so that the cancellation notices would go out AFTER the election.

The Wall Street Journal notes that “if [ObamaCare] were really working the way it should, senators who voted for it wouldn’t be running away from it, and the administration wouldn’t be forced to choose between enforcing its provisions and protecting the Democratic majority.”

As much as nervous politicians are shying away from ObamaCare, so also are the uninsured. The Washington Post reports that “The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys. Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month.”

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. NH Democratic leadership seems oblivious to any problems with ObamaCare, jobs, and the economy. NH Republicans know that there are problems and that we can help solve those problems. The guiding principle is that people should be able to choose what they want, not what some politicians in Washington tell them they should want.

Millennials Are Tiring of Liberal Failures

National Review predicts that 2014 will be “the year that a majority of millennials become disillusioned with their allegiance to today’s liberal movement and look elsewhere for political relevance.”

A poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics found strong majorities – nearly 2:1 – opposing Obama’s handling of the economy, health care, and the federal deficit. “A majority of Americans under age 25–the youngest millennials–would favor throwing Obama out of office.”

The Pajama Boy ObamaCare ads did not go over well with millennials.

The real Pajama Boy has a 50 percent chance of being unemployed or underemployed, on average is laden with thousands of dollars of student-loan debt, and is increasingly likely to still live at home with his parents.

Millennials “realize that a government that can’t design a website can’t be expected to manage the intricacies of the entire health-care industry. In the wake of the news that the NSA collects mountains of metadata, they also fret that the government that wants you to talk about health care could (with a warrant) listen in on that very conversation.”

Other data suggest that millennials share conservative views of government:

  • 51% believe that when government runs something, it is usually wasteful and inefficient
  • 86% support private Social Security accounts
  • 74% would change Medicare so people can buy private insurance
  • 63% support free trade
  • only 38% support affirmative action

Here is the opening for conservatives to win back millennials. “Conservatives must offer positive, uplifting solutions that emphasize upward mobility, opportunity, and personal liberty through education, job creation, and reforming the over-intrusive federal government.”

Democrats Are the Out-of-Touch Extremists

The public overwhelmingly believes the country is headed in the wrong direction, that current economic policies aren’t working, that President Obama is doing a bad job, that government should be smaller and that ObamaCare should be repealed. But not Democrats.

Those are findings from a new poll by Investor’s Business Daily. On issue after issue, large majorities of the public tilt one way, but the Democrats tilt the other way.

Is the country headed in the right direction? 64% say no. Among Independents, 71% say we are headed in the wrong direction along with 92% of Republicans. But 66% of Democrats think we are headed in the right direction.

On all of the poll’s questions, Independents aligned with Republicans and against Democrats.

Scott Walker: stand on conservative principles

In a WSJ op-ed, Gov. Scott Walker says that the way he won the center, even including many Obama supporters, was by showing “the courage to stand on principle”. Against enormous pressure, he stood up for conservative principles.

The way Republicans can win those in the middle is not by abandoning their principles. To the contrary, the courage to stand on principle is what these voters respect. The way to win the center is to lead.

That’s why those arguing that conservatives have to “moderate” their views if they want to appeal to the country are so wrong. If our principles were the problem, then why are so many Republican governors winning elections by campaigning on them? Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, the GOP has gone from controlling both the legislature and governor’s mansion in nine states to 23 states today. Not one sitting Republican governor has lost a general election since 2007.

Republicans did not win those races by running from principles. They won by applying principles in ways that are relevant to the lives of citizens.

… Republicans focus on improving education, caring for the poor, reforming government, lowering taxes, fixing entitlements, reducing dependency, improving health care, and creating jobs and opportunity for the unemployed.

Republicans need to do more than simply say no to Mr. Obama and his party’s big-government agenda. They can offer Americans positive solutions for the nation’s challenges—to reduce dependency, and create hope, opportunity, and upward mobility for all citizens. They need to make not just the economic case for conservative reforms but the moral case as well—showing how conservative policies and ideas will make America not only a more prosperous society but a more just and fair one as well.

Too many people in politics today spend their time trying not to lose instead of trying to do the right thing. They would better serve the country by worrying more about the next generation than the next election. The irony is that politicians who spend more time worrying about the next generation than about the next election often tend to win the next election—because voters are starved for leadership.

We are a caring and generous society

“The history of recent decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.” — Thomas Sowell

According to an old story, a small town in Italy was having a problem with vipers. So the town council established a “viper bounty” to pay people for bringing in dead vipers. The result was that people started breeding vipers in their basements.

This illustrates one of the basic laws of economics: People respond to incentives. They do more of something when the reward increases; they do less of something when the penalty or cost increases.

Much of our public policy suffers from a failure to understand the basics of human behavior. Politicians perceive a problem, rush to pass a law that sounds good, pat themselves on the back, then go on to the next problem. They rarely look back to examine whether their “solution” actually fixed the problem or made it worse. If the program doesn’t work, their answer always is that it needs more money. They never admit that they were wrong.

Consider our many programs to help the poor and vulnerable. We are a caring and generous society. We donate hundreds of billions of dollars and countless millions of hours of our time to helping others. Caring for the vulnerable attracts almost universal support. But good intentions don’t automatically produce good policies.

Shouldn’t the goal of our anti-poverty programs be to help people move up out of poverty? Most if not all of the programs don’t even try to reduce poverty. Instead, they simply hand out money so the poor will be a little less destitute. Those unfortunate people remain in or near poverty, dependent on government sometimes for their entire lives – and their children’s lives.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “They want to give you a line where you can wait for a handout… I want to offer you a ladder so you can reach for your dreams.” Democrats measure success by how many people receive assistance. Republicans measure success by how many people no longer need assistance.

The myriad of welfare programs reward people for being poor and penalize those who try to move out of poverty and up the income ladder. Someone who works harder, takes a second job, learns more skills, might earn $10,000 more but lose $15,000 of benefits. Hence, many say “I can’t afford to take that job. I’d lose my benefits!” With perverse incentives like these it is no wonder that we have more people in poverty and fewer people making the effort to better themselves.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recognized the problem: “This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.”

Democrats like to claim that they are for the poor, that Republicans are for the rich. The truth is that we Republicans are for all people to have the opportunity to become rich. The Democrats are for policies that keep people poor. If they really cared for the poor, they would fix a system that traps people in poverty. They would reward, not penalize, people who try to better themselves and escape poverty.

Bad policies are condemning people to lifelong poverty, trapping them there, and killing all hope of a better life.

Three simple rules will keep most people out of poverty: “finish high school, get a full-time job, and wait until age 21 to get married and have children.” Follow all three rules and you have just a 2% chance of falling into poverty. Break all three rules and your chance of winding up in poverty is 76%. Tragically, government policies create incentives to break all three rules.

Welfare programs pay more to a teenage girl who has children, and pay less if she gets married, thus violating the third rule. ObamaCare provides a terrible incentive for businesses to limit employees to part-time work. This year 96% of all new jobs are part-time jobs, making it very hard to follow the second rule.

But the worst incentive of all is the government school system in too many parts of the country. In the inner cities the school systems are so bad that half the children drop out before they graduate and half those who do graduate are functionally illiterate. They will never get a decent job or a shot at the American dream.

The politicians and even the teachers know that the schools are terrible. That is why they send their own kids to private or parochial schools. Parents cry out for voucher programs that would let them send their kids to the same good schools that the politicians and teachers use for their kids. But the politicians and teachers care more about teachers’ jobs than they care about the kids whose lives they are destroying.

Did I mention which party runs all of these cities, has held the mayoralties, the city councils, the school boards for more than fifty years? Democrats run the welfare and school systems; they have created the policies that ruin the lives of the recipients of their handouts. And these are the people who say they care for the poor. They like the poor so much that they want more of them.

Some good news from the elections

Republicans did well in many unexpected places:

GOP sweeps Erie County (NY)

County Republicans scored an election sweep Tuesday, winning control of the County Legislature while retaining the offices of sheriff and comptroller in the Democratic stronghold of Erie County.

In New York, Republicans re-elected county executives in Westchester and Nassau Counties, captured the mayoralty in Binghamton and a majority of the county legislature in Erie County for the first time since 1977, and won a special election for the state Assembly in Suffolk County.

The common denominator of winning Republicans in the Empire State was opposition to taxes and championship of small government.

In Connecticut, Republicans had an extraordinary Tuesday as they swept the shoreline of the Nutmeg State and won mayoral races in such blue-collar Democratic bastions as Bristol, Meriden, and New Britain.

“You could say ‘a star is born’ in New Britain, which has a Democratic voter registration edge of 6-to-1,” state Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola, Jr. told Newsmax. He was referring to 26-year-old Erin Stewart, who unseated Democratic Mayor Tim O’Brien in one of the biggest upsets anywhere in the nation Tuesday.

Colorado income tax hike lost big. An almost $1 billion tax increase “on the rich” and “for the kids” (i.e. for the teachers’ unions) lost by almost 2:1. Supporters spent about $10 million to the opponents’ $11,000.
Even in Virginia there were some silver linings. You probably know that the Republican was outspent more than 2:1, that there was a faux-Libertarian (funded by a Democrat), who took many more votes than the margin of difference. You may not have heard that the Republican won the Independent vote and won married women.
To the extent that Virginia says anything nationally, and it’s easy to over-interpret it, it says that even an outspent and outgunned candidate leading a divided party can make serious headway just by pounding a single issue: Obamacare.
  • Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe
  • Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money

Democrat Gov. Shumlin (VT) says that the McAuliffe race will be the model for 2014. Republican strategists replied:

that they wouldn’t be concerned if Democrats used the McAuliffe model in upcoming elections, noting that he lost married women, health care voters and independents while outspending Cuccinelli by a wide margin to win the election by just 2.5 percentage points.

“unfree nation supervised by an overweening and bloated bureaucracy”

[They] see the uninterrupted forward march of the American left. Entitlement spending never stopped growing. The regulatory state continued to expand. The national debt grew and grew and finally in the Obama years, exploded. They see an American population becoming unrecognizable from the free and self-reliant people they thought they knew. And they see the Republican Party as having utterly failed to stop the drift toward an unfree nation supervised by an overweening and bloated bureaucracy. They are not interested in Republican policies that merely slow the growth of this leviathan. They want to stop it and reverse it. And they want to show their supporters they’ll try anything to bring that about. (my emphasis)

That Brit Hume commentary has it just about right. Too many Republicans, especially in Washington, are content with Big Government as long as they have a hand in running it. The grassroots and, polls show, the American people prefer smaller government:

far more voters continue to favor a smaller government with fewer services than a bigger government that provides more services. — Pew Research Center

 

Another great column from Mark Steyn

The least dispiriting moment of another grim week in Washington was the sight of ornery veterans tearing down the Barrycades around the war memorials on the National Mall, dragging them up the street and dumping them outside the White House. This was, as Kevin Williamson wrote at National Review, “as excellent a gesture of the American spirit as our increasingly docile nation has seen in years.”

Read the whole thing. Here are some pull quotes:

  • Folding is what Republicans do. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are so good at folding Obama should hire them as White House valets.
  • without meaningful course correction, America is doomed.
  • we are on course to becoming the first nation of negative-millionaires.
  • These days, it’s not clear to me that the Republican Party functions as a pro-American right.

 

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

“Politicians are interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.” — P.J. O’Rourke

Every so often someone writes yet another column asking “Why can’t Republicans and Democrats get along? Can’t they talk to each other, work together, find a compromise?” The short answer is “We do, most of the time.” A second answer is “There are times when we should not.”

The simple truth is that NH legislators do work together, are very civil to each other (with rare, though well publicized, exceptions), and often become life-long friends. Anyone who says otherwise either has not observed first hand how the legislature works or is trying to make a political point. All too often, it is a mixture of both. Someone starts a narrative about the mean old nasty so and so party, repeats it over and over again, then people with no first hand knowledge come to believe it. (After all, politicians never lie.)

Let’s start with some anecdotal evidence, then some numbers. Earlier this year I went down to Concord to testify against a bill. It happened that one of my former colleagues, a very left Democrat, also testified against that same bill and he happened to go first. Later, when I testified, I remarked that this was the first time in two years that he and I had agreed on a bill. Later, we met out in the hall and laughed together. We encouraged each other to convince other members of our two parties. (The bill was eventually defeated with a bipartisan vote.)

Last session, a hard left Democrat and a hard right Republican worked closely together on a particular bill. Coincidentally, the two were geographically on the far left and far right sides of the state. They both worked very hard to pass their bill; they managed one of the rare instances of overturning a committee recommendation on the House floor. I was happy to work with both of them on that bill. Later the two of them worked together on another bill.

Now let’s look at some numbers. This year the House and Senate passed 281 bills. A full 188 of those bills, were passed by the House on the Consent Calendar. For those who may not have read my previous columns, suffice it to say that bills on Consent have all but unanimous support. Two-thirds of all the bills that were passed, were unanimous. (And of the bills that were killed, many, perhaps most, were also unanimous.)

So any time you hear complaints about legislators being mean and nasty to each other, not working together, please realize that it is almost always someone trying to stir up trouble for partisan advantage. The truth is that they DO work together, usually in a collegial, respectful atmosphere.

But there are times when they should not compromise. Suppose a Democrat and a Republican decide to drive down to New York City. For those who are geographically impaired, NYC is mostly South and a little West of us. Now let’s suppose that the two politicians approach an intersection. The Democrat wants to turn left and head North; the Republican wants to turn right and head South. Should they compromise and head East?

On some issues the division is just as stark as the choice between driving North or South – it makes no sense to compromise on East.

Republicans, generally speaking, want to cut taxes; Democrats want to increase taxes. This year Democrats pushed hard for an increase in the gas tax of 15 cents. They later offered a compromise of 12 cents. Why should Republicans compromise on any increase at all, when what we really want is to reduce taxes?

Democrats for the most part want bigger, more powerful government. Republicans want smaller, limited government. How can the two sides compromise when they are such opposites? (Historically, Republicans have compromised on a little bigger here, a little bigger there – which is one reason many people think there is little difference between the two parties.)

Affordable health care is a nice goal. The two parties have opposite solutions. Democrats thought the solution was to write a 2,000+ page bill, write tens of thousands of pages of regulations, hire 10,000 IRS agents. Now even many of the original supporters realize that Obamacare is a train wreck in progress.

Republicans know that the solution to more affordable, higher quality health care is a free market, with many providers competing to find the best solution at the best price. This approach has proven to work and is working today in those places where government regulations allow it.

Some Democrats call for compromise on so-called “gun safety.” What they fail to understand is that the criminals don’t obey the existing 10,000 laws and won’t obey one additional gun law. Republicans understand that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Republicans believe that self-defense is a fundamental right, that a woman has the right to choose whether to carry a handgun to protect herself against a rapist. Would Democrats compromise and allow any woman for her safety and the safety of her children to carry a concealed weapon without a permit?

Democrats and Republicans do compromise on a large majority of bills, but on some issues they cannot and should not compromise.

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

“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.

Best and worst states for business

The ten best states for business are all run by Republican governors. Chief Executive magazine surveyed 736 CEOs and asked them to grade the states on a variety of indicators such as “taxation and regulation”, “people’s general work ethic and education attainment”, “perceived quality of education and public health facilities, as well as the affordability and quality of real estate, the transportation system and related environmental factors.”

The four worst states for doing business: California, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts are all run by Democrats. Not surprisingly, companies and people are moving out of those states and moving to states that offer better opportunities.

Not so coincidentally, the four poorest cities according to a Census Bureau report – Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Milwaukee – are all run by Democrats and have been for as long as fifty years.

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.

Blue states sinking, Red states rising

People are moving away from blues states such as California, New York, and Illinois. They are moving to red states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Those eight states – all with GOP governors – were labeled by Chief Executive magazine as business-friendly. The states with the worst business policies were Massachusetts, Illinois, New York and California.

Republican policies are succeeding at the state level. Perhaps if the national GOP wants to succeed, it should listen more to GOP governors and less to consultants.

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.

Down in Concord

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
— P. J. O’Rourke

Due to the cancelation of last Wednesday’s session (February 27), not much has changed since my previous column. There are very few hearings next week and none is particularly interesting.

In last week’s column I wrote about HB 617, raising the gas tax by a whopping 83%! The House will vote on 3/6 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. I have more to say about the gas tax below.

Last week, I forecast that four gun bills, two bad ones, two good ones, would be recommended Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) by the committee. I have heard that is what happened although not by the numbers I guessed. The official sources do not yet show the committee report, so I can’t verify the unofficial report.

HB 544, repealing the prohibition on a state health exchange (part of Obamacare) and HB 606, relative to community rating, both had public hearings last week and are scheduled for Executive Session, Tuesday 3/5. I expect the committee Democrats to approve the bad HB 544 and to kill the good HB 606.

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. (Repeat.)

Due to the lighter amount of information this week, I am breaking format to include an op-ed I wrote against the gas tax.

Gas tax not needed

If Rep. Campbell and Gov. Hassan were seriously interested in finding more money for roads and bridges, they would find it right in front of their eyes, without having to dig into the pockets of struggling taxpayers. It’s right in Hassan’s budget proposal. The Highway Fund has about $241 million. Hassan’s budget allocates just 67% of that money to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The other one-third of the fund goes to things having nothing to do with constructing or maintaining roads and bridges.

Current law (RSA 9:9-b) requires that not less than 73% of Highway Funds shall be allocated to the DOT. Hassan takes only 67% – she starts out by underfunding roads and bridges, considerably below what the law requires. What the legislature and Governor should do as Step 1 is to allocate 100% of the Highway funds to the DOT. That would be a dramatic increase in money for fixing and improve our highway infrastructure. There would be no need for a massive increase – almost doubling – of the gas tax.

From the Democrats’ perspective the problem with using the Highway Fund only for highways – actually using a fund for its intended purpose – is that it removes any excuse for increasing taxes. They would have more than enough money for their stated purpose – constructing and maintaining our roads and bridges – so they would have to find some other excuse to increase taxes.

More and more it appears that Campbell’s major goal is to get more money – almost one billion dollars – in the hands of government rather than leave it in the hands of struggling taxpayers. In a now infamous letter to fellow Democrats, Campbell describes the gas tax as “the gift that keeps on giving.” The tax will provide “bonus monies” such as $658,000 annually in General Fund revenue, $1,251,000 for Fish & Game, and $593,000 for DRED/Trails. These are not appropriate recipients of gas tax money.

If Democrats truly believe that spending more money on Fish and Game and on DRED trails is a high priority, then let them work with the money currently available from hard-working taxpayers, let them show their priorities in their budget. Find lower priority items where they can reduce spending and then they can spend more on high-priority items.

The last time Democrats controlled the New Hampshire House, they greatly increased spending, then raised more than 100 taxes to pay for it. Now that they are back in charge, it seems they still want to spend more and more money, then raise taxes to pay for it. That seems to be their only tune. Many of us will be watching how they want to spend the taxpayers’ money and what priorities they set in the budget.

How Republicans can get cool

From Glenn Reynolds (InstaPundit) in NY Post:

Republicans do badly with young voters, and one of the main reasons is that they’re seen as uncool. This is probably unfair — it’s not Republicans who are imposing college speech codes on students — but it’s the perception.

As a reader of my blog named Jeff Wimble wrote:

“Everything comes down to the movie ‘Footloose.’ For a large majority of people,the political question is, ‘How would the sanctimonious preacher from the movie ‘Footloose’ feel about this subject?’ They answer the question, and then take the opposite position.

“This mind-set is absolutely ingrained in a lot of people my age (a couple of years younger than Gen-X). For every preachy moral conservative I’ve met in real life, I’ve seen 20 on TV. For each Baptist I know in real life, I’ve seen 10 in movies. To me, they are all the preacher from ‘Footloose.’ ”

In real life, I don’t know any Republicans like that. To the contrary, we are the party working for more liberty, to reduce the control government has over our lives. The Democrats are the ones continually taking more and more power for government.

Nonetheless, the media do their best to give the impression that Republicans are preachy moral types. Reynolds suggests that the GOP can do more to counter that impression.

Read the rest…

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.

Down in Concord

“Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”
— Will Rogers

To date, the House has passed 50 bills – some good, some bad. It has killed 53 – some bad, some good. That leaves only about 490 House bills left to consider. And then the House will consider Senate bills and vice versa.

For legislative nerds such as myself, there was one fun outcome. HB 136 (sponsored by a Democrat) proposed to increase the pay for State Reps to attend meetings of the county convention. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government unanimously recommended in favor of this bill, and further recommended that it be placed on the Consent Calendar.

What, pray tell, is the Consent Calendar? I’m glad you asked. Every week, generally on Thursdays, the House Clerk publishes a calendar of legislative events for the following week. (You can see them at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/default.htm.) The three main sections of the calendar are the Consent Calendar, the Regular Calendar, and Committee Meetings.

Items on the Consent Calendar are considered non-controversial, not needing further debate, and are handled with a single voice vote for the entire group of items. Bills on the Regular Calendar are subject to separate debate and separate votes. Any one Representative may “pull” an item off of the Consent Calendar and have it discussed at the end of the Regular Calendar.

HB 136 was pulled off of Consent by a Representative who was not comfortable with the idea of Reps voting themselves a pay increase while voting for budget cuts in their counties. After several Reps spoke against the bill, it was defeated on a roll call of nearly 2-1 (116-228).

It is rare for a bill to be pulled from Consent, even rarer for the full House to overturn a committee recommendation. So the defeat of this bill – well deserved – was fun to see. It may be the last time that happens this year.

The House thankfully killed HB 168, which would have increased the beer tax, and killed CACR 2, which would have led to increased taxes. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it also killed CACR 1, which would have made it harder to increase taxes.

Also not surprisingly, the House killed HB 323, which would have given workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Should people be forced to join a union in order to work for the state government?

By a narrow margin (186-165), mostly on party lines, the House passed HB 185, which increases by 25% a tax on fuel oil. The bill now goes to a second committee, where there is a (slim) possibility the tax can be killed. Most bills go to just one committee, then to the House floor, and then if passed, to the Senate. Bills that raise or spend money go to a second committee. HB 185 first went to the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. Now that it has been approved by the full House, it goes to the Ways & Means committee, then back to the House for a second vote.

Four bills from last week’s column will get floor votes on Wednesday, February 20. HB 330, which would have allowed a county income tax almost surely will be killed. That is the only good news. HB 335, which would have blocked an increase in the tobacco tax, probably will be killed on a near party line vote. Republicans oppose a tax increase because it will particularly hurt the poor, and because it will hurt business in towns close to the borders, where neighboring states’ residents come to shop.

Democrats oppose HB 335 and oppose HB 354, which would have reduced the Business Enterprise Tax, because they think with higher tax rates they will get more money for them to spend. They don’t realize that slightly lower taxes now can encourage more businesses to open or expand in NH, thus increasing tax revenue in the future.

HB 370 would repeal school choice for lower income families. The current Education Tax Credit allows businesses to donate money to a scholarship organization, and then take a partial credit against their business taxes for their donation. The scholarships are targeted toward families with below-average income. Recipients can send their kids to a public charter school, to a different public school, or to a private or parochial school.

Democrats proposed HB 370 to repeal the Education Tax Credit. For a party that claims to believe in a woman’s right to choose, the Democrats oppose a woman’s right to choose what school to send her children to. They think the government should make that choice for her, based solely on her zip code, not on what is best for her children. They claim that the program costs money that should be spent on public schools, but the fiscal analysis shows that repealing the program will actually cost the state money.

The repeal probably will pass the House on a party line vote. If you believe in lower-income families having more choice about which school is best for their children, there is still time for you to contact your Reps and ask them to oppose this bill.

The week of February 19-22, there will be another 113 public hearings, and the House will vote on 74 more bills. Here are some of the more interesting hearings:

Tuesday, 2/19 10:30 in LOB (Legislative Office Building) room 201 – HB 617, increasing the gasoline tax and registration fees. Anyone who wants to testify can just show up and sign in, then wait your turn.

Wednesday, 2/20 9:15 LOB 102 – SB 183, repealing photo ID for voting.

Thursday 2/21 10:00 in Representatives’ Hall, HB 290 and then HB 609, both having to do with carrying firearms. They obviously expect a very large turnout to have scheduled Reps’ Hall instead of a normal LOB committee room.

HB 290 would prohibit unlicensed persons from openly carrying a pistol or revolver in a public building. The sponsors clearly don’t understand this simple truth: law-abiding citizens obey the law, criminals ignore the law. Criminals don’t openly carry weapons; they carry concealed without a license. This bill would take defensive weapons away from the good guys and do nothing to take guns away from the bad guys.

HB 609 would allow the voters of each school district to authorize licensed school employees to carry a concealed weapon on school property. We all hope that the occasion will never arise where a criminal intent on mass murder makes his way into a school, but if the unthinkable happens, would you want a licensed school employee to be able to stop the murderer? This bill does not mandate concealed weapons; it lets the voters of each district make that decision. This is local control as it should be. One other point – some bad guys will be deterred just by the thought that some adults might be armed, even if in fact nobody is actually armed.

In the coming weeks we will learn more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget. Already it is apparent that her revenue estimates are unrealistically high. Legislators will have to make some hard spending choices that she avoided making.

Down in Concord

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” — Mark Twain

Down in Concord, our State Reps have filed 581 bills, State Senators 142. Public hearings have been held on 308, another 195 are scheduled for this week. The full House has voted on 26, and will vote on another 49 this Wednesday.

Perhaps none of these bills is a danger to our lives, but many are a threat to our liberty or our property. Some few bills would expand our liberty and protect our property but those likely will not pass. As Thomas Jefferson observed, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
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52 Percent of Americans Say Sandy Hook Is Being Exploited for Political Gain. 70 percent of 18-24 year-olds and 58 percent of 25-34 year-olds say “assault weapons should be allowed.” Just 27 percent of Americans say the 1994 federal assault weapons ban would’ve helped avoid the tragedy if it were still in place. Over two-thirds, 67 percent, say the ban would not have helped avoid the shooting.