Ken Wells' Report from Concord
written September 23, 2019
published in the October issue of the Andover Beacon
The Legislature has supposedly been on recess since June, but I have actually been extremely busy in Concord since then. Undoubtedly you will have read that during the recess, the Governor vetoed 55 bills that had passed with majorities in both the House and Senate, many of them with overwhelming bipartisan support. Depending on your ideology, you might think vetoes are great, or you might think they are undemocratic. In this article, I will explain some of the possible consequences and follow-up to the vetoes.
To understand how we got to the place we are today, a vital piece of information is that Democrats have been elected by the NH people to occupy 58% of the seats in both House and Senate, so they have been able to win the simple majority on bills passed during the regular session. However, to override a gubernatorial veto, a vote of ⅔ of those present is required, so Republicans need to also support the bills if an override is to be achieved. So far, enough House Republicans crossed over to override the Governor on only three issues, resulting in abolition of the death penalty in NH, an elimination of a three-month waiting period before a doctor can prescribe medical marijuana to a new qualified patient, and a law allowing qualified medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants. This last bill did not get sufficient Republican votes in the Senate however, and the Governor’s veto of it was sustained. An additional 22 bills vetoes were sustained, so they are now dead. By the time you read this, another special House session will have decided the fate of the rest of the 55 vetoed bills.
In the past week, I have received dozens of requests from constituents, imploring me to vote to override one or another of the Governor’s 55 vetoes. I still think of myself as a teacher and active community member more than as a politician, but I do believe this is what politics is about: listening to the voices of you, the people in our district, and presenting your case in Concord. I do not merely follow party lines, but I have tried to vote with the wishes expressed to me by people who have reached out to me in the Andover, Danbury & Salisbury district. As your Representatives, David Karrick and I have worked very hard toward supporting our schools, getting property tax relief and supporting biomass for renewable energy and local jobs. Unfortunately Governor Sununu used his veto and tough political tactics within his own party to derail these efforts.
“Politician” has become a pejorative term for manipulative and devious people. Regrettably, I have encountered too many examples of that type of politician / lobbyist around the State House, but that’s a story for another article.
I have heard directly from Representatives who are my friends on the other side of the aisle that the Governor called them personally and harangued them, not to vote for the best interests of their constituents, but to support him and his vetoes. They were told flat out that if they do not vote to sustain his vetoes, they could expect a primary re-election challenge from their own party in 2020. The Governor is an accomplished politician, and his undemocratic arm-twisting seemed to work. Good-sense bills that breezed through the House with fewer than 100 votes in opposition suddenly had more than 150 votes in opposition to a veto, and were quashed by veto. The biomass bill HB183 was one of these. As a result, all of the biomass generation plants will remain shut and timberland owners will probably shift from sustainable harvests, to “cashing out” and clearing land for house lots, or to a cessation of forestry activity until conditions are more favorable. These outcomes will not be good for the livelihoods of many of our families, friends and neighbors.
There was insufficient Republican support to override the Governor’s vetoes of many other good bills, and they also fell short of the ⅔ majority to override the vetoes. Some important vetoes sustained include the entire state budget, a bill to establish an independent commission to address gerrymandering of voting districts, and a bill that would reopen the wood chip fired electric generation plants that underpin the forestry industry in our district. The vetoed budget would have ensured, among dozens of items, family medical leave insurance. The vetoed budget would have put the brakes on the Governor’s scheme for year-after-year tax reductions for out-of-state corporations. Governor Sununu’s veto means your property taxes will have to increase to pay for the lost revenue due to his corporate tax breaks. The vetoed budget had proposed a revenue-sharing program that would have added a total of $318,000 of state money to the combined elementary and middle school budgets for the towns of Andover, Danbury and Salisbury. This was also vetoed. It appears the Governor has won, but also clear that we, the people of NH, have lost. One might ask, where is that money going to go instead? The answer is, “away”.
It would be reasonable to expect that after the Governor’s veto, budget negotiations would proceed somewhat similarly to the way you or I might bargain over the price of a used car: One side makes an offer, the other says “no” and makes a compromise counter-offer, and then the parties repeat this back-and-forth until an agreement is reached, or the prospective buyer walks away. Through his veto of the budget, the Governor has merely said, “no”, but has not followed up with a serious compromise counter-offer. It seems he is taking a page from Washington’s brinksmanship playbook, “walking away” and maneuvering our state toward a government shut-down. At the end of the month the state will be without an operating budget, so our towns will be unable to write their town budgets and set reasonable tax rates that would have include monies from the state. A shutdown will also hurt state workers and others who depend on the state for their paychecks. I can only guess that Governor Sununu is willing to insist on his tax breaks for out-of-state corporations because he is less concerned about the people of NH - those state workers, our Andover forestry workers and those on family medical leave, whose paychecks are going to take the hit - than he is about currying favor out-of-state.
As always, if you would like to share your thoughts or tell me about something you think I ought to know, please call me at home at 735-5756 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ken Wells represents Andover, Danbury and Salisbury in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.