I was blown away by the stats on the 2014 Election Alert that indicate the rate at which folks on this list are reading it is close to five-fold that of generic political e-mails. I am in hopes that you are doing so because it offers something of value. As with its predecessor, the Legislative Action Alert, I am always open to suggestions for improving this communication.
The primary focus of this publication for the coming months is to work with candidates, activists and voters to prevent a return to the O'Brien legislature of 2011-2012. The harm that was done in those two years continues to be felt throughout our state and in our communities. Rep. Bill O'Brien has filed to run for the NH House again and has announced he will once again seek the Speaker's position. In addition, many of the folks who supported him are seeking re-election as well. Unless we are active from now until November 2014 there is a very real possibility of a return to the "Dark Years," as many have come to refer to that time period.
The general format of this and future publications will focus on a comparison and contrast of the O'Brien legislature's actions to the current legislature's in regard to impacts on our state and municipalities, a laymen's explanation of important issues that will allow you to talk to others in plain language, highlights of action steps you can take as we move forward to the November elections and snapshots of the Theater of the Absurd that was the O'Brien legislature.
Reason #1 to Reject a Return to O'Brien Legislature
The O'Brien legislature cost our communities tens of millions of dollars (estimates range from $150 million to $250 million of downshifting) that is now being shouldered directly by property owners.
While O'Brien apologists argue that his legislature reduced the budget by 9.2% (a figure not disputed by the NH Center for Public Policy, a think-tank that analyzes state budgetary impacts), what they fail to tell voters is that none of the costs attached to those reductions went away. These needs simply became costs to our towns and cities.
Constitutionally, New Hampshire communities have no taxing authority beyond what the legislature grants them. ( FYI, because we are not a "home rule" state and because our municipalities are considered subdivisions of the state, the only authority they have is that which is expressly granted by state law.) The statutorily created ability to levy property taxes is the single most important source of revenue for our towns and cities. Those revenues support the lion's share of services expected by our citizens.
However, in order to insure the health and economic vitality of our communities, New Hampshire has had a long tradition of "sharing" certain revenues. Our towns and cities rely on these to build and maintain infrastructure, to educate our children and to address costly environmental issues. Additionally, when the state has "partnered" with municipalities on programs such as the NH Retirement System, it has paid a portion of the costs for that partnership.
A sampling of the O'Brien legislature's downshifting costs to our communities includes: elimination of the state contribution to the NH Retirement System (approximately $125 million dollars over the two year biennium to our communities) from the 2012-2013 budget, sweeping $150 million out of our community hospitals, costing jobs and hurting local economies, failing to reinstate state revenue sharing ($50 million over the biennium) and failing to reinstate state aid grants to communities for water and wastewater treatment ($8.8 million), to name just some of the downshifting that went on.
It could be argued that some of these reductions were necessitated by the slow recovery following the Bush-era Great Recession, but that would not explain why the O'Brien legislature reduced a number of revenue sources. For example, while balancing the budget on the backs of our communities, they reduced cigarettes by ten cents a pack leading to a decline of $20.1 million in state revenues. A variety of other tax reductions have led to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue as well. (See NH Fiscal Policy Institute's analysis for more on this subject http://www.nhfpi.org/research/state-tax/exempting-internet-access-from-taxation-would-increase-fiscal-stress.html.)
So, How Did Our Side Do?
While constrained by the Republican majority NH Senate, the current legislature and Governor Hassan's administration did make strides in helping our cities and towns. Of particular note here is the fact that the Governor and key Democratic leaders worked closely with Republican leadership to craft the budget and policy decisions in a bi-partisan manner (something the O'Brien legislature was well-noted for rebuffing). Consequently, there were several legislative accomplishments that will improve conditions for our communities. These include:
- Of singular significance was the expansion of Medicaid that will ensure healthcare coverage to more than 50,000 of our citizens and bring more than $2 billion of our own tax dollars back into our state. This will relieve the pressure of uninsured patients on our community hospitals as well as the strain on local welfare budgets. (There will be more on Medicaid expansion in a future edition of this publication. However, it bears noting that the legislation that allowed for this requires that it be reauthorized in 2016. If the O'Brien legislature is successful, that reauthorization will come before a body that spent its two years in power railing against providing access to healthcare for our citizens. Thus, there is a very real risk of discontinuation of this program.)
- State aid grants for water and waste water infrastructure were reinstated in the amount of $9.5 million.
- Increased Meals and Rooms revenues to the municipalities by $5 million.
- Full funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program that will send $8.5 million back to our communities over the biennium.
Steps You Can Take Today to Prevent a 2010 Replay
There are only 137 days to the November 4, 2014 election. Each day you can take a small step to ensure the continuation of the Democratic majority in the NH House, electing a Democratic majority in the NH Senate, keeping Governor Hassan in office and therefore, maintaining responsible governance. Below is a list of easy actions:
1. Send this communication to your e-mail list and encourage them to subscribe.
2. Talk to one neighbor or NH friend or family member about the true costs of the O'Brien legislature and ask that they pass the information along. (Think about this: If you get one other person to agree to vote in November today and you each get one more tomorrow and you all continue on that way for only 13 days you could reach every registered and eligible voter in New Hampshire -- 1,048,576. Then you can take the rest of the summer off:))
3. Familiarize yourself with candidates running for NH State Rep and NH Senate (I'm sure you are already familiar with those running for congress and the Governor's office) so that you can talk with others about what a great slate of candidates we have. (If by chance you still have an open spot on the ballot in your district, please consider running yourself or talking to someone you know about running. Although the official filing period has closed, there are still ways to get you on the ballot in September.)
That will give you enough to do before the next 2014 Election Alert! I'll offer more tips in the next edition.
Jackie Cilley -- Candidate, NH House of Representatives, 2014, Author of the Legislative Action Alert 2011/2012
Labor is not fighting for a larger slice of the national pie -- labor is fighting for a larger pie. Walter Reuther, 1945
This e-mail is one of a series designed to provide important election information to citizens and Democratic candidates for office. Excerpts from previous Legislative Action Alerts will be sent on a periodic basis to remind voters of the damage that was wrought upon our state under the O'Brien legislature and to compare to the actions taken by the 2013/2014 legislature needed to repair that damage.
It is my hope that you will share the information of interest found here with your friends, family and neighbors to help inform their choices come this November. We have it in our power to prevent another 2010. Let's work together to ensure that never happens in New Hampshire again!
If you know of someone who would like to receive this communication, please don't hesitate to have him/her send along an e-mail address to add to the list.