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March 30 - School Districts Could See Less State Aid; Towns, Downshifting Of More Costs

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

School Districts Could See Less State Aid; Towns, Downshifting Of More Costs

Two of the most vital meetings of the New Hampshire House of Rep- resentativesʼ 2015 Session are likely to occur on April 1 and 2 of this week as we vote on three key bills.# # # #

Among the important legislation to be considered during these two days are amended versions of House Bills 1 and 2. More specifically, House Bill 1 contains New Hampshireʼs two-year operating budget, scheduled to begin on July 1, 2015, and run through June 30, 2017. House Bill 2, traditionally known as the “trailer bill,” is the measure which raises the necessary revenue and makes revisions to current state law to implement the operating budget. Both of the billsʼ original versions were based on the budget priorities, as well as tax and fee in- creases to help pay for them as proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan to both the House and State Senate in joint session earlier in February. #

However, a majority of the House Finance Committee, all Republican representatives, have recommended major changes to Gov. Hassanʼs proposed budget. These changes, which I will probably write about fur- ther in next weekʼs column, would result in drastic budget cuts to many social service programs for the poor, the elderly, and disabled individu- als. Cuts would also be made to New Hampshireʼs University System, and local school districts like Claremont. Furthermore, while cuts to the State Dept. of Transportation are not as large as originally intended, be- cause the majority of the House had earlier rejected a proposed eight cent per gallon hike in the gas tax, repairs to our crumbling roads and bridges would have less money. That is because $14 million in revenue from last yearʼs gas tax hike would go into the General Fund to pay for other programs. Finally, the amended versions of both House Bills 1 and 2 would downshift the costs of many current government programs onto our counties and municipalities because of their proposed cuts to public education, infrastructure, enforcement of the stateʼs photo ID law for all voters, and long-term care of our elderly.

Over the last 7-10 days, I have been deluged with many phone calls, emails, and even letters from my Claremont constituents and other Sul- livan County residents expressing concern and even fear about the pro- posed budget cuts as described in the amended versions of House Bills 1 and 2. Cuts to such vital programs as Meals On Wheels, Congregate Meals, and Senior Transportation. Other citizens are dismayed at pro- posed cuts to programs benefiting developmentally disabled individuals. For the record, I want to assure such concerned citizens as well as readers of this column that I will vote “No” on the recommended ver-

sions of House Bills 1 and 2 as recommended by a majority of the Fi- nance Committee. I believe the budget cuts as recommended in the two amended bills are too drastic, unfair, and hurt our most vulnerable citizens. Furthermore, both these bills continue to downshift the costs of providing essential public services from the state onto our counties, municipalities, and local school districts. This downshifting is unfair, possibly unconstitutional, and will only result in higher property taxes for communities like Claremont that least afford such downshifting, in my opinion.## # # # # # # # # # # #

The only other important legislation to be voted on during the Houseʼs April 1 and 2 meetings should have a more beneficial impact on New Hampshire, if approved. This legislation is House Bill 25, which is an amended version of the stateʼs proposed capital budget for the next two years, starting on July 1, 2015. The capital budget, which would appro- priate funds for the bonding of construction and renovation projects as well as major equipment throughout New Hampshire, was recom- mended for approval by a unanimous vote of the House Public Works & Highways Committee on March 25. A total of $264 million in bonds would be appropriated in the recommended budget, including $124.8 million coming from general funds, $118.4 million in federal funds, $12 million in highway funds, and 8.7 million coming from various other funds. ## # # # # # # # #

Among the noteworthy appropriations in House Bill 25 as recom- mended would be an additional $12.6 million for construction of a new womenʼs prison in Concord, adjacent to the menʼs prison. This addi- tional funding is on top of the $38 million originally appropriated for the new prison in the 2013 Capital Budget. Unfortunately, higher-then- anticipated bids by private contractors to construct the new prison led Gov. Hassan to request the additional $12.6 million in order to complete the new 224-bed facility within the next few years. Frankly, the 2013 appropriation was partly made in order to avoid further lawsuits from female inmates who have successfully argued so far that the current prison in Goffstown is too small for their needs. Also, $1.343 million is appropriated for painting and repairs to the State House Dome, which should be completed just in time for the celebration the State Houseʼs 200th Birthday in 2019. # # # # # # # # # #

Finally, among the recommended appropriations of local interest in House Bill 25 this year are $195,000 and $210,000 respectively, for re- pairs to the wall facing the Sugar River and elevators of Claremontʼs Monadnock State Office Building. Also $400,000 is recommended for construction work on Phase 2 of River Valley Community Collegeʼs STEM Lab. For readersʼ information, I was one of the 18 members of the Public Works & Highways Committee to recommend approval of House Bill 25 as amended. While I believe the proposed capital budget is not perfect, it is a reasonable measure considering the stateʼs present political and fiscal realities.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net

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