The Chamber's legislative priorities affecting your business
This legislative update, written on behalf of the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee, is designed to keep Chamber members posted on legislation affecting your business, your employees, and your quality of life. If you have any questions, please contact the Chamber at (603) 224-2508.
We are almost finished for the biennium. The House and Senate met last Thursday to agree or not agree on pieces of legislation that had been amended. Fortunately for the Greater Concord Chamber, our most important pieces of legislation were agreed upon. What a year for us - unprecedented!
HB 1349 Bringing More Construction to Downtown
As the Pleasant Street to Centre Street corridor of Main Street endured construction last summer and the stretch from Pleasant Street to Capitol Center for the Arts is enduring construction this summer thanks to the passage of HB 1349, we're betting the Centre Street to the Gas Lighter corridor is next. Who would have dreamed 20 years ago, Concord would truly achieve redevelopment of an expanded downtown - Capitol Center to the Merrimack County Courthouse? A huge thank you to Merrimack County Representatives Dianne Schuett, Dan McGuire, Steve Shurtleff, Jim MacKay, Mel Myler, Caroletta Alicea, David Doherty, David Luneau and David Karrick, who so ably shepherded this important piece of legislation through the House and Senate. We are confident with their help, the governor, who spoke in support of the Merrimack County Courthouse staying in downtown Concord at our State of the State luncheon, will sign HB 1349 into law. This bill is a true testament to what can be achieved when the city, county, elected officials and the business community join forces for a common goal of importance to our area and its vitality.
Start Planning Your Tour of the State House
Get ready to go to the farmers market, take your kids or grandkids on a tour of the oldest continuously operating state house in the country, grab lunch and do a little shopping. We're close to a gigantic victory in our decades-old battle to have the state house open on some Saturdays during the year. HB 1531 has passed the House and Senate and is off to the governor for her signature. Again, the governor voiced her support for the state house being open on Saturdays at our State of the State luncheon. Along with the redevelopment of Main Street, the renovation of the Merrimack County Courthouse and opening the state house on weekends, we are witnessing a true revival in our capital city.
April 22, 2016
We never like to count our chickens before they hatch but we are close to hatching!
HB 1531, the Chamber-initiated bill that would allow the State House to be open on weekends in the tourist season from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, had a hearings before the Senate ED&A Committee last week. On Thursday, the committee voted ought to pass with an amendment from Senator John Reagan that removes some restrictive language. The amendment requires concurrence from the House before a full senate vote, then (hopefully) on to the governor for signing.
As has been the case throughout this process, prime sponsor Rep. Bob Haefner was passionate in articulating why our citizens and our visitors should be able to visit our State House on weekends. Senator Dan Feltes and Representative Steve Shurtleff strongly supported the legislation. Our co-sponsors were either there or signed in support. We have just had tremendous engagement by our elected officials from Day 1. Thank you. Fingers crossed. Our chickens are close to becoming reality!
Merrimack County Courthouse Downtown Passes Senate Committee
HB 1349, the legislation that allows the Merrimack County Courthouse to be rebuilt downtown, had a very lengthy hearing in the Senate last week. Again, it was full of the most notable folks involved in the court process in the city, county and state. After more than two hours of testimony, the Committee decided to come back this week and continue to discuss the matter, where it was voted ought to pass.
Again, the Concord community was really helpful supporting an important issue for the City. Tim Sink reached out to local law firms who submitted letters of support and also spoke in support of keeping the courthouse downtown. There is no question there is tremendous local support for the Merrimack County Courthouse to remain in its current downtown location.
The Senate last week passed an amended version of HB 1616, the Real ID bill, which brings New Hampshire into compliance with federal REAL ID provisions. The amended bill will allow New Hampshire residents applying for a new driver's license to "opt in" to the program making them eligible to receive licenses that comply with federal data and identification requirements.
These license IDs will be needed to gain entrance to federal courts and offices, as well as highly secure locations such as nuclear power and defense related facilities. They will also be acceptable as a form of identification for those traveling by airplane. Those wishing not to opt into the program will be required to have passports for identification. The bill will now return to the House for concurrence or a committee of conference.
New Banker in Town!
Congratulations to Senator Jerry Little of Weare who was recently confirmed as the new commissioner of the NH Department of Banking. Senator Little will continue his elected position as the senator from District 8 until the NH General Court session concludes the end of May. He will assume his new position as banking commissioner on June 2nd. This was a very interesting vote on the Executive Council as the Democratic governor nominated Republican Senator Little and the Executive Council voted 3-2 for confirmation of Senator Little. The three Republicans voted for Senator Little and the two Democrats voted against Senator Little. This is indicative of the odd bed fellows when it gets to be close to election time!
State Senate Election Forecast
With the departure of Senator Little to the Banking Department, that makes three Republican senators who will not be running for re-election. Senator Jeanne Forrester of Meredith has announced she will run for governor and Senator Russell Prescott of Exeter has announced he will run for Councilor Sununu's seat on the Executive Council. We predict there will be more announcements shortly.
Bi-Partisan Expanded Medicaid Reauthorization Signed into Law By Governor Hassan
What the new law does:
* The law reauthorizes the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for another two years. This means that the law goes away if it is not once again reauthorized prior to December 31st, 2018. So in 2018, expect the same arguments to be back.
* No state general funds are being expended in this reauthorization. The vast majority of funding for this program comes from Washington. The state is responsible for 5% of the coverage costs in 2017 and 6% in 2018, but the state costs are going to be covered by health insurance carriers and hospitals, which will make "voluntary contributions." While the contribution is voluntary, it is in the best interest of the insurers and the hospitals to make those contributions, because if the funding falls short, the law goes away and the insurers and hospitals would need to deal with a significant increase in uncompensated care costs.
* The new law includes a work mandate of 30 hours per week for childless, able-bodied adults. This work provision is modeled on the work provision that is contained in the state's Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program. Since this work provision requires approval by the Federal Centers for Medicaid Services, who has been rejecting these types of work provisions to date, the law includes a severability provision that permits the rest of the law to take effect even if the work provision is rejected by the Feds.
March 4, 2016
As we quickly approach legislative crossover which is Thursday, March 24, the committees are having a very active week and having to make some tough decisions. All bills introduced in the House or Senate have to be voted on before the crossover deadline. We expect the next two weeks to continue to be really busy in the New Hampshire general court. A number of the bills the Chamber is really interested in have moved forward or been killed by the committee. We will see if the full House or Senate agrees with the committee decisions!
Merrimack County Courthouse - HB 1349
On House Bill 1349, which is known as the Merrimack County Courthouse legislation, the House Public Works Committee voted 9 to 7 to kill the bill. What does this mean for the Merrimack County Courthouse? This means that the house committee refused to reopen the budget and remove the language that requires the Merrimack County Courthouse to be on state land. This was a huge defeat for the County and the City which have both worked very hard to come up with a solution where the courthouse can stay downtown on Main Street and the costs for renovating the courthouse downtown would be equal to or less than the cost to move it to state land. There will definitely be a floor fight on this legislation, which we assume will take place either on Wednesday, March 9 or Thursday, March 10. If you happen to have an opinion on this legislation, you should call your representative, or more importantly, representatives from other towns. This should be quite a fight.
Chamber State House - HB 1531
House Bill 1531 the Chamber State House opening bill will have a hearing on the HouseFinance Committee on Monday, March 7 at 10:45. The bill, after passing the first committee and the full House, had to go to a second committee which is the House Finance Committee on Monday. Please show up and support House Bill 1531 or call any members of the House Finance Committee registering your support. Hopefully there will be lots of support for the bill and the Finance Committee will vote unanimously to pass it, which means it would go back to the full House for another vote before it's off to the Senate. Now that we are close to baseball season, we're hoping to make it to second base on this bill soon.
Business Profits Tax Assessment - HB 1385
House Bill 1385, the legislation that removes the business profits tax assessment from a transfer or sale of ownership interest in a business, has passed the House Ways and Means Committee with a 20 to 1 vote. It should be voted on by the full House next week and then hopefully will be moving to the Senate. This is a huge victory for the business community as LLCs and partnerships have not been treated the same as C corporations in New Hampshire tax policy. This bill will go a long way to a quality and taxing of our businesses. The companion bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 342, has not been voted on yet. We expect the Senate Ways and Means Committee to act on that bill within the next two weeks. So hopefully we will have some good news for the business community, particularly the small business community, with both of these bills.
Telecommunications Polls and Conduits - BH 1198
Another tax bill, House Bill 1198, which creates a standardized valuation for telecommunications polls and conduits, has passed the House Ways and Means Committee 16 to 5. Polls were not taxable by municipalities for years; however, in 2010 the Legislature gave permission for the municipalities to tax the polls. Since 2010 the municipalities have been taxing the polls but at varying rates, everything from over $2,000 in one town $142 in another. The result has been hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits each year by the telecommunications companies against the towns. HB 1198 puts in a standard valuation for polls, therefore, a 100 foot, 20-year-old pole in Bow will be valued the same as 100 foot, 20-year-old pole in Concord. The belief is with standardization of valuations the lawsuits will go away and the customers of the telecommunications companies, as well as the citizens of the towns, will no longer be paying for lawsuits each year and the standardization will possibly bring some rate relief.
February 16, 2016
Huge House Victory on State House Opening Legislation - HB 1531
We are off to the Senate with great momentum! As you know, the Chamber has been advocating for the opportunity to have the State House open on Saturdays during our vibrant tourist season. We are now a third of the way to total victory!
HB 1531 allows the Legislature to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a private entity to manage the opening of the State House on weekends in the tourist season. The MOU will address issues such as security, tour guides, and hours of operation. All expenses for the opening of the State House will be donated by businesses, foundations and private donors. There will be no expenses incurred by the State. This is a terrific public/private partnership.
A huge thank you to all of the members of the Chamber Board, the Chamber Government Affairs Committee, members of the Chamber, our friends from In-Town Concord, the City, specifically our Mayor, Jim Bouley, and our elected representatives, Senator Dan Feltes, House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, and other members of the Concord delegation for their hard work, support and most importantly raising their voices in support of this legislation.
Also, a big thank you to our elected friends from across the state who agreed that our State House needs to be accessible to all of our citizens to view. Once one sees the House of Representatives with its 400 seats for legislators, it is easy to understand, New Hampshire is a citizen legislature.
We will let you know when the Senate schedules a hearing on HB 1531. We are hoping Chamber members, again, will voice their support of HB 1531.
Merrimack County Courthouse Relocation - HB 1349
There was standing room only at the hearing of HB 1349, which eliminates the capital budget requirement that the Merrimack County Courthouse be situated on state land in Concord. The passage of the NH state budget last year dictated that the current Merrimack County Courthouse on South Main Street in Concord be abandoned and the courthouse relocated on Hazen Drive on state land.
The best of judicial and law enforcement community was in attendance at the hearing - Gary Hicks, Supreme Court Justice; Tina Nadeau, Chief Justice of Superior Court; Scott Murray, Merrimack County Attorney; Scott Hilliard, Merrimack County Sheriff. In addition, the Concord Mayor, Jim Bouley; Concord City Manager, Tom Aspell; the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Administrative Services, the Merrimack County Commissioner, Peter Spaulding, to name a few.
There were multiple concerns about the move of the courthouse to the Hazen Drive State Office Park:
- The current Merrimack County Attorney's Office is across the street from the current courthouse on Main Street. Due to the close proximity, there is the ability to shield victims from their assailants. That ability would be lost under the move to the State Office Park, as the County Attorney's Office would not move.
- There were major security concerns voiced by the Merrimack County Sheriff's Department on the design of the new courthouse to be located on Hazen Drive.
The County and the City have been working diligently for months to find a solution that will allow the new courthouse to stay in downtown Concord on its current site. Chamber Board member and developer Steve Duprey has been working with all parties to come up with a workable solution for the county, city and state. A working group met with the State Department of Administrative Services last week to hopefully come up with a compromise that can be submitted to the House Public Works Committee by February 16th.
This is a very important issue to the city and county. We have worked hard to revitalize our downtown. To have a vacant large facility a block away from our State House is problematic.
Hopefully, our city, county and state officials can work out a good solution that will allow the Merrimack County Courthouse to stay in downtown Concord.
House Gives Initial Nod to New Hampshire Health Protection Program Reauthorization - HB 1696
The full House voted by a margin of 186-116 to pass HB 1696, the Medicaid expansion continuation bill. The electronic voting system in the House was broken, and so the count was made by means of an old-fashioned standing vote or the votes were done through real-life roll calls, which required the Clerk of the House to call out the names of each of the 400 members of the House who had to announce their votes out loud. It took quite a while!
Most of the criticism of the Republican plan to continue health coverage for about 47,000 state residents came from GOP lawmakers who said state taxpayers could ill afford to commit scarce dollars to a program that, by their estimates, has failed to deliverer on its promises.
Supporters said the New Hampshire Health Protection Program has had a significant impact on the health of low-income adults on the program, as well providing treatment and recovery services to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Opponents said instead of a plan designed for New Hampshire, the bill would allow federal bureaucrats to make key decisions, while increasing the federal debt.
House Bill 1696 would extend the New Hampshire Health Protection Program for two years until December 31, 2018, with insurance companies and hospitals kicking in $37 million of the $51 million the state would pay once the federal government stops paying 100 percent January 1, 2017.
The proposal includes a work requirement similar to the Temporary Aid for Needy Families Program, which would require someone to work 30 hours, do community service or be in a job training or higher-education program.
To discourage the use of emergency rooms for routine medical care, an $8 co-pay would be charged for the first non-emergency visit and $25 for subsequent visits.
The program would end if the federal government fails to provide its promised contribution or if the hospitals or insurers fail to make their payments.
This does not mean that the bill is done in the House. HB 1696 now goes to the House Finance Committee, which will conduct its own review and issue a recommendation to the full House. This next House vote will be decisive because that will be the vote which determines whether the bill is going to be sent along to the Senate.
Governor Hassan Nominates Senator Jerry Little as New Banking Commissioner
Governor Hassan announced that she is nominating Senator Jerry Little of New London to be the new Commissioner of the Banking Department. Senator Little is the former head of the NH Bankers Association, so he is extremely well-qualified for this post. His background at NHBA, as well as his time as a Senator, gives him experience with the NH state government, experience that makes him uniquely suited for this appointment.
The next couple of weeks will be busy ones in the House and Senate as they approach crossover on March 24th.
January 25, 2016
The 2016 session of the New Hampshire Legislature has convened and is moving at a record pace. Not only is the Legislature hearing bills dealing with everything from Medicaid expansion to drones, they are also playing host to many candidates who are running in the First in the Nation Presidential Primary. All of this activity makes for very busy elected ladies and gentlemen. And as you know, this is an election year for the New Hampshire House, Senate, Executive Council and Governor, as well as our two congressional seats and one senate seat. Politics is definitely in the air. We will be updating you over the next five months on what this 2016 legislature is up to.
Some of the major issues that will be taken up in this session are the reauthorization of the New Hampshire Health Protection Program (Medicaid expansion); legislation dealing with the states opioid crisis; raising of the cap on net metering which allows more subsidies for renewable energy projects; more conditions such as PTSD to be included in the qualifications for medical marijuana; construction of a natural gas pipeline issues; criminal background checks for potential employees; and one near and dear to our heart -- the opening of the State House on weekends during the summer.
Opening of the State House to Visitors on Weekends
HB 1531, sponsored by Rep. Bob Haefner of Londonderry, is a Chamber initiated bill which would allow the State House to be open for a few hours on limited weekends during the tourist season. The Chamber has worked tirelessly for many years to get the State House open for visits on Saturdays during the summer and fall. As one of the oldest state capitals in the country still in operation, our gold domed building is a working museum, rich in history that attracts visitors from around the country and world. It should be accessible to our own citizens, particularly our schoolchildren, on weekends when they are available to come with their families to see this very special NH icon. HB 1531 is a bill that would permit the New Hampshire General Court to enter into a memorandum of understanding with a private entity (the Chamber)to open the State House to the public on certain Saturdays. It does not mandate that the State House be open; it only allows a private entity to enter into an agreement of how and when the state house will be open. The Chamber has proposed that all the costs associated with opening the State House including security, docents, etc. will not be a burden to the taxpayers but will be paid by the private entity who is party to the MOU. Opening our State House on weekends during tourist season is a fabulous way of saying "welcome to New Hampshire".
This is the citizens of NH's house which we pay to keep up with our tax dollars. We should be able to visit it when we are not working on the week-ends. There will be no cost to the taxpayer to keep it open on Saturday as the cost of opening will be donated by the business community across the state.
HB 1531 has a public hearing on Wednesday, January 27 at 2:15 in Room 307 of the Legislative Office Building. This bill has a very impressive list of bi-partisan cosponsors from across the state as well as our own Sen. Dan. Feltes and House Minority Leader, Stephen Shurtleff. Any of you that are available please show up at the hearing on Wednesday and testify or sign-in on a sheet in favor of HB 1531. Or you can call (603-261-6317) or write a letter of support to: Richard Hinch, Chair, House Legislative Administration Committee at email@example.com. Or send a letter to the Chamber and we will get it to the committee voicing your support. A huge thank you to all of you for your help and support of this Chamber initiative.
Business Tax Reform
There are two bills that had been introduced into the legislature, SB 342 by Sen. Jeb Bradley and HB 1385 by Rep. Patty Lovejoy, which are both dealing with issues of taxation when a business entity sells part of its equity. A similar bill passed the House and Senate last spring (the Planet Fitness bill) but was vetoed by the Governor due to the process. It was the assumption that the taxation applied to mainly large companies who were doing IPO's, however, it applies to all partnerships, LLC's, and subchapter S corporations. New Hampshire is the only state in the country to tax a business on a basis adjustment that occurs when a business owner sells some or all of his interest in the business. The current law taxes the buyer the BPT or 8.5% on his equity investment. For practical purposes, the current law is a disincentive for anyone to start-up a company in New Hampshire. If you start a company and need financing to grow your company, the buyer (often a Venture Capital Company) of the interest in your company will pay the 8.5 % business profits tax on his investment or your increase in basis. Please note, there is no increase in revenue, just new investment to grow your company. What does this mean for the company selling the equity? It means the seller gets less money for the equity in the transaction because the buyer has to pay the tax. Please note your company has no new revenue and only has financing to possibly find a new piece of equipment you need to grow your business. HB 1385 and SB 342 do not require a business to pay the BPT on the investment when they sell an interest in their company nor do they get an increase in the basis.
We need to stop penalizing companies for growing in New Hampshire. In order to create a friendly business climate for newly created companies, established companies and those who could even be struggling financially, we need to repeal the tax on the sale of ownership interest which is really detrimental to business growth. We should be encouraging business growth and development not encouraging business to move out of state to grow. The current law applies to all partnerships, LLC's and subchapter S corporations.
SH 1385 and SB 342 are two of the most important business bills of the session and hopefully we will see passage of one or the other. The Chamber signed in support of HB 1385 and will do the same at the hearing on SB 342 which is scheduled for Tuesday, February 2nd at 10:00 in Senate Ways and Means. The Chamber totally supports these bills as they are much needed for a vibrant business climate.
Stay tuned as there is much more to come. As the days get longer so will the work of the Legislature.
These legislative update were provided by Teresa Rosenberger, president of Devine Strategies, on behalf of the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee.
March 30, 2015
Senate Punts on Workers’ Compensation
There was a battle royale brewing in the Senate over competing amendments to SB3, legislation aimed at lowering workers’ compensation insurance rates in the state. The high cost of providing health care to injured workers is in large measure responsible for New Hampshire workers’ compensation rates being among the highest in the country. In a sense, the two factions mirror the disagreement among participants in a commission convened last year by Governor Maggie Hassan to study the issue and make recommendations for cutting costs.
The Bradley/Prescott amendment, which passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee with a bi-partisan 4-1 vote, sought to establish a market-based approach by freezing current health care charges, allowing medical providers and insurance writers to negotiate rates, and placing the burden of proof on providers to show that rates are reasonable in the event of a dispute.
A second amendment, that was to be offered on the floor by Senator Gary Daniels, took a similar market-based approach, but had a key difference. If the expected cost reductions fail to materialize, the insurance commissioner would be authorized to establish a fee schedule. This is the approach used by 44 states around the country, including every other New England state, to get a handle on workers’ compensation costs.
The Senate decided to punt and re-refer the bill until next year. Hopefully, between now and then, the cost will begin to come down so there will be no need to have the state mandate a fee schedule. Our guess is the vote was too close and divisive so leadership decided to wait. Since the bill was re-referred, it can still come up in the House as an amendment.
DOT Cuts and Gas Tax Increase
In a startling and bluntly worded letter to House budget writers, acting Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeff Brillhart and Deputy Commission Patrick McKenna, informed the Legislature that they will no longer be able to ensure public safety on our roads if severe departmental budget reductions being considered were implemented.
The consequences listed by the department include 692 departmental layoffs; 50 or more maintenance facilities closed, along with two to three district offices; 2,500 miles of roadway and more than 1,000 bridges now maintained by the state to be turned over to local municipalities; the inability to match federal highway funds triggering further revenue reductions; and virtually the total elimination of the state highway construction program. The commissioners added two parting shots: a request to change the current name of the department as it will no longer function as a department of transportation and an invitation by the commissioners for the Legislature to assume the management of the department since they will be responsible for whatever bad things subsequently happen. The final sentence pretty much sums it up. “To the public and to the Legislature, we issue the following warning: proceed with caution.”
The House Finance Committee took the extraordinary step of taking the Department of Transportation budget out of HB 1 and putting it into an entirely separate bill – HB 375. It was that bill which captured the lion’s share of the attention over the last week, and understandably so, because the bill made $88 million in cuts to the DOT budget. Once passed it was to be amended with a gas tax increase.
The full House voted down the bill. It is indisputable that the hole needs to be filled somehow if the state is to avoid a collapse of its transportation infrastructure and/or a massive downshift of costs to local governments with an accompanying massive increase in local property taxes. As of now, the DOT budget is back in HB 1. The House Finance Committee took $50.8M from the state’s energy renewable fund and $14M from University System of New Hampshire to help plug the hole. This new scheme of services avoids the layoffs and threats to road and bridge safety.
The Latest House Version of the State Budget
HB 1 – the state budget, will have quite a floor fight Wednesday. The committee vote was 14-9, down party lines. One conservative Republican on the committee was replaced as she refused to vote yes on the budget.
$11.159M appropriated for the total budget, which is an increase of 3.3% from the current biennium.
Restructured the state retiree health plan. Premiums increased to 20% for those under 65, no cost to retirees over 65.
Community college funding increased by $4M.
University system level funded, no increase.
Department of Safety reduced by $5M and $65.5M of total appropriation now coming from general fund so more highway funds can go to the Department of Transportation.
DOT budget cut by $20M for new equipment and $4M for winter maintenance.
HHS is increased by $78M in general funds and $131M in total funds. The increase includes additional beds at the Veterans Home and expanded Medicaid eligibility.
Developmental disabilities services reduced by $26M.
Non-Medicaid services to elderly reduced $10.6M
Service link was defunded.
Nursing home funds decreased by $19M.
Week-end security for state house eliminated.
HB 2 has been drastically changed from what the governor presented. It includes:
No vehicle registration fee increase.
No tobacco tax increase.
No “reasonable compensation” business tax.
Expanded Medicaid sunsets 12/31/16.
No boat fee registration increase.
No keno and electronic Lucky 7.
Expect vigorous opposition by the Democrats. It will be interesting to see how the different factions of the House Republicans vote on HB 1. It will definitely be a long day!
Capital Budget Concerns for Concord
HB 25, the state capital improvement bill, will be voted on this week. It contains $16.6M for a “new Merrimack County courthouse to be located on Hazen Drive or elsewhere in Concord if a suitable site can be found in time to start this project in a timely fashion.” For those who want the new courthouse to stay downtown, this language about “suitable site can be found in time..” is troublesome.
The New Hampshire Prison for Women project will receive an additional $12.6M. Preliminary bids were way in excess of the $38M included on the last capital budget. Hopefully the new $12.6 M in this biennium’s capital budget will allow for a new design and eventually the completion of the women’s prison in Concord.
Securitization of PSNH Moves Forward
SB 221, the bill put forward to move along the deal the state put together with Eversource to securitize their generation assets being sold, including the Bow power plant, passed the Senate on a bi-partisan basis. The bill allows Eversource to decrease its carrying cost from 10% to 3%.
In order for this deal to move forward SB 221 will need to pass the House as well and then be approved by the PUC. There is plenty of time to add our voices.
Senate Tables Business Tax Cuts
Last week the Senate tabled SB 1 and SB 2, the bills to make phased-in reductions to the BPT and the BET through 2019. The debate on the floor reflected the discussions which have been taking place surrounding these bills. The difference of opinion on the bills ran down party lines, with Democrats arguing that the reductions are fiscally irresponsible, given the state’s revenue needs, and Republicans contending that the state needs to send a message to businesses that New Hampshire is not content to keep its place as a state with some of the highest business taxes in the country. Depending on how the debate goes on the budget in the Senate, these bills may come off the table later in the session or be added to the Senate version of the budget.
Discussion with Senator Feltes and Senator D’Allesandro on Casino Gaming Bill (SB 113)
In keeping with our meetings of the State Government Affairs Committee this session, we had two distinguished senators join us for a discussion of SB 113, this year’s version of the casino gaming bill. Senator Dan Feltes who voted no and Senator Lou D’Allesandro, the sponsor, who voted yes, joined us for a terrific discussion of the legislation and of their opposing positions as well as some history. Senator Feltes’ opposition mainly stems around the concerns of his constituents and particularly the Capitol Center for the Arts who sees a casino as real competition for their venues. Senator D’Allesandro, on the other hand, has been a proponent of casino gaming for 17 years. He believes the current bill, SB 113, has all the protections necessary and addresses all the concerns of opponents, such as approval by the local communities; allowing a venue at the casino for only 1,500 seats; a high tax rate; money appropriated for alcohol and drug abuse programs; strict regulatory oversight; protections for the charitable gaming community; tax money for the local communities and abutting communities as well as the county.
The bill passed the Senate on a 13-11 bi-partisan vote.
Crossover is April 2nd – thank goodness not April 1st! Once we get past next week, there should be a bit more definition about what the really important issues are for the second half of this session – and especially those affecting the Concord capital region.
February 17, 2015
Governor Hassan appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate last week outlining her priorities for the biennium in her state budget proposal. The governor's $11.5 billion budget included a few new sources of revenue totaling some $112 million:
allowing keno throughout the state ($26M);
an increase in vehicle registration fees by $23 per vehicle ($46M);
increasing the tobacco tax by $.21 ($39.2M).
The governor also is suggesting increased spending in a few areas:
$4M for a new environment assessment of bringing commuter rail;
$.2M for an affordable housing fund;
$1M new fund for efficiency projects;
New positions: state troopers, judges; state COO; guard for the State House on the weekends;
$13M for the University System of New Hampshire (will not freeze tuition unless fully funded);
$6.5M for the Community College System (will freeze tuition);
$25M for the completion of the Women's Prison in Concord;
Fund a new mental health crisis center at the NH Hospital in Concord;
Fund 25 new beds at the Veterans Home in Tilton.
When we look at the proposed governor's budget with a Greater Concord lens, it is favorable in that she is increasing the funding for the Women's Prison which is over budget, funding a commuter rail study and adding staff to allow the State House to be open on weekends. The main focus of the Legislature over the next four months will be to dissect the governor's budget and eventually pass an operating budget for the next two years. Expect lots of pushing and pulling especially since it is rumored the governor will run against Sen. Kelly Ayotte for the US Senate in 2016.
Workers Compensation Debate Brings a Huge Crowd on Both Sides
The Senate Commerce Committee heard SB 3, one of numerous workers comp bills that would create a fee schedule. The fees would be 150% of Medicare rates until July 1, 2016 after which time the Department of Insurance would set the fees. Like last week when the House Labor Committee heard HB 477, which also creates a fee schedule like 44 other states, the hearing room was jammed. The NH Auto Dealers brought dealers from all over the state to support the bill, only to be matched by the NH Hospital Association who brought hospital administrators from all over the state to oppose the bill. Rumor has it that discussions are beginning for a compromise. Republican leadership sees these as pro-business bills which could result in about 13% reduction in premiums.
Let's Take the Train to Boston
Commuter rail is really a much discussed topic of conversation in Concord. The governor mentions it in nearly every speech as an economic driver for the state as well as a means of attracting a younger workforce which we need to grow. The idea is to bring commuter rail from Lowell to Nashua, then Manchester and finally Concord. The Capitol Corridor Rail Study that was released last week stated that the return of rail to NH will increase residential and economic growth as well as create new jobs. The cost of the rail line from Lowell to Manchester is nearly a quarter of a billion dollars-- yes billion-- however, adding a line from Manchester to Concord will only add an additional $10 million... a bargain. About half of the original cost will be paid by the Feds. The NH price tag is estimated to be about $72 million. It would cost the state some $7 million per year to operate the rail line. All of New England except New Hampshire has rail. I can just see a group from the Chamber regularly going down to Boston for a show or game and having quite a good time in the dining car on the way home. Many believe rail to Concord would light a fire under revitalizing housing downtown. All Aboard!
State House Opening on Weekend Increases Tourism to Capital City
At the last Government Affairs Committee meeting of the Chamber, Sen. Dan Feltes joined us and discussed his upcoming legislation that would allow the State House to be open on during the busy tourist season. As a freshman senator, he must have real power as the governor put in her budget monies to hire a security guard for the weekend in order to keep the State House open. Let's just hope the new senator, along with his friends at the Chamber, can convince the House and Senate Finance Committees to keep the money for the security guard in the budget. We believe the State House being open on the weekend will not only attract tourist but also citizens from all over the state who would like to tour the oldest state house in the country in continuous use.
Expansion of Tax Credits - NH May Become Competitive with Other States
It looks as if the Senate is positioned to pass the expansion of the R&D tax credit (SB 6) from $2 million annually to $7 million. The tax credit has been extremely useful in attracting start-ups. One new company testifies that the state doesn't seem to be able to control the high energy costs but the state can control tax credits which certainly encourage business development.
Happy Vacation Week to Hopefully Someplace Without Snow
The House and Senate will be on vacation next week. Hopefully they will all come back tan, warm and in good humor to move along important legislation that is beneficial to all in New Hampshire.
P.S. Governor Hassan will present to Chamber members and their guests at the "State of the State" Luncheon on Thursday, March 12th at 11:30 am at the Grappone Conference Center. The event is sponsored by Lincoln Financial Group. Please join us! Click here for more information.
February 3, 2015
The fireworks have already started on the budget even before the Governor has released her budget for FY 2016/2017. The Department of Health and Human Services, with the Governor's blessing, announced it is taking $7M earmarked in the current budget for nursing homes, which includes our own Merrimack County Nursing Home, and use the money instead for filling part of DHHS' $58M hole in their budget. This is an executive cut and does not need the approval of the Legislative Fiscal Committee. There were protests in the Fiscal Committee as well as in Senate Leadership as the Legislature passed a budget with those monies specifically appropriated to the nursing homes and now the Governor is unilaterally taking the monies away. What is the impact on the greater Concord area? Merrimack County will look to the county taxpayers to make up the shortfall.
What is the state impact? This early confrontation sets up a scenario for a very contentious budget battle for the Governor and DHHS in the House and Senate budget debate.
Besides the budget battle between the Governor and Republican leadership, there were numerous other issues brewing in Concord. Among them:
Prohibiting Credit Checks of Employees (HB365)
This bill creates the "Employee Credit Privacy Protection Act." The title says it all. It prevents employers from using credit history in employment decisions. Currently, an employer can decide whether to use credit history information in a hiring decision. Even though credit history checks are costly, some businesses see them as necessary. New Hampshire is already ranked one of the most regulated states to do business. This legislation would add one more business regulation or prohibition.
Eliminating DRA Valuation of Utility Property (HB192)
Currently when there are hearings before the Board of Tax and Land Appeals for abatements of electric utility taxes, the Board considers the municipal valuation of the utility property, the electric utilities valuation of the property and the DRA valuation of the property - all three legs of the stool. HB192 is attempting to eliminate the DRA leg of the stool. Why? DRA uses the "unit" method of valuation and values all of the utilities property statewide and then apportions the valuation per town. As utilities are not contained to town boundaries, the valuation by DRA is of an interconnected utility system. Sometimes the town assessments are higher than DRA's assessments. Some towns use the DRA assessments as their own so as to not to have to hire an assessor. For example, in its valuation, DRA treats all poles equally. The towns may value poles differently - some at $750 per pole and some at $2,000 per pole. In an interconnected system, all the poles have the same value as they are used for the same purpose. All of the electric utilities testified, that if the bill passes, it will increase the taxes paid to the towns which in turn the utilities will pass on to the customers. Can we handle even higher energy bills?
Taxing Large Non-Profits the Business Enterprise Tax (HB 567)
This bill, sponsored by Republican David Hess of Hooksett, which applies to the BET tax to all tax exempt 501 (c) (3) organizations with annual revenues in excess of $10 million and lowers the BET from the current .75% to .65%, nearly passed last year in a Democratic House. It is back now with a bi-partisan group of sponsors in a Republican-led House. It could pass.
What is the impact and who is affected? It would apply the BET to organizations like Concord Hospital, St. Paul's School, and New England College. For example, if an employee who makes $100,000, the organization would be liable for a $650 BET tax to the state.
The BET estimated revenues for FY 2015 is $227,700,000 at .75%. At .65% for the same base, the revenue would be $197,340,000, a reduction in $30,360,000. Therefore, the BET applied to the large non-profits would have to bring in $30M in order for this bill to stay revenue neutral and more than $30M to increase state BET revenues.
This bill will be actively lobbied by the hospitals and schools. The state is looking for revenues so stay tuned for more on the debate and many more dealing with revenue.
January 26, 2015
The 2015 NH General Court has begun!
This year's legislative session began with more drama than usual. The Republicans gained control of the House and retained control of the Senate. The Governor was re-elected. The Republican House members narrowly elected Representative Bill O'Brien in their caucus to be their new Speaker, only to have Representative O'Brien lose the speakership to Representative Shawn Jasper on opening day. The moderate Republicans joined with Democrats to elect Representative Jasper. The O'Brien Republicans are opening their own office across from the State House as they do not believe they are adequately represented by Speaker Jasper and his leadership.
Congratulations to our own representative, Steve Shurtleff, who was elected Minority Leader of the House. This is the first session in over a decade Concord has not been represented in the Senate by Sylvia Larsen. As we say thank you to Senator Larsen for tremendous representation of our greater Concord community, we welcome our new Senator, Dan Feltes. Congratulations also to Colin Van Ostern who was re-elected to represent us on the Executive Council. The Chamber looks forward to working closely with Senator Feltes, Representative Shurtleff, Councilor Van Ostern and all the delegation from the greater Concord area on issues affecting our community and state.
In fact, we were honored to have Senator Feltes and Representative Shurtleff join us at our first government affairs meeting of 2015. We had a particularly informative meeting not only concerning the key issues that are coming before the state, but also issues that will impact the Concord area. Key issues discussed were the attempts to repeal Medicaid expansion, to repeal the gas tax, in addition to state revenue pressures with the potential of downshifting to the municipalities which would disproportionately affect Concord.
On exciting idea discussed was the possibility of opening the State House on certain high tourist weekends. The Chamber was one of the leaders over a decade ago in this initiative and was thrilled to hear of the possibility.
A huge thank you to Senator Feltes and Representative Shurtleff for sharing their time and ideas with us. We look forward to a great working relationship.
Other state issues on our radar that may impact Concord are the demolition of the DOT building at Exit 14 in Concord; the new state women's prison being at capacity when it opens; licensing the new medical marijuana alternative treatment centers; and the New Hampshire Healthcare Protection Act which is bringing necessary money to the county for drug, alcohol and mental health treatment and is due to expire next year.
Lots to talk about!
What else do we expect in 2015? The majority of the conversation at the State House will be on the Budget.
Where do we get the revenue?
What can be cut?
What programs needs additional money?
Can the State raise fees?
Do we allow gambling to fill the financial hole?
Does the state cut funds to the municipalities?
Besides the budget, there will be lots of talk about energy issues. What does the state do to bring the cost of energy down? How are the prices affecting economic development? Can our current manufacturers continue to be competitive in a global marketplace and can we attract new manufacturing?
Healthcare is always a hot topic of debate. Continuing Medicaid expansion will be much discussed. The current law expires in 2016.
Business Related Issues:
There is legislation to lower the Business Profits Tax and lower the Business Enterprise Tax, increase the research and development tax credit against the BPT, rebate the BET to startup businesses, and job creation tax credits against the BET. Do we tax the nonprofits with the BET?
On the labor side, business can expect workers' compensation issues to be number one, followed by the usual debate on the minimum wage; right to work; independent contractor definition; paid sick leave; credit histories and criminal record checks.
As we write this, there are 1,000 titles of bills that have been filed but fewer than half of those have actually been drafted. What local issues will arise? The "evil is in the details." So stay tuned as there will be lots more to come over the next six months.
This legislative update was provided by Teresa Rosenberger, president of Devine Strategies, on behalf of the Chamber's Government Affairs Committee.