On The Political Front: Hassan Faces New Political Landcape, N.H. House Remains Unsettled

Jan 5, 2015

Governor Hassan on election night, 2014. Members of the N.H. House on Organization Day, 2014.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Each Monday, NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins me on Morning Edition for On The Political Front, a conversation about the week ahead in politics.

Listen to the segment below, or scroll down to read the interview.

Governor Hassan will be inaugurated for her second term Thursday. The legislature holds its first session day Wednesday. Let’s start with the governor. She faces a different political landscape than when she first won office in 2010.

She certainly does. With GOP majorities everywhere - the House, the Senate and the Council -  the bi-partisanship Governor Hassan likes to talk about will be more necessary than ever to get things done and there are some indications that common ground may not be a given this year, particularly on fiscal matters.

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers covering the Statehouse in December 2014.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

It is a budget year, of course, and an inaugural address is not the budget address, that comes next month…. But can we expect to hear much this week we get about the Governor’s fiscal plans for the next two years?

We will get something– probably nothing terribly specific. People will, of course, be listening to see if and how she again calls for a casino, and how she talks about her hope of undoing some changes to business taxes Republicans passed in 2011. She broached that idea in November, but we’ve heard little since.

But remember, coming up with a spending plan for the next two years isn’t the only budget work that needs to go on in Concord. The governor and lawmakers must also figure out how to close the shortfalls in the spending plan in effect until July. It's running a deficit that may top 50 or 60 million dollars.

The expectation is the governor will seek to close at least part of the gap by tapping money in dedicated funds. Those are pots of money generated by fees and assessments earmarked earmarked for specific uses. The state has several hundred dedicated funds, some small, some, like LCHIP or the renewable energy fund, containing millions.

“Sweeping” cash from dedicated funds into the general fund, as the practice is sometimes known, has become a fairly routine practice.

But there are indications the Governor, will face push-back on this should she propose it. Jeannie Forester, the senate’s top budget writer, came out against this idea last week.

She did, as did Nancy Stiles, another GOP senator. Advocate-types, it ought to be noted, are also working this angle. They might be environmentalists who don’t what the renewable energy fund to be tapped, as it was during the last budget, or LCHIP, which escaped that fate last time, but which was been drained before, or people tired of seeing money money diverted from the alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund.

There is an obvious,  good government argument for the practice, too. But policymakers in both parties have done this, and it will likely happen again this year. The question is to what extent. For people with policies or priorities attached to dedicated funds, budget deliberation can be like a game of musical chairs, maybe their fund will be left unscathed, maybe not.

A difference this year is that with the hole to fill in the current budget and then work to be done on the next budget, the game make take place twice.

The New Hampshire House meets Wednesday. They will be settling on rules, right?

"Settled" isn’t a word used much these days in connection to the N.H. House but yes, rules will be adopted Wednesday. One matter to be decided has to do with the power struggle going on between Speaker Shawn Jasper and Republicans loyal to the guy most expected to be Speaker, Bill O’Brien, and that’s a vote on a the process for picking a majority leader.

Jack Flanagan of Brookline was named majority leader by Speaker Jasper.  O’Brien, and his backers hold that since O’Brien was the GOP caucus choice for speaker, he should be Majority leader. O’Brien and company aren’t expected to prevail there.

Another rule would again allow reps to carry concealed weapons on the house floor. That, as you will recall, is a policy O’Brien helped put into place when he was speaker. Democrats reversed that under Speaker Terie Norelli. Speaker Jasper supports allowing guns on the floor, and this should pass.

Another rule to be voted on, also backed by Speaker Jasper, would up the threshold for forcing roll call votes – those are vote counts where the preference of every member is recorded.

Right now it takes ten members to second a roll call motion; the new rule would require twenty members. Jasper thinks the lower threshold has led to too many roll call votes, which slows things down. With Democratic leaders also in support, this will likely pass, but its been criticized by some conservatives as a blow to transparency. 

Am I correct is assuming the roll call issue will be decided by a roll call vote?

I think you are, Rick.