The Landrigan Report: Legislators playing with House money on casino vote
The biggest question about the 2013 Legislature has to be what the House of Representatives will do with a “limited’’ casino gambling bill.
Gov. Maggie Hassan voiced her support during her campaign for endorsing legislation that would permit a single casino, presumably along the Massachusetts border.
But what about the House, which hasn’t embraced a significant expansion of legalized gambling since New Hampshire became the nation’s first state with a government-run lottery more than a half-century ago?
According to an analysis by The Sunday Telegraph, the answer is not available.
Why? That’s because the last four years have not only seen a seismic shift in party affiliation in the House – 3-1 Republican in 2010, 221-179 Democratic in 2012 – we’ve seen what could be a historic turnover of its members.
Let’s take a look at the last significant vote on gambling, when Democrats last controlled the House in the spring of 2010.
This was a particularly important time, since it followed the battle over the state budget in 2009, when the pro-gambling Senate locked horns with the anti-gambling House on whether to make casinos part of the spending plan.
Ultimately, the Senate was forced to blink, in part because Gov. John Lynch withheld support for the idea. A year later, Lynch’s view would mature to become one of direct opposition to the concept.
At any rate, the bill in question, SB 489, would have allowed one casino in the south and two in the North Country.
We looked at this issue to determine how many legislators back then are still in the House, which killed the measure 212-158.
It may come as a surprise that only 163 House members today voted on that bill nearly four years ago. That’s a turnover of about 60 percent of the membership in the 400-member chamber.
The returning group who was there at that time split 89-74 against casinos.
Both parties were not evenly split in their opposition, however.
Republicans still present were only narrowly against it, 35-31.
The Democrats here were against casinos by a little bigger spread, 55-42.
What about those House members who were here in 2010 but not here for the last two years? They split in like fashion against casinos, 21-17.
With too few returning members, it’s going to be up to all of these newbies – 133 Republicans, 124 Democrats – to determine whether casinos finally cash in this spring.
Last week wasn’t a good one for Republican State Chairman candidate Jennifer Horn, of Nashua.
It hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing for her, but it was a pretty pleasant voyage until documents surfaced that confirmed she and her husband owed a six-figure bill to the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid taxes.
To be sure, the Horns aren’t the first family in New Hampshire to fall behind in this recession, which threw many out of work, their homes into foreclosure and their personal finances into a shambles.
There’s no question this will be a target for Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley and other partisans. It will become a frequent talking point whenever a Chairman Horn would rail at President Barack Obama for deficit spending or the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate for failing to pass a federal budget.
But there was no sign last week that the controversy had caused any slippage of support for Horn, who is the consensus candidate of the GOP establishment.
It should make her race with Andrew Hemingway still closer, however, and it’s plausible that his once Quixotic bid could yield up to 40 percent support.
Nonetheless, Horn remains the odds-on favorite to take this non-paying political post when the GOP meets in convention Jan. 26 at Bedford High School.
Tracking commuter rail
There is no doubt that the study to fully examine the costs and benefits of commuter rail is back on track.
The approval of up to $1.9 million for the study from the Capital Budget Overview last week was the tough part.
It was unclear until the meeting on Wednesday whether the Senate delegation to the committee would go along with this. The GOP-led Senate has philosophically opposed the state financing of commuter rail, and last year went along with House-passed legislation to declaw the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority.
Ultimately, then-Gov. Lynch vetoed that rail authority bill, and that was sustained in the House.
Now, it’s on to the Executive Council, whose three new Democrats have all said they support the commuter rail study.
After the vote, Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H., also tossed in her support for the project.
Education credit debate
The biggest threat to a new education tax credit isn’t last week’s lawsuit brought by three civil liberty groups.
To be sure, there is a legal argument to be made that these tax credits for business owners who give scholarships for non-public school tuition could be likened to a voucher.
But state and federal courts in Rhode Island and some of the other eight states with tax credits have all ruled this legal scheme doesn’t run afoul of church-state separation.
What’s more troubling for this new program is the legislation from House Democrats to repeal the credit.
Hassan said during her campaign that she would support a bill to get rid of the tax credit that reduces the level of education aid that goes to school districts.
The key question is what happens to such a measure in the Senate with its narrow GOP majority of 13-11.
The Senate solidly passed the tax credit last year and beat back a veto from Lynch.
But many GOP senators who backed the credit have left, and the problem is two who remain opposed to the law: Lempster Sen. Robert Odell and Hampton Sen. Nancy Stiles.
The pressure will surely come from state GOP leaders on both of them to oppose the repeal effort and give these credits a chance to work.
It should make for a lively debate and an even closer vote.
Fast start expected
The House and Senate will begin their first committee hearings for the 2013 session this week, but don’t expect to many weighty issues.
The task of presiding officers early on is to push out bills that either can pass quickly because they aren’t controversial or are sure losers that can be killed quickly.
Many of the measures before policy committees this week fall into the latter category.
Bringing up the rear
State revenues are holding their own, but it’s no hiding the fact that New Hampshire trails all other New England states in this regard.
Fiscally conservative state legislators will tell you they like it this way; it forces lawmakers to craft tight state budgets.
Political economist Brian Gottlob said last week that the reason for New Hampshire’s sluggish (barely recognizable) economic growth is a complicated question.
“How much of the slow revenue growth is attributable to a weaker economy and how much is attributable to policy changes is difficult to discern,” Gottlob said. “In some cases, it is easy; the cigarette tax was reduced and produced less revenue – almost exactly the amount that I forecast – but more generally, slower growth – or declines – in revenues will occur in a weak economy regardless of policy changes.”
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).