A highlight of my first year in Concord was having the opportunity to work with Senator Martha Fuller-Clark, a personal hero of mine. I Chaired a House Subcommittee when SB284, her bill to implement a statewide, online energy platform so customers can measure and manage their solar and renewable energy sources, came over to the House. This PUC project initiated in the Office of Consumer Advocate supports energy innovation and increased efficiency and savings. It required getting the state’s utilities on board to help build and maintain it; I was proud to help advance and pass this worthy bill.
Our last collaboration was on HB464, an amendment to the local tax exemption statute for solar and wind systems. This bill had some minor technical issues and I was able to successfully chair a Committee of Conference between the Senate and House and get it onto the consent calendar for our last voting day on 6/27.
Although we had a lot of fun in Concord this session, there was also a lot of serious work.
On my committee, Science, Technology and Energy, we passed some important and long-awaited legislation on everything from a net-zero fleet of state vehicles by 2039 to a response to the pent-up demand for an increase in the net-metering cap; this gives credit to people investing in solar installations to makes local electric generation economically viable. The idea is that having local electricity generation in our schools, towns and public buildings lowers demand on the traditional, fossil-fuel powered grid and thereby lowers prices for all as more of it comes online. In both cases, and on an important biomass bill that had passed under Republican leadership during the last session (resurrected in 2019), we saw Governor Sununu veto state efforts to keep up with support for a clean energy economy.
In the pubic hearings, the same 2 or 3 people testified against every bill supporting clean energy. A little digging shows that these folks are in cahoots with the fossil fuel industry. Their devotion to alternative facts was sometimes frustrating, but we are where we are. The good news is that the vast majority of hearing participants: towns, energy coops, commissions, businesses, vendors and environmental groups all gave boundless testimony in favor of expanding NH’s clean energy economy. The question is: why are the many being held hostage by the few?
We are the last of the 9 RGGI states in terms of our energy investment. We are lucky to have Seabrook still contributing such a significant share of NH’s non-emitting base load on the regional electric grid to help with NH’s emissions rates and brown-out avoidance; but in general, we’re still at .06 percent of solar generation because of our politics and that is not good enough to lower costs. We are not passing ideological bills. We are listening to the public and industry, reading the science and determining what will help with NH electric rates.
Our regional ranking contributes to the higher share of distribution and transportation charges we pay for electricity from the regional grid. The other RGGI states produce higher rates of local energy and that reduces their percentage of payments for use of the electric infrastructure. Until we increase our share of renewable energy, we will have no mechanism to control our costs.
As the state government holds hearings, assesses policy and makes strides to improve NH’s energy portfolio to benefit customers – the Governor continues to veto bills designed to transition us to cleaner and more cost effective energy economy. This is the second time (under both Republican and now Democratic leadership) that he has vetoed both the net-metering cap and an essential biomass bill. Contrary to the Governor’s misleading veto messages, high electric rates are the reason we keep trying to pass these bills; high rates are not being avoided because of his veto pen. The question for me is: Who’s needs is he meeting with these vetos?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a bit about the long awaited state budget, an attempt to help with many different areas of need: Education, mental health, youth services, tax down-shifting, and the list goes on. As is always the case, we must live within our means and serve many different masters. One difference this year was the ConVal suit against the State of New Hampshire. The plaintiff also named the Education Commissioner and the Governor personally in the suit for adopting policies that siphoned money away from struggling public schools. The state lost, and the decision found that the state was downshifting its constitutional obligation to educate our population to the municipalities. The judge specifically stated that the Constitutional obligation to educate New Hampshire’s students does not belong to its municipalities.
I attended several budget overviews before the Committee of Conference between the House and Senate Finance teams came up with their compromise. They reconciled areas of difference and included many of the Governor’s priorities in order to make the budget a true compromise. The Democratic leadership eliminated non-starters the Governor had called out upon his first reading of the budget, removing a 5% capital gains tax that had been added to the Dividend and Income tax as a way to pay for increased funding to schools and eliminating the Family Medical Leave Act that was a priority in our ‘families first’ agenda.
The main difference between the Governor’s budget and the State House budget was how to pay for needed relief. The House and Senate agreed that we could not afford to implement the upcoming 3rd business tax cut if we were to bring meaningful help to our schools/towns. There’s only so much money. Nobody wants another broad based tax. And yet, we’re closing schools, losing teachers and losing lawsuits due to insufficient funding. So what’s the greater need? School & property tax relief, or another costly tax cut for businesses? We chose to give you the relief. But the Governor vetoed the budget, insisting that the $90,000,000 in disputed funds be given away to business tax cuts over relief to New Hampshire towns.
The messaging from the opposition is that our budget was a Spend-a-thon. That’s because we are trying to allocate money to needed services that have been ignored. The budget was the same number, 13 billion, as the last budget under Repubicans. However, it was more ambitious in the problems it attempted to solve. Our priority was reinstating dollars for school funding and cost sharing to towns that would help alleviate the crushing property tax burden effecting the towns across the state, including my home district (Hollis, Milford, Mont Vernon and New Boston). Here below is a chart that shows the proposed relief for Hillsborough 40.
|Budget Plan forMunicipal Aid
|Budget Plan forSchool Aid
As you can see, the district loses over 5 million in tax relief and school aid by this veto. (The amounts by town were factored based upon property tax-base dollars per student and reduced-lunch qualified student formulas.)
Since the downturn in 2008, the state has clawed back its 50% match to towns for Building Maintenance funds (to zero), and eliminated its 35% contribution to the State Retirement system which includes Police, Fire and Teachers (to zero). These are examples of breaking a working system, and then blaming it for not working. These funding cuts helped created NH’s ‘structural deficit’ and the Democratic House and Senate are being told they can do nothing to fix it. The Governor’s veto message stated that our budget would create a structural deficit. What he’s not saying is that the structural deficit was created before this budget – and that giving towns and schools a reliable partner is what the state is supposed to do in order to stop passing the buck.
We are working with communities, not against them.
If you think that the $90,000,000 the Governor wants to give to businesses in a .02 tax cut is better spent invested in our schools and towns, call the Governor’s office: 271-2121