By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
The wonderful thing about following the New Hampshire Legislature is that there’s always another surprise lurking in the antechambers of the State House or in the nooks and crannies of the Legislative Office Building.
The latest surprise is a new parking lot for lawmakers, really only members of the House, as senators all have prime parking spots.
The $35 million would also be used to demolish the current Department of Justice building, or what elders remember as the New Hampshire Savings Bank building and the current Legislative parking lot on Storrs Street after the state comes to spend considerable sums to repair it.
Where does the money come from? The wording of the amendment reads, “The governor is authorized to draw a warrant for said sums out of any money in the treasury which is not otherwise appropriated. The credit will not expire.
This means that it will come from the large government revenue surplus in that fiscal year, and the last sentence means that if the project is not completed by the end of the biennium, the money will not will not revert to the general fund, as is usually the case, unless the state uses bonds to pay for a project.
The amendment does not say what will happen to the Attorney General’s office which is now in the savings bank building.
And another section of the amendment would give New Hampshire residents a three-month holiday from paying gasoline tax at 22.2 cents a gallon.
The amendment will go to a public hearing Monday at 2 p.m. before the House Finance Committee.
The irony of razing the Justice Department building is that it was also the subject of a last-minute deal when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation put the building on the market after taking over the bank, the one of the five largest in New Hampshire that failed due to the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The FDIC owned a lot of real estate in New Hampshire at that time, and much of it was being sold at ridiculous prices.
The state was happy to have the building and quickly moved the Attorney General’s office into the facility from its cramped quarters in the State House Annex building.
The city of Concord was not so happy that it was removed from the tax rolls.
The purchase of the building did not follow the usual process for a Crown capital project.
And this new proposal didn’t go through the usual process either.
Under normal circumstances, the project would have been reviewed by the House Public Works and Highways Committee and the Senate Capital Budget Committee as well as the Governor’s Office.
It would have been included in the capital budget that follows the legislative process in the first year of the two-year term, just like the state’s operating budget.
But the capital budget process has been turned upside down somewhat with all the federal money continuing to flow into the state since the pandemic began with the governor’s office, or more specifically, the governor’s office for relief. emergency and recovery assuming the role of legislative committees.
CARES Act money was only distributed through the governor’s office with a legislative advisory committee that, if not ignored, was often downplayed.
There is a bit more legislative involvement now that Republicans control the Legislature, but certainly less than would be the normal process for developing capital projects.
The legislative parking garage across Main Street and behind the New Hampshire Historical Society building is not an ideal arrangement, but it does prevent legislators from monopolizing all the parking spaces around the State House.
It’s a bit remote for some of the older Legislators and can be a dangerous walk in freezing or snowy weather.
And he often appears as if he is constantly in rehabilitation with many problems including the entrance and exit ramps.
Construction of a new parking lot was considered when the state purchased the bank building which had a parking lot next to the Concord police station, but ultimately the land remained as is and was used primarily for parking Staff.
It’s no surprise to see a new parking lot closer to the State House and Legislative Office Building being considered, but it didn’t go through the usual process with the usual scrutiny.
The gas tax exemption would only apply to New Hampshire residents, so the influx of tourists during the peak summer period would not benefit from a 22.2% reduction in the cost of gasoline. cents per gallon.
While U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, who is running for re-election, has proposed a federal gas tax exemption, her potential Republican opponents this fall have not joined her, including Senate Speaker Chuck Morse, who will have a say in the state tax exemption.
The state gas tax exemption would come during the three months traditionally most important for collections.
According to the monthly revenue plan developed for the current fiscal year, the total collections for the three months would be $10.4 million for July, $10.2 million for August and $11.1 million for September.
The actual collections for those months were $11 million, $10 million, and $11.5 million, respectively. These numbers are for total gas tax sales and not just New Hampshire residents.
If state residents account for half the tax, which likely understates the numbers, that would mean a $16.25 million cut from the Highway Fund.
The amendment does not say that the governor will make up the difference from funds not otherwise appropriated.
The Road Fund has been running a “deficit” for several years, not only because of the pandemic – which has had a severe effect on collections – but also because of the growing number of alternative fuel vehicles such as those powered by electricity or propane.
For at least the last two budgets, legislatures have added general funds to the Roads Fund to allow the Department of Transportation to operate much as it did in the past.
What to do with surplus revenue has been a bit of a partisan issue.
Democrats like to spend it on bolstering social services that have been constrained by appropriations, training programs and some key capital projects.
Republicans, on the other hand, like to spend it as one-time expenditures rather than “increase the size of government” by creating new programs or expanding existing ones.
At the end of February, the excess revenue was $192 million, including an $11 million legal settlement.
Of that money, $100 million has been targeted for a settlement fund for those abused by youth detention center workers.
The parking garage would cost an additional $35 million and there are more proposals coming in every day.
What’s not on the agenda, however, is trying to alleviate inequality in the state’s education funding system, perhaps the biggest problem facing the state. is facing and has been for a while, but somehow it never tops the list for action.
And it’s a shame.
Garry Rayno can be reached at [email protected]
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state events for InDepthNH.org. During his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. Over the course of his career, his coverage has spanned the spectrum of news, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electrical industry deregulation and presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.