By ALBERT McKEON, Staff Writer
NASHUA – If you thought the New Hampshire Legislature made history this year, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Speaker of the House William O’Brien didn’t use that phrase exactly, but he all but said it Monday in a speech that outlined the Legislature’s mission to reduce government spending and regulations.
O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, promised to go beyond this past year’s budget reduction of 11 percent by next year, setting high hurdles for anyone who wants to increase taxes.
He also vowed to continue eliminating government regulations on businesses, with the hope that New Hampshire can further distance itself from high national unemployment by attracting companies.
And O’Brien said the GOP-led Legislature should make New Hampshire the first Northeast state to legally prevent unions from collecting dues from non-members, a move that he claims will also spur business growth.“When people gave us the majority, we heard them say, ‘New Hampshire’s government can be fiscally conservative without being evil,’ ” O’Brien told a Nashua Rotary Club luncheon crowd. “We can spend within our means … without being cruel.”
Those statements were part of O’Brien’s defense to criticism that his Republican majority has placed social programs at a disadvantage by cutting the budget.
Those in need can still get help, O’Brien said, but changing state government’s philosophy on spending helps the majority of taxpayers and promotes a sustainable economy.
This year, the Legislature ended its usual approach of finding revenue for all programs and instead started setting spending targets and living within those means, he said. The budget was reduced 11 percent and no taxes were raised, he said.
Republican lawmakers “didn’t send a $3,000 tax bill” to taxpayers to cover prior spending because of this change in budget philosophy, O’Brien said.
He called it “by far the most fiscally responsible budget in years, some would say since World War II.”
O’Brien also highlighted the Legislature’s elimination of gambling taxes and reduction of the vehicle surcharge. And he touted the recent 10-cent cut in the state tobacco tax. The cut was not to promote cigarette smoking, he said, but to stop businesses from losing revenue.
He previewed future plans that he said will continue the state down the new path of fiscal austerity, including a 60-percent majority vote that will be necessary for any lawmaker to increase taxes or borrow money.
A constitutional amendment will be required to raise this voting threshold. The House passed the measure, and the Senate delayed action on it until at least January. It could potentially end up on voters’ ballots by November 2012.
O’Brien said he was initially opposed to raising the threshold because he had believed that “democracy should work.” But now O’Brien recognizes that too many legislators want to continue spending without regard to taxpayers, he said.
O’Brien also emphasized that helping business would be the House’s priority as it winds down the current term and starts a new legislative session in January.
This year, there were 43 bills that sought to deregulate government control of business, he said. Legislators will continue to improve regulations so they meet specific goals rather than harass businesses, he said.
And by passing a right-to-work law that prohibits unions from collecting mandatory dues from non-members, New Hampshire will become an attractive state to companies and lessen unemployment.
O’Brien repeated his opposition to state funding of a commuter rail line from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua. He said the $300 million cost to repair the railbed and as much as $12 million in annual subsidies to the program would be fiscally irresponsible at the state level.
He said buses are a more economically sound way of improving public transportation. He added that spending more than $300 million on rail would be an extravagance similar to having limousines drive commuters.
O’Brien told Rotarians they should relay their thoughts on the Legislature’s performance to their representatives.
O’Brien also implied that the media are misinforming the public about the GOP-led Legislature. Rotarians should relay to legislators that they “read between the lines of newspapers” and understand what the Legislature is actually accomplishing, he said.
Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.