April 11, 2014

     Thank you for your interest in one of our most proud efforts- business advocacy during the legislative session.Our Chamber is very proud of its efforts to represent you and all of our members in Concord. Our work would not be possible without the strong support of our friends at Devine, Millimet & Branch, whose lobbying team serves as our "boots on the ground" in Concord on a daily basis. We thank them for their unyielding support of our advocacy efforts, particularly through the sponsorship of this newsletter.

This weekly newsletter is intended to give you an overview of what has happened at the State House over the past week. Read this every Friday to learn about our Chamber's lobbying efforts relating to those activities, and to preview what we are doing on behalf of our Chamber members. 

Chamber Testifies In Support Of Casino Gaming (SB 366)

This week, the Chamber traveled to Concord to testify in support of SB 366, the legislation expanding casino gaming in New Hampshire. The Chamber has historically supported expanded gaming in recent years because there is a steep price for doing nothing.  As a border community, there is no question about the financial impact our region will see when Massachusetts opens multiple casino locations right in our backyard. The Chamber supports a non-tax funding source to support the critical needs of the state and our own region.  It is crucial that state revenue-sharing monies be restored in order to help address growing property tax pressure.  And our recently commissioned independent UNH statewide survey confirmed something that we have known for some time:  the citizens of New Hampshire support expanded gaming. 



The legislation creates much needed non-tax revenue and jobs in our state.  SB 366 allows for two high-end casinos that will bring in $120 million to the State in licensing fees and are expected to produce over $125 million in annual revenue.  Nashua alone will receive $2.4 million per year in reinstated revenue-sharing funds targeted for cities and towns.  If a casino is located in a community abutting Nashua (i.e. Hudson), we will receive even more revenue, as will Hillsborough County.  Passage of this bill will create jobs, both in construction and in the casino operations. The economic impact to our region will also be felt in the real estate market, our tourism-related businesses and retail stores, and in increased state tax revenues, without the need for a sales tax, income tax or any new business taxes. 



The hearing was notable in that multiple Senators on both sides of the aisle, including Senate President Chuck Morse, appeared in person to testify in support of SB 366 (and it is not common that a Senate President testifies on bills in front of House Committees).  Senator Morse said that the House and Senate have been able to work cooperatively this entire biennium to find solutions to very important complicated issues, and this issue should be no exception. A multitude of House members, particularly House Finance Committee members, also testified in support, articulating the dire need for revenue to fund the next state budget. Not one legislator testified in opposition. 


So we hope that the House will look carefully at this bill and get this passed.

House Gets Its Turn On Gas Tax (SB 367)

This week, the House started its review of SB 367, the gas tax bill, with a hearing in front of an unusual joint committee made up of the members of the House Public Works Committee and the House Ways & Means Committee.  This is clearly a sign of how eager the House leadership is to move the ball along.  Typically, the bill would have first gone to the Public Works Committee for a hearing, and then to the floor for a vote, and then to the House Ways & Means Committee for further hearing and review, and then to a second and final vote on the House floor.  Tired, yet?  The joint committee process that is being employed here will make this deliberative process quicker and more efficient.


As has been the case from the time the bill was first filed, there was no dispute in the Committee this week regarding the existence of an absolute need for additional revenue to carry out critical highway maintenance and construction; the only dispute centers around the question of whether the source of that revenue should be an increase in the gas tax. 


Our own Representative David Campbell, the Chair of the Joint Committee, and DOT Commissioner Chris Clement both emphasized the importance of road and bridge improvements on business development and tourism in this state.  They reiterated the importance to the whole state of getting the I-93 construction completed.  Commissioner Clement related that one business that was thinking about relocating to New Hampshire had told him of the importance of getting "the road" finished. 


In his testimony on Tuesday, prime sponsor Senator Jim Rausch urged the Committee to make no changes in the portion of the bill that eliminates the Merrimack tolls at Exit 12.  In Senator Rausch's view, to remove that provision would be essentially to upset the agreement that was reached in the Senate, and potentially to threaten final passage of the whole bill. As you may recall, the Chamber had urged the Senate to separate the Merrimack toll and the gas tax issues because we did not want to see the controversial Merrimack toll issue interfere with the critical need for the gas tax increase. Now that the bill is in the House, we think it is wise that the House follow Senator Rausch's advice and pass the bill in such a way that will guarantee approval by the Senate. 


Whether because of Senator Rausch's advice or not, the joint committee's discussions on the bill this week certainly centered on the underlying issue of the gas tax, and not the Merrimack toll issue.  The Committee did pose questions to the State Treasurer focused on whether there would be any impact to the state's bonding capabilities if the Exit 12 tolls were removed (his answer was that there would not be any bond impact).  Those questions could be an indication that the committee is considering keeping the Merrimack provision intact and trying to ascertain what the impacts of that would be. 


The Chamber continues to be a strong supporter of SB 367.  We're looking forward to a positive vote from the Committee when it takes its vote next Tuesday.  

Motorist Service Sign Legislation  (SB 321)

There was a distinctly highway-related flavor to the Chamber's week in Concord.  On Wednesday, the Chamber registered its support for SB 321, Senator Peggy Gilmour's bill to allow for the placement of motorist service signs on highways in New Hampshire (currently, those signs can only be placed on the exit ramps).  Last year, the same House Public Works Committee had recommended further study on a similar proposal, but the difference between the previous bill and SB 321 is that this bill addresses the chief concerns raised last year by North Country legislators who were concerned about the aesthetic impacts on North Country roads.  SB 321 takes care of that problem by limiting the geographical application of this bill to Concord/Rochester and points south.  Interestingly, however, there were a number of people on the Public Works Committee (just as there had been in the Senate) who voiced their desire that this bill could be made applicable throughout the state.  As Senator Gilmour candidly told the Committee, the reason for the limitation is simply to make sure that the bill passes; if the committee wants to amend the bill to take out the limitation, then that is fine by her (and it would be fine by us also).


As Chamber President Chris Williams wrote to the committee, "this really should be a no-brainer for our State.  Both small and large companies in the state's travel and tourism industries are supportive of this initiative, since it will allow the rising tide to float all boats.  Our surrounding states already provide this benefit to their tourism industry partners, which means our tourism industry is having to play catch-up here in New Hampshire."


This one will also be up for a vote in the Committee on Tuesday.  

In Other News ...

Also this week, the Chamber registered its support for SB 327, the legislation to extend the ERZ tax credit prospective repeal from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2020.  That bill is now in the House Ways & Means Committee. Senator Bette Lasky, Senator Peggy Gilmour and Rep. Kathleen Stroud of Merrimack are co-sponsors of this legislation.


We were disappointed on Tuesday when the House Labor Committee voted to amend SB 295, regarding employer credit checks. The bill was opposed by the Chamber because it generally prohibits most employers from doing credit checks of employees, but the House Committee voted to remove an encouraging provision passed by the Senate that would allow all employers to conduct credit checks on new employees if the employer reasonably believes that this is necessary for the business.  It is likely that the full House will go along with the recommendation of the House Labor Committee.  If that does happen, we hope that the Senate will stand firm when the amended bill gets back over to the Senate.

Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce | (603) 881-8333 | icullinan@nashuachamber.com | http://www.nashuachamber.com
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