NASHUA BULLETIN                 April 29, 2016
Bulletin No. 15
We are getting to the point in the legislative session when the House and Senate are conducting their final hearings of the year.  All remaining bills need to be finished up soon because May 12th  is the last day for the House and Senate to vote on bills.  After that, the only thing left will be several weeks of work on Committees of Conference and a final session day on June 1st for votes on the reports from those Committees.  Although overall there are fewer bills that we need to be following (since many have fallen by the wayside since January), among the remaining bills are some of the most important pieces of legislation that we have been working on all session.  

Senate Transportation Committee Looks At Rail (HB 2016) 
On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee conducted its public hearing on HB 2016, the legislation establishing the State's 10-year Transportation Infrastructure Plan. The hearing lasted for several hours and, despite the fact that HB 2016 includes a number of different items, the piece that attracted the most attention (and took up the bulk of the hearing) was the issue of rail.
As you may recall, the original bill included $4 million for the continuation of work on the Capital Corridor Project, designed to ultimately bring commuter rail from MA up through Nashua and to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. After successfully making it through the Committee process with that funding intact, a floor amendment stripped the funding out before the bill made its way over to the Senate.
The Chamber strongly opposed the removal of the funding and, given the turnout on Tuesday, our position is echoed across the state as the hearing room in the State House was well-filled with supporters in favor of restoring the $4 million in funding to HB 2016. Kudos to Senator Bette Lasky for her strong testimony in favor of restoring the funding, and for presenting the Committee with a draft amendment to do just that for their consideration. Senator Kevin Avard is also on the record in support of restoring the funds.
Tracy Hatch and Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess both testified in favor of restoring the funding. Mayor Donchess stressed that including the funding does not cost the state even "one penny from the general fund" and that the benefits to the entire state's economy are well understood in the business community. In her testimony, Tracy spoke to the misperception that this is "just another study and we've studied it to death." The December 2014 Capital Corridor Study validated the concept of bringing rail to New Hampshire; this next phase gathers the details of implementation. Specifically, the $4 million will be used to determine the track layout and the corresponding environmental assessment, to prepare detailed capital and operating financial plans, and to allow preliminary work to go forward to identify sources of funding for both capital and operating needs, through grants as well as possible private funding.
Among the various other people who testified in support of the rail provision were a young Nashua High School student who wowed the Committee and the audience with the data that she had gathered in her study of the rail issue; Ted Combes, the former chair of the Londonderry Town Budget Committee, who talked about how important rail would be for Londonderry (a good thing to remember- this is about the region, not just Nashua); and Attorney Bill Barry of Nashua, who reminded the Committee that this rail issue now represents far more than just the $4 million in funding that is at stake. If the legislature does not restore this money, it will not only put the brakes on the Capital Corridor Project, but it will send millennials and entrepreneurs the loud and clear message that New Hampshire really does not want to court them.
The Committee vote on this one probably will happen next week.

Intermodal Bill Gets Nod From Public Works Committee (HB 549)
At almost the same time that the Senate Transportation Committee was reviewing HB 2016, the House Public Works Committee was finishing up its work on HB 549, Senator Lasky's legislation to establish the procedures for creating public-private intermodal transportation projects. The Committee finally settled on language for an amendment that would include these projects in the 10-year plan, and with that there was agreement that the bill was ready to proceed. Senator Lasky has spent a lot of time on this bill, which as you will remember started last year and continued with a study over the course of the summer, so it has not been an easy road, and even in the final hours of the deliberations on Tuesday there were delays due to the fact that editions of the final draft amendment kept reaching the Committee with minor mistakes. By the early afternoon, however, the Committee had an amendment that was correct, and the final product passed unanimously, 16-0. A major tip of the cap to Senator Lasky for her diligence on this important bill. 
This one will be on the floor on May 11th or 12th. If it passes the House, we expect that the Senate will concur with the amendments so that the bill can be sent to the Governor for signature.

Pole Valuation Rears Its Head Once Again (SB 59)
You may recall from last year that there was a bill (HB 192) which would have prohibited electric utilities from presenting a full range of evidence in abatement proceedings that deal with local taxation of utility property. Specifically, the bill would have barred utilities from offering evidence relating to the Department of Revenue Administration's valuation of the property at issue - an especially surprising piece of evidence to be banned, given that DRA is obviously a neutral and reliable third-party that also has expertise in this area. That bill passed the House last spring and then was killed in the Senate in January, after the State Assessing Standards Board looked at the issue and saw that the pole appraisals were varying widely from town to town (the same sort of thing was also happening with telephone poles).
On Tuesday, the House Municipal & County Government Committee stuck the HB 192 language onto SB 59, a bill to deal with removal of county officers and temporary filling of those offices. There was no advance notice of this move, and obviously SB 59 does not have any relation whatsoever to the HB 192 issue. We are concerned about the process employed here, and we are concerned about the potential impact current appraisal practices might have on electric rates. So we'll be watching closely to see what happens on this.

Tracy Hatch
President & CEO
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce 
Sponsored by
Devine Millimet

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