An effort to resurrect a bill that would put the state of New Hampshire on the hook for $171 million in local government employee pension contributions over the next four years was defeated by a single vote in the state’s House of Representatives.
The bill was already voted down by the House in January, but supporters took another run at pushing it through the House last week with a “motion to reconsider” and got much closer this time. The motion was brought forth by Rep. Catt Sandler, D-Dover, who was permitted to make the motion because she had voted with the majority in January.
The bill, HB413, would require the state to contribute 15 percent of the pension costs for teachers and other governmental employees not employed directly by the state.
Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, suggested that the state had an obligation to make such payments because it had done so in the past.
“Ten years ago, the legislature sent $51.6 million to the cities and towns to help with the retirement cost of police, fire and teachers,” he said. “This year we are sending zero dollars. Property taxes are an enormous burden upon the people of our cities and towns, and restoring state aid will help ameliorate that and help to reduce property taxes.”
Cushing tried to gain support by promising an amendment to the bill that would delay implementation until July 2019, thereby leaving the 2018 budget intact.
Rep. Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, said there simply was no new information since the vote in January, and thus there was no impetus for the reconsideration.
“Nothing relevant to House Bill 413 has changed since the House voted [against] this bill just last month,” he said. “The same issues relative to increasing the state contribution to municipal employees pension payments were considered as part of the budget and rejected in favor of funding for more vulnerable populations, including the developmentally disabled and those suffering from a drug addiction, and nothing has changed.”
Hinch’s points were echoed by Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson.
“Last night we all got an email from the prime sponsor urging ‘yes’ on reconsideration,” she said. “I responded and asked, ‘what should we cut that I would change my mind from from killing the bill?’ ... I just checked, I have no response.”
Proponents of reconsideration argued that without some assistance in shouldering the burden of the pension payments, local communities would have no choice but to raise property taxes to onerous levels.
“I've received several phone calls and emails from senior constituents pleading with me, ‘How am I going to be able to stay in my home on a fixed income?’” said Rep. Joelle Martin, D-Milford. “Since 2011, our tax rate in Milford has increased 52 percent. … I received emails from working families, constituents, who echoed the sentiments of my senior constituents and said, ‘we’re struggling to make ends meet. This is not a cost that I can control.’”
The motion to revive the bill was defeated on a vote of 171-170.