While gubernatorial candidate John Stephen didn’t hesitate to pull out his theoretical future “veto pen” on the campaign trail in 2010, Gov. John Lynch has been selective in his use of the pen, as well as his threats to use it.
But Lynch penned his signature to veto a recent measure that would have enacted right-to-work legislation, which essentially eliminates the requirement that workers join a union. It also, and most importantly, prevents workers from having to pay union dues if they opt out of joining. So far 22 states have enacted such legislation. New Hampshire would have been the first in the Northeast.
The idea behind the legislation is that Right-to-Work makes a state more friendly to businesses, proponents say, thus improving job creation and the overall economy. They also say making unions voluntary would make unions compete, which would benefit workers. But opponents don’t like the idea that workers could opt out of a union and still get all the benefits of others’ collective bargaining, though the Senate changed that requirement last week.
Lynch, for one, didn’t see a benefit in enacting the legislation.
“In the last seven years of recruiting businesses to move to New Hampshire, not one business leader has ever even asked me if New Hampshire had a right-to-work law, let alone suggested it was a factor in the company’s location decision,” Lynch said in a statement. “No New Hampshire business leaders have ever told me that the lack of a so-called right-to-work law prevented them from expanding or hiring new workers here in New Hampshire. And no New Hampshire workers have ever told me they couldn’t get a job because New Hampshire doesn’t have a so-called right-to-work law.”
Lynch said states should not interfere with the rights of businesses and their employees to freely negotiate contracts. He said there is no evidence the legislation would provide any benefits to the state’s economy and workers. In right-to-work states, workers on average tend to make less and go without health insurance more frequently, according to Lynch’s statement.
Lynch suggested outside interest groups are pushing right-to-work in New Hampshire. (Supporters of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in New Hampshire said the same thing with regard to out-of-state interests pushing for RGGI repeal.)
Republicans are decrying Lynch’s veto, saying he’s anti-business, that he is anti-free market, and that the veto stifles job creation. Democrats, for their part, applauded Lynch’s veto and pushed the idea that GOP leaders were advocating for a Southern agenda not fit for the Granite State.
Proponents say right-to-work states have higher standards of living. Opponents say New Hampshire already has a particularly high quality of life. Lynch said the current economic strategy is working, since the state has one of the strongest and fastest-growing economies in the nation. He pointed to low unemployment rates, a high median income, safety and health, as well as the high percentage of people who have private health insurance.
Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and the Senate, so if Republican leaders could get their members on the same page, they’d easily be able to move past a Lynch veto. It’s unclear whether the GOP will be able to override Lynch on this particular bill. When the House passed its version of the bill in February, it did so by a wide margin, 221-131, but without the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. The House signed off on changes to the bill last week by a vote of 225-140 — again, not enough to override Lynch’s veto, but a wider berth nonetheless. The Senate did, however, pass it by a veto-proof majority.
Lynch’s threat of veto of a bill that would have withdrawn New Hampshire from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative resulted in the Senate’s altering the state’s participation in the program rather than repealing it.
So, at least on some bills, Lynch’s veto still carries plenty of weight. It’s interesting that it might be carrying weight on an issue like right-to-work, which would hurt unions — entities Republicans in New Hampshire had appeared united against this session.
Jack Kimball, state GOP chairman, said in a statement the veto makes it clear Lynch is against free market principles, job creation and individual liberty. House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, said Lynch was putting his loyalty with union bosses ahead of creating jobs.
House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said Republicans are committed to stopping efforts by Democrats, like Lynch, to “stifle job creation.” Bettencourt said that’s why House Republicans would join together to override the veto.
Democrats fired off their own missive-style press release last week with the headline, “Republicans Are Trying to Turn NH into Mississippi of the Northeast.”
“[Republicans] are determined to bring failed policies and ideology rooted in the deep South here to New Hampshire,” said Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party. “We are all thankful we have Gov. John Lynch as a check against this extremism, someone who is willing to stand up to these bullies and halt their extremist agenda.”