Gov. John Lynch gave his last State of the State address last week, and it sounds like he has some real plans for his final year in office, though it’s unclear how much support he’ll find in the House and Senate.
But a big part of his message was simply to stick to it. At times, he almost seemed to be begging lawmakers, as if he were a parent speaking to his children, to stay the course.
“If you look at any national statistic you can see our strategy is working,” Lynch said in his address. “We have the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation. We are routinely ranked among the most livable, healthiest and safest states in the nation. We’ve been named the best state in the nation to raise a child four years in a row. We can build on our success but overall New Hampshire has a strategy that is working. Let’s not mess it up.”
Lynch, who is in the final year of his record fourth term and has said he won’t seek re-election this fall, focused a good bit on economics and job creation and he pushed for the legislature to invest in job training and education. He pushed for lawmakers to keep the budget balanced and he called for doubling the research and development tax credit.
And he took some shots. That’s notable. Lynch rarely does so. He clearly wasn’t happy with a 10-cent reduction in the state’s tobacco tax that lawmakers passed last year — the same year when they needed to close a $900 million budget gap.
“The cut in the tobacco tax was nonsensical,” Lynch said. “That money would have been better spent on our community college and university systems, for example.”
Lynch announced proposed legislation designed to improve government efficiency and he called on the legislature to finally figure out how to pay for the Interstate 93 widening project.
“I am willing to put reasonable options on the table,” Lynch said. “I am asking the legislature to do so as well. If we come together and show the necessary political will, we can complete the widening of Interstate 93 through Manchester in just four years.”
Lynch said he would push back against efforts to reduce gun control, of which there are several in play. Interestingly, Lynch didn’t get into the education funding issue. He released proposed language for an education funding amendment last fall, but the House attached it to a bill and ultimately killed it.
Drawing loud cheers, Lynch called for attacks on public workers to cease.
“Sadly it has become too commonplace to attack public employees, and that needs to stop,” Lynch said. “In these hard times, our state employees, our teachers, our firefighters and police officers, are working harder than ever to provide good services, to educate the next generation, to keep us safe.”
Lynch also called for a more civil political tone and a renewed sense of cooperation. That’s Lynch. He’s almost apolitical in how he’s approached the governorship. He always stresses working in a bipartisan way. Coming off four years of Democratic dominance in the House and Senate, things swung back all the way to Republicans in 2010 — so yes, the tone has been hyper-partisan for some time now. He rarely, if ever, played into that. For that reason, he got his share of criticism from Democrats for not sticking his neck out enough. But it also might be a big reason why he’s had four terms in office.
It was tough talk last week, but numbers-wise that might be all it can be. Republicans can override Lynch’s veto whenever they choose, though doing so might be a little tougher this year, depending on the measure, with voters waiting to cast ballots in November.
Republicans could certainly hold onto their majorities in the House and Senate in the elections this fall, but they probably aren’t going to have the massive advantages they have now. Republican leaders probably feel some urgency to get things done before the makeup in the legislature changes too much.
Naturally, Democrats were on board with the governor’s address, and state Democratic party Chairman Ray Buckley called on the Legislature to “heed the governor’s call for common sense solutions at the Statehouse.”
Buckley took the opportunity to take a shot at the legislature along the way.
“Governor Lynch has stood up for our New Hampshire advantage and [the] state he loves,” Buckley said. “Over the past 12 months, he has served as a much-needed check against the legislature’s Tea Party agenda.”
The Republican response to the State of the State address had kind words for the governor, particularly about his response to the many natural disasters the state has endured during his tenure.
“The natural disasters that he has handled for our state have been historic. Since 2005, we’ve seen floods, blizzards, hurricanes, more floods, ice storms and tornados. Through it all, he has been a reassuring presence who has reminded the state that we can, and will, persevere.”
On the Republican side
Republicans have their own plans for 2012. And the economy is at the core of their plans, as well.
“We can focus squarely this year on getting Granite Staters back to work,” said D.J. Bettencourt, House majority leader, at a press conference last week. “We need more jobs in New Hampshire. We need careers to pull our state out of this recession for good.”
Bettencourt talked about finding ways to harness the cost of energy and to improve education in the state. He also talked about making state government more accountable, more user-friendly and more efficient.
Bettencourt said businesses repeatedly tell lawmakers that jobs are available but they often lack the qualified work force to fill the positions. That goes to improving education. For Bettencourt it was simple, it’s all about putting students first, rather than special interests or unions. He said Republicans want to empower students and parents, while abandoning the old, worn-out debate about education adequacy.
“We’d rather pursue an education based on excellence,” Bettencourt said.
On the energy front, Bettencourt said lawmakers must keep in mind the significance of the state’s environment, while also addressing rising energy costs.
“It’s important that the environment and the business climate not be either or; it should always be both,” Bettencourt said.
Echoing Lynch, Bettencourt said Republicans would look to work with Lynch and the Democratic leadership in the House to “turn down the temperature on the rhetoric.”
Bettencourt said Republican leadership would look to work with Democratic leadership in every opportunity it has.