inside sources print logo
Get up to date New Hampshire news in your inbox

Bradley: NH Advantage in Danger From ConVal Ruling 

Senate Republicans stand between the New Hampshire Advantage and dangerous judicial overreach in the ConVal decision that could force an income tax on Granite Staters, said Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro).

Speaking before the Senate’s first session of the year at a Wednesday press conference in the Legislative Office Building, Bardley said the ConVal education funding decision essentially forces $536 million in new spending.

“There is no way, in my opinion, to do that without an income tax, or a sales tax or, possibly, both,” Bradley said. “That totally undermines the New Hampshire Advantage, and we just can’t go that route.”

Rockingham Superior Court Judge David Ruoff sided with the Contoocook Valley School District in its lawsuit against the state, ruling New Hampshire’s education funding system does not pay enough in adequacy grants and is, therefore, in violation of the state constitution. The Claremont state Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s found students have a right to an adequate education. That put the onus on lawmakers to define how much an adequate education costs and to come up with a fair way to fund it.

Ruoff’s decision, released in November, found the current adequacy grant of about $4,100 per pupil is too low and ought to be at least $7,300 per pupil. Ruoff left the final amount and funding mechanism up to the legislature. But Bradley said Ruoff’s decision puts New Hampshire on the road to an income tax. 

Worse, according to Bradley, it would force New Hampshire to revert to a donor town-type funding system where property taxes paid by homeowners in wealthier communities would be transferred to school systems in less-affluent cities or towns. That won’t happen while the GOP maintains control of the Senate, Bradley pledged.

“Between the 14 of us, an income tax, a sales tax, and donor towns are off the table,” Bradley said.

Some Democrats have already floated the idea of blocking the phase-out of the state’s tax on interest and dividends tax. Republicans say it’s just one step toward the longstanding goal of Granite State progressives to impose an income tax in the name of equity and social justice.

Gov. Chris Sununu is appealing Ruoff’s order to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Bradley said it remains to be seen if the ConVal decision survives the appeal. 

Protecting New Hampshire’s strong economy and free way of life from a tax regime is one of the Senate GOP’s top priorities for the coming session, Bradley said.

“It’s vitally important that we protect hardworking men and women from higher taxes, allow small businesses to thrive, and maintain our economic status,” Bradley said.

Public safety is the second pillar of the Senate GOP’s agenda, he said, and that starts with bail reform. The House and Senate have competing proposals to fix the 2018 bail reform law. While it was supposed to end cash bail for non-violent offenders, it’s now blamed for returning violent criminals to the streets.

“Our bail system, with the best intentions several years ago, was reformed, and those reforms did not protect the public,” Bradley said.

Despite differences in the proposals, Bradley said he is optimistic a deal can be struck between the two chambers to fix the bail system one way or another. 

“I think the House has made a good faith effort,” Bradley said. “Nobody gets everything they want around here.”

The Senate is also looking to block sanctuary cities in New Hampshire, strengthen protections at the Northern Border, and pass mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl traffickers, said Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry). 

The GOP agenda includes a parental transparency proposal that guarantees guardians access to school information about their children, a hotly-contested issue as some school districts insist teachers and administrators have the right to keep secrets – or even lie to – parents about their children’s behavior.

The senators will also push for local property tax relief, improvements to health care and mental health care, clean drinking water, investments in affordable housing, and a constitutional amendment to enshrine New Hampshire’s First in the Nation presidential primary into law. 

While the senators presented a united front for their agenda, there is a major fault line when it comes to marijuana legalization. Sununu reversed course last year by calling for the legislature to legalize recreational marijuana. Bradley admits the issue divides his caucus, but there will be a legalization effort this year he hopes everyone can agree to.

“There is the opportunity to get that done, but we’ll see what happens,” Bradley said.

GOP’s Murphy Arrested After Altercation With Employee at His Manchester Tavern

Republican state Sen. Keith Murphy of Manchester faces charges of simple assault and criminal threatening after a fracas at his eatery, Murphy’s Taproom.

According to Manchester police, Murphy turned himself in Monday on a warrant for the charges stemming from the April incident.

According to Manchester police, Murphy was involved in an argument with an employee at his restaurant. When he filed a complaint with the police, the employee alleged Murphy menacingly used a chair, slapped him, and spat on him. Manchester police officials said the surveillance video they reviewed was consistent with the employee’s report.

Murphy, 47, used his Facebook page to comment on his arrest.

“I am innocent of these charges and look forward to my day in court. When the facts are known, it will be clear that the police have charged the victim in this case. I will be defending my name, reputation, and business through the legal process, and I defer all further questions to my attorney, Donna Brown.”

Murphy added, “The truth will come out in a few weeks. Withhold judgment until that happens.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley called on Murphy to resign if convicted of the charges. But earlier this year, when previously convicted repeat offender Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) was behind bars yet again, on stalking charges, Buckley did not demand a resignation until after the House held Organization Day.

Once it was clear Laughton would be unable to add to the party’s numbers in a closely-divided House, Buckley then called for the Democrat to resign.

State Senate President Jeb Bradley expressed his support for Murphy late Monday.

“I want to express my strong support for our colleague Sen. Keith Murphy following news of a workplace dispute with an employee,” Bradley said in a statement. “Sen. Murphy has been a leader in the business community and someone that has demonstrated the highest of character while serving in the Senate.

“Like every American, Sen. Murphy has the right to be presumed innocent, and we all look forward to a speedy resolution of this matter.”

Murphy, a former state representative, was elected to the state Senate in 2022 as a fill-in candidate. Republican Rep. Michael Yakubovich, a two-term state representative from Hooksett, won the primary and immediately dropped out of the general election due to health issues. Party officials named Murphy to be his replacement.

Murphy’s allies insist the employee, not Murphy, was at fault and that when the case is fully investigated, Murphy will be cleared.

Murphy is no stranger to brushes with the law. He told NHJournal last year he could potentially be called as a witness in the Ian Freeman money laundering trial after federal law enforcement agents seized a Bitcoin ATM inside Murphy’s Taproom connected to Freeman’s illegal business.

Freeman was convicted last year on numerous federal felonies related to his multi-million money laundering scheme that helped facilitate online scammers, according to court documents. Freeman is due to be sentenced later this year.

Are State House Dems Plotting to Blow Up the Budget?

Guy Fawkes Day could be coming early to Concord as a contingent of House Democrats is reportedly scheming to blow up the proposed budget in a fight over Medicaid expansion.

Multiple sources tell NHJournal Democrats are toying with some radical plans, including the possibility of using a potential future majority in the evenly-split House to “vacate the speaker’s chair,” giving Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) the boot.

Another idea: Strip Medicaid expansion from the House budget by voting on it as a standalone bill, then leave the House GOP to attempt to pass a budget — and fail — without Democratic votes. But since the Medicaid expansion bill has already been retained in committee, the Democrats would have to override the committee process and vote to bring it to the House floor.

The conspiracy talk comes at a time of heightened tension in the budget negotiations between legislators and Gov. Chris Sununu, with one source saying no one knows what is going to happen next.

“If they do any of this, it is total Armageddon,” one GOP House member told NHJournal.

Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) shares a similar view, calling the talk he has heard from the Democratic side of the aisle “Washington-style politics at its worst.”

As for a possible Democratic attempt to pull Medicaid expansion out of budget for its own vote, “I think it’s a very dangerous game,” Bradley said during a podcast interview with NHJournal. “It puts at risk the budget and Medicaid expansion at risk.”

Bradley took the lead in the Senate, spearheading SB 263, the Medicaid expansion bill, which extends the state’s Granite Advantage health insurance program. While low-income families qualify for traditional Medicaid, the Granite Advantage program makes Medicaid available to working families who earn too much for Medicaid but don’t have access to affordable health insurance through their employers. And 90 percent of the funding comes from federal dollars.

“My responsibility as I see it is to get the job done for the 50,000 to 60,000 people now depending on Medicaid expansion,” Bradley said. “To say nothing of the providers, the hospitals, the business community, all of the people that have gotten behind this coalition effort for the last nine years.

“Our responsibility, as adults, is to get the job done.”

The original proposal would have permanently expanded health coverage, while some House GOP members wanted to see just a two-year expansion. Bradley has agreed to a compromise plan that extends the benefit for seven years. That is complicated by the fact the budget, HB2, includes a two-year extension to Medicaid.

Packard is seen as a key opponent to the permanent expansion. Now, sources tell NHJournal some Democrats plan to yank Medicaid expansion away from the House Finance Committee and hold a floor vote on a permanent expansion. At the same time, those Democrats are also gearing up to push Packard out of the speaker’s chair.

House Clerk Paul Smith said motions to vacate the speaker’s chair are rare and typically unsuccessful. Any vote to remove Packard would require “50 percent plus one” of the entire body — not just those present. There are 196 Democrats in the House. With several vacancies, the current House membership is 396, meaning Democrats need 199 votes.

House Finance Committee member Rep. Peter Leishman (D-Peterborough) has heard the rumblings about Medicaid expansion, but he said the House conspirators are all talk. He noted that the Finance Committee voted Thursday to retain the bill, locking it into the committee.

“If the bill’s not reported out, they can’t take it away from the Finance Committee,” Leishman added.

But other House sources said an obscure and rarely-used move could allow Democrats to override the committee’s vote to retain. Smith said it would be a highly unusual move.

“Does it usually happen that the House withdraws a bill from committee? No, not usually,” Smith said.

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) conceded that, given the tight margins in the House and attendance issues, it’s very possible Democrats could again find themselves with a majority on the floor. If they do and choose to abandon the norms and traditions of the House, they could wreak havoc.

“But the real result would be total Republican unity,” Osborne added. “These things Democrats are talking about would completely unify my caucus.”

In fact, Deputy Speaker Steve Smith now says House leadership is on board with Bradley’s proposed Medicaid expansion deal.

“We’ve heard from the business community, the health care community, and people across New Hampshire about the importance of reauthorizing Medicaid expansion,” Smith said in a statement. “We all agree that the program needs to be reauthorized, and we’ve had a productive conversation about the appropriate length of time for a sunset provision.

“A seven-year extension of the Granite Advantage Healthcare Program makes logical and fiscal sense. New Hampshire gets the financial benefit of a full contract period, a continued drop in uncompensated care costs – which is a hidden tax, and it stabilizes the market allowing for more competition to help further drive down health care costs in our state. House Republican leadership fully supports the budget compromise of seven years. Let’s get it done,” Smith said.

Regardless of how the Medicaid vote goes, former House Speaker Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) said an attempt to force a vote, or worse, depose Packard, is a mistake.

“What we don’t need right now is this kind of gamesmanship,” Shurtleff said. “There’s no need for these kinds of fights.”

Too many people in the state rely on the budget passing, Shurtleff added, and delaying that makes those people the victims in an unnecessary political fight. “The budget is too important to too many people,” he said.

Then there is the question of motive. Given how relatively apolitical the current budget is — no anti-CRT legislation or late-term abortion bans — why would Democrats contemplate such high-risk actions against it? Particular a budget with hefty pay raises for state workers, who tend to be political allies of the Democratic Party?

Several House Republicans told NHJournal they believe the real target is Sununu. If the governor is tied in an ugly budget battle or trying to corral House chaos, it might stop — or at least slow — his presidential plans.

“Or maybe the Democrats are just [expletives],” one GOP House member said.

Blowing up the budget would hurt state employees, people who need affordable housing, families who need childcare, Granite State communities that need water infrastructure repairs, and every homeowner who needs property tax relief, Bradley said.

“I would just say that is the worst possible case scenario because everything could wind up in the tank,” Bradley said.

Even Democratic stalwart Sen. Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester), who voted against the budget last week, wants the spending plan to pass. D’Allesandro and Sen. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) voted against HB2 in the Senate Finance Committee, saying they want improvements to the final bill before they support it.

“There’s an opportunity to add a couple of things to the budget,” D’Allesandro said.

D’Allesandro wants to see more money for state employee pensions, more money for affordable housing, and no money for northern border security. He said that as long as the bill remains intact and the House remains sane, there will be another opportunity to vote on the budget after more negotiations. That includes negotiating more time for Medicaid expansion.

The specter of a messy fight over Packard’s speakership is a non-starter for D’Allesandro. Packard is doing a solid job leading a closely divided House, he said.

“Sherman Packard was my student when he was in high school. I think the world of Sherman; he’s a fine man.”

Likewise, Leishman does not think Packard should be pushed out.

“I think Sherm’s done a good job trying to hold things together,” Leishman said.

Medicaid Expansion Gets Bipartisan Push from Senate Committee

The bipartisan effort to make New Hampshire’s Medicaid expansion permanent got a push Wednesday as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard from people like Manchester’s Michelle Lawrence, who said the law allows her to get vital cancer care. 

Lawrence, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, told lawmakers she was finally able to focus on her health once she received care through New Hampshire’s Granite Advantage plan.

“For the first time in my cancer journey, the primary focus in my care has not been on insurance and insurance costs,” Lawrence said. “I’m not getting up in the middle of the night having to think about delaying care or paying rent.”

Senate President Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) joined Nashua Democrat Sen. Cindy Rosenwald in urging the committee to approve SB 263, the bipartisan bill that would make Medicaid expansion permanent.

“I think our law is a good common-sense law and should remain in place,” Bradley said.

Making Medicaid permanent is part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget plan. Ben Vihstadt, Sununu’s communications director, said Sununu is ready to make sure the bill gets to his desk.

“Gov. Sununu worked with legislators in 2018 to deliver a five-year reauthorization of Medicaid Expansion in a fiscally responsible manner and supports this permanent step. He looks forward to working with the legislature this session to get this bill across the finish line,” Vihstadt said.

Granite Advantage, which currently provides health care to 94,000 residents, was last reauthorized in 2018 and is set to expire at the end of June. The current proposal will make the program permanent, meaning it will not have to come back for reauthorization if approved.

New Hampshire first expanded Medicaid in 2014 under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Henry Lippman, New Hampshire’s Medicaid director, said the program is expected to decrease to about 64,000 enrollees by the end of the year as the COVID-19 emergency authorization is expected to be phased out.

Extending Medicaid to low-income Granite Staters has been economically beneficial to the state’s hospital system, according to Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. Uncompensated care for hospitals dropped to $69 million in 2021, down from $173 million in 2014.

Uncompensated care costs all Granite Staters, Ahnen argued, and the bills are generally passed on through higher premiums to those with insurance. Bradley said the program has cut this hidden tax while also bringing down the cost of insurance for everyone else. 

Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michael Skelton said keeping Medicaid expansion in place is good for businesses and people. Access to healthcare means employees won’t lose time to serious medical problems, and businesses that are already short-staffed will be able to4 remain open.

“A healthy population contributes to worker availability,” Skelton said.

And without Granite Advantage, New Hampshire could lose up to $500 million a year in federal funding while having to shoulder the costs of uncompensated care alone.

“We benefit from an overall healthier population,” Skelton said. “Hospitals and other caregivers avoid catastrophic loss of revenue and employers and employees across the state will benefit from individuals being healthy enough to work.”

Robert Dunn, director of public policy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, made a moral argument for Medicaid expansion, saying the expanded coverage has likely saved lives. Speaking on behalf of Bishop Peter Libasci he urged the committee to support the permanent expansion.

“I think we can say it’s a pro-life measure,” Dunn said. 

Though the bill had bipartisan support in the Senate committee, there is resistance in the House of Representatives, sources say. And the influential Americans for Prosperity – NH opposes the move. State Director Greg Moore said the plan incentivizes people to earn less income in order to qualify for health care.

“This regressive policy works to keep people in poverty instead of lifting them out of – it is the opposite of the Live Free or Die way of life,” Moore said. 

But Moore’s position did not carry the day. The committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, sending it to the full Senate for a vote.