By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Living in New Hampshire, residents are lulled into a dream that most of the world’s misery will never reach our shore.
The past two weeks have been a reminder that in this age of air travel, rapid transit and electronic communication, the world is really a small community.
Traveling to Italy and Europe, a dream of many Granite Staters, introduced the first cases of coronavirus to New Hampshire.
Many people did not need to know some residents were sick with the virus that has claimed thousands of lives around the world and over 40 in the United States, most in Washington state nursing homes, to clear the local grocery stores’ shelves of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and toilet paper.
Questions abound about the federal government’s preparedness to address the health and economic crisis, but New Hampshire officials to date, appear to have done a good job of containing the virus to the Upper Valley and several areas in Rockingham County, but that could change overnight as Boston learned after Biogen’s management conference several weeks ago.
Massachusetts now has more than 100 people with coronavirus and the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel where the conference was held is closed.
Colleges across the country and in New Hampshire are sending students home and telling them to telecommute for the remainder of the semester and most probably will not be holding large graduation ceremonies in another month.
The graduates who had dreamed of walking across the stage to receive a hard-earned diploma will feel the disappointment for years and those high school athletes preparing for spring sports season — and maybe one more championship — will have played their last game for their alma mater.
The ripple effects of the outbreak are felt across the state in other ways from delaying the opening of the Fisher Cats baseball season to high school closings in many communities.
Who knows what the summer tourist season will look like in the Granite State. The owner of Mount Sunapee Ski Area, Vail Resorts, issued a guidance last week fearing revenues from spring skiing and the Easter bounce will be reduced because of coronavirus fears.
Any slowdown in the tourist season will mean lower state government revenues particularly for the rooms and meals tax, and business taxes.
Gov. Chris Sununu sent a letter to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee Friday saying he has told state agencies to plan for future reductions, others to cut spending now, and some agencies to find savings by slowing down or stopping the phase-in of programs.
“While it is
our intention at this time to continue funding core critical programs and
services, we must be prepared to made adjustments as the full extent of the
economic disruption of COVID-19 are understood including its impact on travel
and tourism, trade, and business revenues,” he wrote. “It would be financial
malpractice to wait until revenues decline so substantially that even greater
cuts would be necessary.”
The latest state revenue report for February showed revenues about $11 million more than the budget plan, but about $76 million less than the previous year.
That means revenues are basically on target but with the months of March and April — two of three largest months for state revenue coming up — the picture could change rapidly as those two months see a significant share of the business tax revenue the state collects.
Businesses may begin reducing their payments to the state if they foresee financial trouble ahead due to the virus.
No wonder Sununu declared a State of Emergency Friday evening not long after President Trump declared one for the nation and about the same time Vermont Gov. Phil Scott declared one for his state.
Before the declaration of emergencies, the House and Senate had begun planning for disruptions if the disease begins spreading more rapidly.
House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff said Wednesday he had asked Senate President Donna Soucy to form a joint committee to discuss what the legislature should do going forward but had not heard from her.
Thursday he had his answer as the Senate leadership announced a legislative package to address key issues facing the state such as coverage for the uninsured, sick leave for employees and small business owners, job protection, and a waiver of state employees’ cost-sharing for tests and treatment.
The bill is co-sponsored by the House Democratic leadership but was announced by the Senate with prime sponsor Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, who is running for his party’s gubernatorial nomination.
Both the House and Senate approved a new rule allowing the Senate President and House Speaker to adjust deadlines in light of the coronavirus pandemic freeing them to essentially cancel sessions or meetings and agreeing to continue the session into the summer or fall if needed.
On Saturday it was announced that the New Hampshire Legislature has suspended all legislative activities for at least one week from March 16 to 20. And the State House will be closed to legislative members and staff and visitors but remain open for governmental operations until further notice.
The House had a protracted discussion at the beginning of Wednesday’s session when Rep. Andrew Prout, R-Hudson, proposed a rule change that would allow quarantined House members to participate in the session electronically.
While the proposal has some constitutional and logistical issues, it set off a discussion about who would decide if a member needs to self-quarantine.
Lawmakers were on a path to end the session the first week of June and then begin campaigning for the September primary and November general election.
Now, like other state residents, their routine lives will be significantly disrupted by a virus not heard of before December.
The world’s ills found New Hampshire’s shore and are marching inland. The disruption will be a jolt to our lives.
Garry Rayno may be reached to firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.
InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to reporting ethical, unbiased news and diverse opinions and columns.