Budget Committee Cuts AG’s Request For Extra Funds By $100,000

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Gov. Chris Sununu is pictured swearing in Attorney General Gordon MacDonald in 2017.

By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD – The state Legislative Budget Committee voted to cut Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s request for $620,832 in addition to his budget by $100,000 along party lines at Friday’s meeting.

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, objected to the reduction saying it would hinder MacDonald from performing his constitutional duties. Rep. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, also said by cutting the attorney general’s request, it would impact on his ability to defend and protect the state.

But Democrats insisted that facing a budget shortfall by as much as $300 million means belt tightening is in order.

MacDonald’s request sought the money from the general fund to cover projected shortfalls in general litigation expenses.

While it wasn’t discussed before the vote, some Democrats were not happy that MacDonald wanted $103,000 to pay outside attorney Bryan Gould, a long-time Republican party attorney, to appeal the SB3 decision ruling.

SB3, the controversial 2017 voter registration law, was struck down as unconstitutional by Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge David Anderson last month. Anderson said it unreasonably burdened the right to vote and violated equal protection.

Republican supporters of the law said it was necessary to protect the integrity of the state’s electoral process and make sure only residents vote. But critics said it was meant to suppress voting, especially in college towns where many register on Election Day.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesdandro, D-Manchester, said it would be hard to spend the amount that was approved – $520,832 – in the few months left in the fiscal year. And foolish to spend any money to appeal the SB3 ruling.

State Sen. Dan Feltes, a gubernatorial candidate who is not on the fiscal committee, said after the meeting that the state is facing an unprecedented economic and public health crisis and belt tightening is needed.

“This is certainly not the time for taxpayer money to go to outside partisan legal counsel for partisan litigation that has already been struck down as unconstitutional. Every dollar that gets spent on unnecessary appeals is one less dollar to spend on testing, PPE, and on our long-term care facilities,” Feltes said.

D’Allesandro and other Democratic lawmakers on the committee were also not happy that over $100 million in line items on the agenda came as information items, money that they have no control over because it is related to COVID-19 and Gov. Chris Sununu’s emergency orders.

Sununu maintains that the law allows him the authority to decide where $1.25 billion in federal Cares Act funds should be spent.

Both the Executive Council and the Legislative Fiscal Committee say Sununu is bypassing their approval in violation of the state Constitution.

Four Democratic leaders lost their first round in court with Judge David Anderson ruling they don’t have standing to sue, but that case is now back before the court. They argue the Legislative Budget Committee has the authority to approve all budget expenditures.

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