By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — As expected, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage in New Hampshire from $7.25 an hour to $12 over three years.
House Bill 731 would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2021 and to $12 in 2023.
He also vetoed an education and renewable energy bills.
New Hampshire, which tracks the federal minimum wage, has the lowest rate in New England.
“Now is exactly the wrong time to pursue policies that will reduce the chances of Granite Staters being able to get back to work and that will further hinder our employers who are already struggling in this global pandemic,” said Sununu in his veto statement.
“This bill would have meant fewer jobs and fewer available hours for our workers who are unemployed or underemployed. It would mean our employers who are fighting for survival would have one more burden placed on their backs as they try to recover.”
But proponents of the bill said full-time workers should earn a fair wage so they do not qualify for public assistance as they do now.
“While Governor Sununu’s veto of HB 731 does not come as a surprise, it is once again a disappointment,” said Senate President Donna Soucy. “Year after year, New Hampshire falls further behind our neighboring states, all of whom have a minimum wage of at least $10. This disparity continues to drive away the workers we so desperately need.”
She said the current minimum wage is not a livable wage in New Hampshire.
“A person working full-time hours should not fall below the wage threshold to qualify for public assistance — that is just plain wrong,” Soucy said.
House Minority Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, praised Sununu’s veto saying it will save jobs and businesses.
“Granite State workers and small business owners can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to the red pen of Gov. Sununu. Passing a 65 percent mandatory minimum wage hike in the middle of a pandemic is particularly cruel and burdensome,” said Hinch. “Democrats have made it clear that they’re doubling down on their progressive agenda, even if it means forcing small businesses to close their doors or cut jobs.”
In his veto message, Sununu said the biggest burden would fall on entry level workers, who need job skills to advance in their careers.
“Raising the minimum wage would create a barrier for these new workers, as well as those reentering the job market from the criminal justice system at a time when unemployment remains high,” Sununu said.
The veto of increasing the minimum wage along with other vetoes shows the governor is out of touch with working families, said the chair of the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee.
“Every year, we fall further behind neighboring states as they continue to gradually increase their minimum wage and we fail to reestablish one,” said Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Grantham. “The fact that Gov. Sununu again vetoed a gradual, modest increase in our minimum wage over the next three years shortly after vetoing paid family and medical leave and increased protections for workers returning to work shows just how out of touch he is with workers and families across our state.”
The bill passed the Senate on a 14-10 vote and the House 189-124, neither enough to override a veto.
As he did a year ago, Sununu vetoed a bill that would have restricted a Department of Education program Learn Everywhere, which established graduation credits for alternative learning, work-based programs.
Under the program the state would certify the company and credits for participating in the experiential learning for students from different districts.
Opponents of the plan say it usurps local control from school districts that should be able to decide which work programs would qualify for graduation credits, not the state.
“For the second time in as many years, the legislature has put legislation on my desk that will stifle innovation in education and strip away alternative learning paths for students,” Sununu said in his veto message. “New Hampshire has a long and distinguished history of education innovation that has served our students, families, and communities well. Learn Everywhere is the next step on this path to innovation and this bill effectively kills this opportunity.”
He said all students can be successful if they are in the right learning environment inside or outside the classroom.
“Everywhere empowers parents to find the best educational paths for their children, and allows students to access a broader range of courses than their schools could provide on their own,” Sununu said in his veto message. “In the midst of the current health crisis and the impending need for flexible solutions for education, we need to keep all options open to our students, families and teachers.”
But supporters say the department is overstepping its authority in Learn Everywhere and is not close enough to the local communities to know which work-based learning programs fit within a district’s curriculum and provide graduation credits.
“The Governor frequently states that he supports quality education, yet he has just vetoed the bill that would provide local oversight of educational quality,” said Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough. “Instead, he has mandated that every high school in the state accept credits approved through a superficial process with no ongoing oversight.”
She said without the bill, high schools must give credit for programs that may not meet district standards and with no opportunity to assess student mastery.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules issued a final objection to the Learn Everywhere plan last spring.
But House Minority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, said the program allows parents more control over their children’s education.
“Innovation is a key to success in New Hampshire’s education system,” Hinch said. “The Learn Everywhere program creates new opportunities for learning outside of the classroom while maintaining local control over curriculum and graduation standards.”
But House Education Committee chair, Rep. Mel Myler, D-Hopkinton, said the bill would have encouraged the Department of Education to work with local districts on extended learning opportunities for students.
“By vetoing this bill, which would have brought greater opportunities for extended learning, the governor has turned his back on the students, families and local businesses who desperately look to build the future workforce through apprentice programs and work-based learning,” Myler said.
The bill passed the Senate on a 15-9 vote and the House 193-136, neither enough to override a veto.
Sununu vetoed a bill that would have required state utilities to use more renewable energy.
Sununu vetoed a similar bill last year calling it “crony capitalism at its worst.”
“Senate Bill 124 is a direct handout to politically well-connected industries,” Sununu said in his veto message. “It has the potential to cost electric ratepayers $300 million annually in new subsidies, with more than $100 million per year of ratepayer money going to fund solar developers’ profits. This bill has set a new standard when it comes to cronyism at its worst.”
New Hampshire already has some of the highest electric rates in the country, he said, and the bill would have made that worse.
“This makes it hard both for businesses to expand and for residents on fixed incomes to pay their bills each month,” Sununu said. “Putting the outrageous cost aside, New Hampshire would need to devote 20 square miles of land to achieve the solar energy goal this bill sets. This is an area more than (three) times the size of Lake Sunapee.”
But proponents of the bill said it would encourage the development of clean energy and the veto is one in a long line of bills promoting clean energy and greater efficiency.
Senate Majority Leader and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said the veto was a disappointment.
“New Hampshire has among the highest energy bills in the nation because of Gov. Sununu’s vetoes of renewable energy and energy efficiency legislation,” Feltes said. “We were also the only state in New England to lose solar jobs last year, because of Gov. Sununu’s vetoes.”
Feltes said the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard flatlines in 2025.
“Gov. Sununu vetoing SB 124 is telling everyone New Hampshire is closed for clean energy, which is especially problematic when New Hampshire’s economy has been so heavily hit by COVID-19,” he said.
The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee chair, Rep. Bob Backus, D-Manchester, called the veto Sununu’s latest assault on clean energy, noting the bill would have increased renewable energy by a very modest .9 percent a year.
“He has repeatedly vetoed clean energy bills with wide, bipartisan support and it doesn’t look like he plans to slow down this year,” Backus said. “This would have increased non-polluting sources of electricity in our state while also providing jobs in the clean energy sector that cannot be outsourced.”
The bill passed the Senate on a 14-10 vote, and the House 214-141, neither enough for a two-thirds majority to override a veto.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.