By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
Like Bob Dylan’s never ending tour back before the pandemic, Gov. Chris Sununu has embarked on his own never ending tour of national television and cable news studios as well as the usual must attend stops — or cattle calls — for presidential wannabes.
Friday he was a featured speaker, along with most other potential GOP presidential candidates at the National Rifle Association’s national convention just days after two mass shootings in Tennessee and Kentucky killed 10 people.
The NRA has long held GOP politicians’ feet to the fire when it comes to an overly robust interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
Coupled with hefty campaign contributions from the NRA and its members, there has been little to no action to restrict firearms and who may buy and use them as mass killings are more frequent and quickly forgotten for all but those who lost loved ones to the needless violence.
Excerpts from the governor’s speech showed him boasting about his veto of the red flag law passed by New Hampshire lawmakers several years ago when Democrats controlled the legislature, and signing “constitutional carry” or no need for a permit to carry a loaded, concealed weapon.
And then he touted the law passed during the last session which forbids state law enforcement and its political subdivisions from enforcing any federal executive order, law or mandate concerning firearms restrictions.
“We quickly passed a law in New Hampshire that said, ‘You’re the federal government. We’re the states. We go first. Federal government, shove it,’” Sununu said. “We’re not doing it. We’re not doing it.”
Shove it federal government?
What would have happened to New Hampshire if the federal government said, “Shove it New Hampshire” during the early days of the pandemic until now? The state has received tens of billions of dollars in federal money, much of it spent through the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery or with his blessings.
Sununu got to play Santa Claus with the federal money and certainly was not shy about publicizing how it was spent to help the state and its people.
The huge influx of federal money is the single biggest reason state revenues have been running hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus since the 2020 fiscal year.
The federal money helped businesses and organizations impacted by the pandemic, particularly in the early days, and was used for public and mental health, substance abuse, housing, schools, food programs, upgrades to heating and ventilation systems, broadband expansion and to partner with existing health care providers for new mental health facilities.
Federal money has or will be used to offset business, and interest and dividends tax cuts, for a legislative parking garage, to purchase facilities and upgrade IT infrastructure, to redo fish tanks at the state’s hatcheries and a number of things that you might say are marginal, given the intended us of the federal money.
A look at a Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee agenda will give you a good example of how the money is being used in New Hampshire.
In Friday’s upcoming meeting, the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery is proposing using $2.3 million of the federal money to provide continued funding to the Judicial Branch for revamping how it handles involuntary emergency admission cases with its single statewide healthcare docket.
Another item requests $3.6 million of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to enhance the child care system in the state and $500,000 would go to the Division of Historical Resources to purchase a computer system to track historical sites that must be reviewed before work is done.
The state intends to use federal money for a new youth holding facility to replace the Sununu Youth Services Center as well.
The state is not alone in using the federal money for things it normally would not do or at least put off for years until the project could fit into the capital budget.
The capital budgets going forward ought to be somewhat minimized, but don’t count on that.
Not only has the federal money been a gift to the state in many ways, there is the routine federal money that comes into the state for many departments like Health and Human Services, Education, Safety, Transportation and Environmental Services.
If you look at the end of the 1,000-page plus biennial budget, the sources of funds are listed.
The total appropriations are $15.7 billion over the two years of the biennium in the House passed budget.
Federal funds for fiscal year 2024 which begins July 1 are $2.49 billion and state general funds are $1.94 billion.
For fiscal year 2025, federal funds are $2.53 billion and state general funds are $2.02 billion.
Those figures indicate the federal government is sending the state $100 million more money than the state general funds are contributing.
But that doesn’t include the Education Trust Fund which is estimated to produce $1.14 billion in fiscal 24 and $1.15 billion in fiscal 25, which means the state is contributing more to state government services than the federal government, but federal dollars are just short of one-third of all the money the state spends, or 32 percent.
New Hampshire is about average with federal revenue for its budget, as the national average is 32.6 percent.
The states that use 40 percent or more federal revenues for their budgets are Louisiana, 44.8 percent; Montana, 43.7 percent; Alaska 42.7 percent; Mississippi, 42 percent; West Virginia, 41.2 percent, and Arizona, 40.2 percent, according to a Pew Research Center report.
The report indicates the states least dependent on federal revenue for their budgets are Hawaii, 20.1 percent; North Dakota, 20.5 percent; Virginia, 20.7 percent; Kansas, 21.5 percent, and Utah, 22.4 percent.
In New England, Vermont is just slightly less than New Hampshire, while Maine and Rhode Island use a greater percentage of federal money in their budget. while Massachusetts and Connecticut use lesser percentages of federal money.
But no state uses less than 20 percent of federal revenue to help balance their budget.
So any governor should think twice about telling the federal government to shove it, whether it be over firearms restrictions or money for a new parking garage to make 424 lawmakers a little happier because they don’t have to walk from Storrs Street to the State House in winter weather in the future.
As your mother always told you, it is never good to bite the hand that feeds you. If you keep biting that hand, it just might stop feeding you.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.
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.