Mark Hounsell: Sununu’s leadership and ‘Buco Bucks’

  • Published in Columns

At an October 2016 debate in North Conway, then gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu declared that he was 100 percent in support of funding state aid grant payments owed by the state to municipalities for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. The inability (or unwillingness) of previous administrations and legislatures to honor their commitment to cities and towns has been a shameful example of government welching on a deal that was made with the people. Local property taxpayers have had to cover the costs that were to be paid for by the state. A good portion of the increases in our local property taxes and water/sewer rates are a direct result of the state government reneging on its promises.

True to his word, Gov. Sununu put the full support of his administration behind the latest efforts to begin making good on this decade-long obligation. His leadership was crucial in that he successfully aligned the bipartisan efforts of many to pass legislation that will provide funding for 20 water and wastewater projects statewide. All of these projects had been completed. Accordingly, cities and towns have had to begin making bond payments without the promised state aid. The legislation that passed this year amounts to real property tax/ratepayer relief.

SB 57 now appropriates $3,518,391 to 19 eligible water and wastewater projects under the state aid program in this two-year state budget.

The North Conway Water Precinct will be receiving $46,365 in 2018 and then $46,367 in 2019 and each year for the next 28 years.

The Conway Fire District will be receiving $131,980 in 2018 and then $114,802 in 2019 and each year for the next 28 years.

That means going forward (unless the state reneges again) the taxpayers in these two precincts will realize $4.5 million in new state funding. The resultant opportunities for betterment and tax relief are considerable for these communities of northern Carroll County.

Without Sununu’s leadership and diligent involvement, all this could not and would not have happened. Yet, without the bipartisan support that came into play, his efforts would have been in vain.

Buco Bucks

Perhaps one of the most courageous political undertakings by any state politician in 2017 was that of Rep. Tom Buco (D-Conway). Buco has fought relentlessly for these funds for the better part of a decade. Oftentimes it has been his own party that has hindered him. Indeed, neither Democratic governors, John Lynch nor Maggie Hassan, gave the issue much consideration at all. Yet Buco would not be deterred. After managing to get funding included in the House version of the budget (HB 1) he saw that bill and the funding be defeated by the House. As he pressed even harder for passage his efforts became known around the state House as “Buco Bucks.” With his determination not being diminished, he turned his efforts to colleagues in the Senate. He certainly was aided by Sen. Jeff Woodburn (D-District 1) who represents Berlin, a city in need which now will reap significant funds from the new law. As minority leader in the Senate, Woodburn was instrumental in securing and maintaining Democratic support in the upper chamber.

However, it was the eloquent legislative maneuvering of Senate President Chuck Morse (R-District 22) and Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-District 3) that made success possible.

Sen. Bradley was the lone Senate sponsor of SB 57. The House sponsors of that bill included Buco, Karen Umberger (R-Conway) and Lynne Ober (R-Hillsborough, 37). All three are members of the House Finance Committee, with Umberger and Ober being chairmen of two of the three Finance Committee divisions. It is important to note that without the insistence of Ober, the data needed for the General Court to make a fully informed decision would not have been available. As it has been reported to me, Ober informed the Department of Environmental Services in no uncertain terms it would be best for them to get to work and get the needed information relative to these local projects to the Finance Committee in a timely manner. They indeed did so. Lynne Ober deserves well-earned credit for her part in this important legislation and for her co-sponsorship of SB 57.

Umberger’s no-nonsense approach to budgets was critical. Her ability to understand budgets and impacts is well-known and respected in Concord. Throughout the session her experiences and knowledge were critical to convincing the majority of the 400 House members to vote for final passage.

Morse and Bradley demonstrated accomplished wisdom in the way they accessed the funds needed. By working directly with the governor they prioritized the allocation of 2017 state surplus funds to make these 19 local project’s annual payments. In addition, Morse saw the opportunity to access the $277 million that is in the Groundwater Trust Fund sitting in the state Treasury. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was the act provides $5 million in a state loan for the construction of a water line to 110 water users in Amherst who have lost their wells to groundwater contamination from perfluoroctaoic acid, also known as PFOA.

There were certainly more people involved in securing passage of SB 57, and I hope the story of their involvement is shared.

I would like to conclude for now by observing that talk is cheap, and action speaks louder than words. The accomplishments of Gov. Sununu, Sens. Morse and Jeb Bradley, together with Reps. Buco, Umberger and Ober were the result of sagacious moves, hard work and birddog determination complete with leadership and inclusion. I contend a good political method for addressing our future infrastructure needs has been demonstrated. Reminds me of the good that government can do for the people.

Mark Hounsell represents District 1 on the Carroll County Board of commissioners.