EXCLUSIVE: O’Brien’s agenda at a glance
1. Address the budget deficit.
What he says: “We have to have a budget that addresses a structural deficit of between $650 million and $700 million – if we just continue to run the way we are, and have a three percent increase in revenue, which I think is optimistic.”
What it means: Republicans were extremely critical of the measures that the Democrats utilized to balance the previous 2-year budget, including borrowing money from the school construction aid fund and accepting $350 million in one-time federal stimulus funds. O’Brien and other Republicans have indicated a plan to enact large-scale spending cuts to balance the budget, although Democrats point out that the past several budgets have come under fire for making significant cuts to HHS.
2. Remove the “evergreen clause” from state employee union contracts.
What he says: O’Brien proposed removing the mandatory “evergreen clause” from the SEA during a meeting with Gov. Lynch, a measure that he stated would save New Hampshire taxpayers millions of dollars each year. He claims that the Governor professed his openness to working with the Republicans on this issue.
What it means: The evergreen clause mandates that when a State Employees Association (SEA) union contract expires, the employer (in this case, the state) must continue to meet the provisions of the expired contract until a new contract is negotiated. Critics of the legislation posited that the evergreen clause leaves the SEA with no motivation to arrive at a compromise during contract negotiations. Proponents of the clause, which was signed into law by Gov. Lynch in 2008, argue that it ensures that state employees are not subject to cuts in benefits every time a contract expires.
3. Introduce a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Claremont Decisions.
What he says: “[The House Republicans] are concerned about a series of decisions that we call the Claremont decisions that have been issued by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, that essentially impose on the legislature an obligation to centralize primary and secondary education and to fund that, [the Republicans] think that is wrong, and it is their goal and it is mine to take those handcuffs off New Hampshire.”
What it means: The Claremont Decisions refers to the mid-1990s series of rulings by the NH Supreme Court that dictated that the system of funding public schools through local property taxes was unconstitutional, under the provision in the state constitution guaranteeing all children the right to a public education. The argument was that the funding system led to inequities among schools in wealthy versus poor areas. The Claremont rulings dictate that the Governor and Legislature must find a way to use statewide tax revenues to fund schools equally, and has led to worries about a potential income tax. A constitutional amendment would overturn the court’s ruling and reinstate the property tax based system of school funding.
4. Transition to a defined contribution plan for state employee retirement accounts.
What he says: “[The House Republicans] are concerned about a public employee pension arrangement that is unsustainable for their good friends who are public employees, but also unsustainable for the people of New Hampshire. It will go bankrupt.”
What it means: Moving to a defined contribution plan would radically change the process for state employee retirement accounts, and over time completely remove the financial burden from the state. Current state employees have a defined benefit, or pension, plan, which guarantees them a certain amount upon retirement that requires the state to compensate for any shortfall in the retirement account funds. A defined contribution plan, on the other hand, does not include any predetermined benefit level, but rather only entitles the retiree to the funds in the account at the time of retirement, which depend on how much they allocate out of each paycheck, and how they invest those funds. Proponents point to the huge savings to New Hampshire taxpayers, whose funds would no longer be needed to guarantee employee pensions, but detractors say that state employees won’t be adequately provided for when they reach retirement age.