State School bill gets hearing before House’s Public Works & Highways Committee

CONCORD — A Senate bill that would repeal the rider attached to the 2012-2013 state budget prescribing the process for selling the former Laconia State School property encountered no opposition at a hearing before the House Public Works and Highways Committee yesterday.
In 2011, the Legislature, at the initiative of the Senate, circumvented the statutory process for disposing of state property by directing the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to offer the property to the city for $10-million and, if the city declined, to offer it to Belknap County at "fair market value." If neither the city nor the county accepted the offer, the department was instructed to sell the property on the open market. The law stipulated that the Governor and Executive Council must approve any sale.
Senate Bill 19, sponsored by Sen. Jim Rausch (R-Derry) would cut short this process and revert to the procedure prescribed by statute (RSA 4:40). which requires review by the Council of Resources and Development, consisting of officials of major state agencies, and the approval of the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, composed primarily of legislators. The committee must find a property is "no longer needed by the state" before recommending its sale to the governor and Executive Council, which must approve any transaction.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), a member of the Public Works and Highways Committee, noted that Rausch, along with three of his co-sponsors — Reps. Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), John Graham (R-Bedford) and David Campbell (D-Nashua) are members of the Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee, who were troubled that the statutory process was bypassed.
The bill carried the Senate with an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Peter Bragdon (R-Milford), the president of the Senate, that would eliminate of one of three toll booths on the Everett Turnpike in Merrimack, one of the four towns in his Senate district. While residents of Merrimack have clamored for scuttling the toll booths for years, the Legislature has steadfastly refused. In fact, since 2000, 11 bills have been introduced to eliminate one or all of the Merrimack toll booths. All have been referred to the House Public Works and Highways Committee, which recommended against all 11, eight of them by unanimous votes, and most failed by voice votes on the House floor.
Tilton said most of the questions posed at yesterday's hearing bore on the amendment, not the original bill. He noted that earlier in the session the committee recommended against same a bill to eliminate the same toll booth by a vote of 19 to 0, which the House subsequently rejected by a voice vote.
Tilton anticipated that the House would strip the amendment from the bill then adopt it as originally introduced in the Senate. The Senate and House would resolve their differences in a committee of conference, which Tilton expected to endorse the original bill.