CONCORD — A bill to do away with the nine regional planning commissions, sponsored by state Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) could cost the state more than $100,000 a year as well as place federal highway funds at risk, according to two state agencies.
Echoing the leadership of the Lakes Region Tea Party, Cormier is among those who believe that the regional planning commissions are the stalking horses of a federal effort, pursued under the aegis of Granite State Future, to promote "Smart Growth" and "sustainable living" at the expense of local control of land use decisions and private property rights. "NH Regional Planning Commissions," Cormier recently wrote in The Weirs Times, "are a scam, fueled by the feds, to reach the goals of sustainable 'smart growth' in our Live Free or Die state." In particular, she dismisses claims that the authority regional planning commissions is strictly advisory as "an out-an-out lie."
House Bill 1573 runs to 14 pages, mostly filled with deletions to references to the regional planning commissions in state statute. The bill would also require that a majority of members of municipal planning boards, who currently my be either appointed or elected, be elected.
In a note projecting the fiscal impact of the bill, the Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) explains that it has a statutory responsibility to assist cities and towns in managing growth and protecting resources, which the agency fulfills in part by distributing $100,000 a year to the regional planning commissions. If the commissions are abolished, the OEP anticipates that its own responsibilities will increase, requiring it to employ two additional full-time planners to directly serve municipalities. Less the annual $100,000 grant to the regional planning commissions, the net cost to the state is estimated at $87,770 in 2015, $95,798 in 2016, $105,032 in 2017 and $114,765 in 2018.
At the same time, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) reported that it relies on data by the regional planning commissions to assess the air quality impact associated with transportation as required by the federal Clean Air Act. Although DES expects the data will continue to be available, if it were not the federal government could impose sanctions or withhold highway funds.
Cormier said last week that the bill and fiscal note "made our argument." She said that sheer number of references to the regional planning commissions in state statute belies the notion that they have only advisory authority. "All of those repeals," she said. "How advisory is that?" That the commissions can be replaced by two planners at OEP, she said confirms that "municipalities will do just fine without the bloated bureaucracy," which she described as "basically a money laundering thing."
"The fight is on," Cormier declared, "and we're going for broke."