State budget writers defend their work

LACONIA — With the Legislature set to adopt its 2016-2017 state budget and Gov. Maggie Hassan set to veto it, two of its principal architects — Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) — have taken to the road in defense of their handiwork.

With the House and Senate expected to approve the budget on Wednesday. Forrester and Bradley spoke to the Laconia Daily Sun yesterday, just days after the legislative leadership announced they would introduce a continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown and the governor urged them to return to bargaining table.

Bradley said that the differences with the governor primarily turned on three issues — the Legislature's determination to reduce business taxes, failure to fund a pay raise negotiated with the State Employees Association and unwillingness to fund the Health Protection Program, which expanded Medicaid.

He stressed that the Senate, with several more months of tax receipts than the House, was able to increase revenue projections by about $120 million and restore many of the cuts to the governor's budget made by the House.

The increased revenues identified by the Senate include increasing the surplus carried forward at the close of the current fiscal year from $34 million to $49 million, while at the same time adding about $13 million to the rainy day fund. The governor has voiced misgivings about both projections.

Forrester, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, noted that the Senate added $18 million to the appropriation for substance abuse treatment, bringing the total to $42 million, which will be supplemented by $2.5 in federal funding in each year of the biennium. She acknowledged that the $6.7 million appropriated for the treatment of alcohol abuse is less than the $9 million recommended by the governor and the $17 million stipulated by statute, but it is $2.7 more than has ever been directed at the problem.

The budget, Forrester continued, includes a 5 percent increase in the reimbursement rate paid to home health care providers, like the visiting nurse associations and Granite State Independent Living, the first increase since 2004. Bradley remarked that despite an 8 percent increase in the budget of the University System of New Hampshire "they're still mad at us."

"It's a good budget," Forrester insisted. "We've made a lot of compromises."

However, neither senator indicated a willingness to forego reductions in business taxes, to fund the state employees contract or commit to reauthorizing the Health Protection Program.

Forrester said that the Senate decided to reduce business taxes only at the end of the budget process when funds were allocated for other important responsibilities. Although the governor claims the reductions will diminish state revenues by $90 million, Bradley said that claims the cuts are not paid for are not true. He said that Business Profits Tax would be reduced from 8.5 percent -- the highest rate in New England and among the highest in the country -- to 7.9 percent, one-tenth of 1 percent below the rate in Massachusetts, over seven years.

""It's not a philosophical issue," Bradley. "It's a practical issue, a competitive issue." He said that the lower rates would help contribute to retaining and expanding local businesses, adding: "We've never said it's a silver bullet, never tried to oversell it." At the same time, he said that the Senate has taken steps to reduce the cost of workers compensation, electric rates and health insurance to improve the business climate.

Forrester emphasized that measures to ensure local businesses remain competitive are necessary because the private sector generates much of the revenue required to fund the programs and services offered by state government,

Bradley said that the Senate has offered to fund the state employees contract in the second year of the biennium, beginning on July 1, 2016. "The Senate is open-minded to funding the pay raise," he said. "The Republicans are not averse to this, but it's hard to shoe-horn $30 million into the budget."

Both Bradley and Forrester played key roles in introducing the Health Protection Program, which divided the Republican majority and carried the Senate by controversial bipartisan vote in in the Senate last year. The program is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016. Rather than reauthorize it as part of the biennial budget process, the Republican majority in the Senate preferred to evaluate tits operation and address its reauthorization next year in separate legislation. Bradley said that he intended to sponsor such legislation, adding: "I hope it will be reauthorized."

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Forrester, who expressed concern about the future of the federal funding to operate the program as it was designed. She also wanted to review the program to ensure that it reduces the shifting of health care costs from the uninsured and under-insured to the private insurance market. "I want to see the numbers," she said.

Anticipating that the governor will veto the budget and conceding the Legislature lacks the votes to override her veto, Bradley said that a continuing resolution will be introduced to keep government operating at current levels for six months. "No one wins in a government shutdown," he said.

No glass ceiling at biker bars; meet a couple of local owners

LACONIA — Biker bars owned and operated by - gulp – women. Unheard of in the old rock 'em sock 'em world of bad boys, smoke-filled rooms, and the occasional argument over a pool game or fist fight over a hot broad at bar time.

Not so if one were to ask Michelle Watson of The Looney Bin and Melissa Penland of the newly-reopened Broken Spoke Saloon — both of which are located at the Weirs.

For Michelle, who took about an half hour to sit down and take a well-deserved break after the dinner rush and before the band started playing on night this week, there's one thing that used to bother her but now she makes a great sport of it.

"I love it when people call and say, 'when will the owner be in,'" she said. "Now I just say 'never' and hang up."

She said she used to work at the Boot Hill Saloon and has pretty much heard every inappropriate comment that can be made.

"But," she said, "my stress reliever is going to the gym and I'm pretty capable.

"In fact, I just learned this week that someone called me an 'awesome bad-ass,'" Watson said with a laugh. "I kinda like it."

For Melissa, owning biker bars in Laconia and Daytona and a portion of a campground in Sturgis is one of natural progression.

"I grew up in Daytona and learned that every date is an event," she said. As for being a female bar owner, she just laughed.

"I can name you four bars along the Daytona Strip that are all owned by women," she said, naming Sally at the Iron Horse, Theresa at One Main Street, and Betty at Smiley's Tavern.

Although both owners are women, they come from different backgrounds and experience. The one thing they share is that they both came from bar and saloon backgrounds when they were younger and both know nearly every aspect to running a bar and restaurant through their own trials and tribulations.

Michelle went to college to become a graphic designer. Along with her chef who has been with her all 10 years, she designs a new line of Looney Bin wear for each year. She said some of them are dated — this year's commemorates her 10th anniversary — and some of them aren't.

All of the Looney Bin's food is from homemade recipes handed down to Michelle by her parents and grandparents. "When you get a reuben sandwich at the Looney Bin, all of the corned beef has been home-cooked," she said.

In preparation for Motorcycle Week, she spend days making 80 pounds of meatballs and her award winning chili.

Melissa came from the corporate world and spend five years working in accounting and commercial lending for Sun Bank in Florida. "I did some marketing which helps," she added.

But little by little she became more involved with the Broken Spoke and decided to buy it when the former owners were ready to retire.

She said she studied Jay Allen — the orginal owner of the Broken Spoke who is there this weekend to help them out — so she could learned what it was about him that made people love him.

Melissa said she learned above all that his customers were treated like family. She recalled one time when he was exhausted one of his customers bike broke down and he stayed two hours to help him fix it.

She said her biggest challenge with the Broken Spoke is keeping it open all summer. She said this year that won't happen but she expects to operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day next year.

"We want to be part of the local community," she said.

She also said the key to her being able to stay open for the entire summer season is to find a manager who she knows is capable of doing the job and who she can trust.

Michelle and the Looney Bin staff are already integral in the local community. Every year they host a widely popular pig roast and donate the proceeds to New Beginnings — non-profit group that assists battered women and their children.

The Looney Bin is also open year round. In the winter, Michelle said there are a large number of "regular" customers who come in with their families for dinner or who drop by for a beer or two.
She said they watch a lot of sports on television, chat about whatever, and those are the people who have become just like family to her. As for being a woman, she laughed and said, "Do you really think those people are going to let something happened to me."

"I love seeing my regulars on (Motorcycle) Week, too," she said. "Every year I get to catch up with my old friends too."

"Not very man women get the chance I have had and I don't know if they'd get the opportunity to give back to the community like I have," said Melissa.


CUTLINE: Above, Michelle Watson works the register Thursday night at the Looney Bin at the Weris in Laconia. She has owned the bar/restaurant for 10 years. At left, Melissa Penland, shown with her artist husband Bob Pomerenke just purchased the Broken Spoke Saloons in Laconia and in Daytona this February. She is also a partner in the Broken Spoke Campground in Sturgis, S.D. (Laconia Daily Sun photos/Gail Ober)

MC Week visitors from the Land Down Under

LACONIA — Visitors from all over show up at Laconia Motorcycle Week every year and this year is no exception, a point Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, made at a press conference held at the Naswa Resort Friday morning.
He introduced Michael ''Mick'' Colville from New Castle, Australia, who along with his wife, Robyn, has spent the 92nd anniversary rally in the Lakes Region.
The couple traveled more than 10,500 miles from Australia to reach New Hampshire, flying in to the New York city area where they rented a motorcycle in Bergen, New Jersey and drove to Newport, Rhode Island for a day and spent the next two days in Boston, Mass., before coming to the Lakes Region for the next nine days.
They are staying at the Bear Tree Lodge in Meredith and had their first Bike Week experience by taking part in last Saturday's Peter Makris Memorial Ride around Lake Winnipesaukee.
Mick, who drives a Harley Fat Boy back home in Australia, said ''we had a wonderful experience'' and would like to return.
The couple also took part in the covered bridge Gypsy Tour and Thursday's ride to the top of Mt. Washington.
St. Clair said that more than 400 bikes took part in the annual Freedom Ride to the POW/MIA vigil in Meredith Thursday night.
Major Russell Conte of the New Hampshire State Police said that Motorcycle Week traffic was running smoothly and that it was expected that there would be no major traffic problems for riders coming into the Lakes Region on I-93 and Rte. 106 over the weekend.
Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams said that there were only three minor arrests on Thursday night related to Bike Week and that the first serious motorcycle crash of the week had taken place on Parade Road just before the 11 a.m. press conference got underway,
He said two cycles had been involved in a crash at the Roller Coaster Road intersection.


CAPTION Aussie 1

Michael ''Mick'' Colville and his wife, Robyn, are introduced by Laconia Motorcycle Week Association executive director Charlie St. Clair at a press conference at the Naswa Resort. The couple are from New Castle, Australia, and have spent Bike Week in the Lakes Region. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Caption Aussie 2

Robyn Colville and her husband, Michael, who are from NewCastle, Australia and are visiting the Lakes Region for Laconia Motorcycle Week, chat with Major Russell Conte of the New Hampshire State police, Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams and Claire Perrson of Laconia following a press conference at the Naswa Resort. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)