LACONIA — Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday he is opposed to putting a lot of state money into efforts to develop the Laconia State School property, and he further called a bill to give more authority to the panel overseeing the initiative a “terrible idea.”
Sununu made the comments at a news conference the day after he criticized a proposal to include $16 million in the state’s capital budget for the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission.
Sununu said the $16 million figure which was presented at a telephonic hearing Monday was “sprung” on him and that he rejected the proposal as “inappropriate.”
“The initial mission for (the commission) was to spend something around $1 million or maybe $2 million to get the (235-acre complex) to a place to where it would become attractive for a private developer,” the governor said.
He said he opposed the bill which would transition the present commission into the Lakeshore Redevelopment Authority because it would create an agency that would exist indefinitely — similar to the Pease Redevelopment Authority. He said he would not support allowing the state to make an investment similar to what it did when it redeveloped the closed Pease Air Force Base in Newington.
Lakeshore Commission Vice Chairman Robert Cheney, who testified at Monday’s hearing, said Tuesday that the $16 million in the capital budget was intended as a “backup” or "place-holder.”
The commission’s focus has been to obtain grant funding to pay for initial work to rebuild the water and sewer infrastructure, which the commission considers critical to attracting private development, he said.
The commission has applied for a $1 million grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, which, Cheney said, Sununu strongly supports.
The bill to create the Lakeshore Authority would permit it to award grants totaling $1 million and float up to $5 million in state-backed bonds for capital improvements.
Cheney said he understood the governor’s message at the hearing to be that the commission needed to “focus on its mission and to stick with it, and look for creative ways to get funding,” but “don’t expect to rely on the capital budget process.”
“He said do it (the redevelopment), but do it a different way,” Cheney said.
As to Sununu’s assertion that he had been blind-sided by the capital budget request, Cheney said the commission made the request through the state Department of Administrative Services, which he said is the normal process.
State Rep. Peter Spanos of Laconia, a member of the Lakeshore Commission, said he saw Sununu’s remarks as a signal to lawmakers in the House that every bill they are scheduled to take up next Tuesday “is on the table.”
“He put everyone on notice that painful cuts will have to be made,” said Spanos who said he expected to be talking with the governor later Tuesday.
The bill creating the Redevelopment Authority has been folded into an omnibus bill which contains legislation for several unrelated purposes.
At his news conference, Sununu said the challenge with omnibus bills is that “they contain 15 good things and 15 bad things.” He said he expected to sign some omnibus bills and veto others. He did not comment on the omnibus bill containing the authority’s legislation.
Cheney disputed Sununu’s characterization that the Lakeshore Authority would become a permanent agency. He said the way the law is written, the authority would go out of existence after six years unless the Legislature specifically voted to reauthorize it. The Pease Authority is very different, he explained, because one of its functions is running the airport. “We’re not running an airport,” he said.
In the meantime, he said the commission will continue with its work and that it has money available from previous legislation to continue preliminary work which is important to future development, including an assessment of hazardous materials in the 28 buildings on the site, a survey of wetlands, and an examination if there is anything on the property that is of archeological significance.
The commission is scheduled to meet next on Monday, Cheney said.