We feel bad for the members of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission who have worked for the past few years – at the behest of the Legislature – to come up with a plan to redevelop the former Laconia State School property.
They thought they had found a way forward after dozens of meetings, and recommended the commission morph into something called the Lakes Region Development Authority.
The authority would have had the power to award grants totaling $1 million and float up to $5 million in state-backed bonds for capital improvements.
A bill was drafted, hearings were held, and the plan passed the House and Senate. The original bill had the backing of the mayor, the City Council and the city's legislative delegation. It also passed two Senate committees by bipartisan unanimous vote.
It was sent to Gov. Chris Sununu's desk but, unfortunately, not as a standalone piece of legislation, though that might not have mattered. Instead, it was part of an “omnibus” bill that included several other bills, most related to local government administration in one form or another.
Sununu could either sign the bill, let it become law without his signature, or veto it wholesale. He chose to do the latter.
The governor said he objected to the fact that all those pieces of unrelated legislation were rolled into one big package.
“While I understand the unusual and unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely unfortunate that the legislature decided to manage their workload by merging nearly 40 previously separate pieces of legislation into this one 77 page omnibus bill,” Sununu said.
The governor's objections were a red herring. Every piece of legislation in the omnibus bill had a hearing and was passed by the House and Senate. It was only because of the pandemic that the bills were packaged together by lawmakers trying to do the people's business under difficult circumstances and tight deadlines. It's also worth noting that omnibus bills only became necessary after obstructionist House Republicans refused to suspend the rules, which would have allowed the bills to be taken up individually.
Another indication that the governor's objections were disingenuous is the fact that he signed several other omnibus bills. He had no problem, for instance, signing a 74-page bill that contained dozens of unrelated pieces of legislation relative to state agencies and departments.
Weeks before the veto, Sununu said he opposed the bill to transition the Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission into a development authority because it would create an agency that would exist indefinitely — similar to the Pease Redevelopment Authority.
But that was patently false. Language in the bill would have abolished the authority after six years – a timeline suggested by the governor himself, according to a member of the commission.
Still, Sununu called creation of the authority "a terrible idea."
So is ignoring a proposal that first surfaced last fall, then throwing cold water on it just as it reaches the finish line.
So there the 235-acre State School property sits, a critical piece of Laconia real estate not quite stalled, but not moving forward at any appreciable pace either, and members of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission are left to pick up the pieces.
But give them credit: at least they had a plan.