For the third time in the last month, House Republicans called a press conference to announce “jobs” as their top priority for the upcoming legislative session. If this prioritization sounds like news to you, it’s because the only time House Republicans actually talk about jobs is at press conferences.
The 2012 legislative session has been dominated by reckless bills, most notably a proposal to allow guns in civic arenas and on college campuses. House Republicans have issued 18 press releases promoting specific bills since January, covering such important topics as TSA searches, Arizona’s immigration law, and abortion policy. Jobs have been mentioned only twice, in press releases promoting payday loans and the repeal of insurance mandates.
Republican leadership in the House appears more than willing to take on high-profile social issues instead of concentrating on job creation. Less than a week after trying to downplay their support of a bill repealing New Hampshire’s marriage equality law, House Speaker Bill O’Brien told the Union Leader that “this is the right time” to debate and repeal marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Speaker’s promotion of this issue not only distracts from Republicans’ self-proclaimed “jobs” agenda; it completely ignores the will of Granite Staters who support marriage equality by a margin of 2 to 1.
When Republican-backed legislation influenced the job market, it had a detrimental effect. The state budget passed last June was the single biggest job-killer, as nearly 2000 jobs were lost due to new taxes on hospitals and unprecedented cuts to higher education. New Hampshire’s unemployment rate spiked after the Republican budget became law and it remains higher today than when the budget first took effect.
Hundreds of small business people have also felt it necessary to take time out of their workday to travel to Concord to try to avert the passage of bills seeking to repeal licensing requirements the businesses believe are beneficial to their profession and to the consumer. And now the Republican leadership is backing a bill that bill that would decrease the availability and affordability of workforce housing. Understanding the need for employees to access affordable housing, the Business and Industry Association opposes this move.
When Democrats were in the majority, we worked with Governor Lynch to improve the job market in a number of ways. Programs such as NH Working and the Job Training Fund helped businesses retain and train employees during a time when the recession was forcing record numbers of layoffs across the country. With the help of these programs, our unemployment rate remained well below the national average throughout the recession, and New Hampshire was widely credited as a leader in the national economic recovery.
Democrats improved educational opportunities for every child in New Hampshire by bringing public kindergarten to every community, defining and fully funding an “adequate education” for the first time since the Claremont ruling, and investing in our university system. Because an educated workforce is necessary for business to thrive, Democrats made education an integral part of our economic development strategy.
With these accomplishments in mind, Governor Lynch implored legislators to “do no harm” during his recent State of the State address. Progress has been hindered by budget cuts and policy changes enacted by the Republican legislature last year, but further damage can be avoided. House Republicans would be wise to shift their attention away from guns, gay marriage and press conferences, and onto legislation that provides the educated workforce businesses need to create jobs.
(Representative Terie Norelli is the Democratic Leader in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)