On the eve of last November's elections, we wrote in these pages that we hoped the next governor and Legislature would restore funding to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). It seemed a tall order at the time. The conservation program's supposedly "dedicated" source of revenue — a $25 fee paid when recording certain real estate transactions — had been raided repeatedly by state budget writers to pay for general government. Yet today we can report that thanks to a truly bipartisan effort, the bait-and-switch on New Hampshire taxpayers has finally come to an end.
It was a long road. In February, newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed a two-year state budget that partially restored LCHIP's dedicated funding. The House version of the budget passed in April also diverted some LCHIP dollars, but House budget writers resisted pressure to take more, and they improved on the governor's proposal by making sure that any funds raised by the LCHIP fee beyond budget projections would go to LCHIP, not the general fund.
Then in early June the state Senate passed a budget that ended all diversion of LCHIP's dedicated fee, taking the position that the time had come to end the LCHIP raids once and for all. This full restoration of LCHIP's dedicated fund was included in the final compromise budget passed last week.
Many played a role in what became one of the good-news stories of this year's budget process. First, Gov. Hassan and her budget team established that the question was not whether the diversion of LCHIP funds would stop, but only when. In the Democratically controlled House, Speaker Teri Norelli and Finance Committee Chair Mary Jane Wallner held the line on LCHIP at a difficult moment in the budget process, and longtime Republican supporters of LCHIP like deputy leader David Hess worked tirelessly to keep the LCHIP issue on the front burner.
When the budget got to the narrowly divided state Senate, Republican Senate President Peter Bragdon and Finance Committee Chair Chuck Morse took a clear stand on LCHIP. Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a former executive director of Main Street programs, knew firsthand the direct economic benefits of LCHIP and was a key advocate of full funding. Democratic leader Sen. Sylvia Larsen, one of the original architects of LCHIP's dedicated fund, worked to ensure there was bipartisan support for the Senate's position.
While this support on the "inside" of the process was obviously critical, the final outcome on LCHIP was also the result of months of sustained effort by town officials, organizations and citizen advocates who contacted their elected representatives, wrote letters to the editor and attended public field hearings across the state. Meanwhile, opinion pages in newspapers across New Hampshire weighed in on the ethical and constitutional problems with continuing to divert LCHIP revenues.
To every New Hampshire citizen who showed up and spoke up for LCHIP over the past six months, you were heard. LCHIP can at last get back to doing the job it was created to do: protect the places that make our state special for today and future generations. That's something we can all feel good about as a New Hampshire summer gets underway.
Edward (Rusty) McLear is CEO of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings. Alex Ray is founder and owner of the Common Man family of restaurants.