Executive Director Message

Margaret M.L. Byrnes

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

In the January/February issue of Town & City, I encouraged members to get involved in NHMA’s upcoming legislative policy process. It’s not just that your voice is the most crucial part of NHMA’s advocacy, or that it’s important NHMA’s policies reflect the perspectives of a wide cross-section of our membership, or even that it’s a membership benefit that we want our members to take advantage of—although those are all good reasons.

This year, there is an added reason for local officials to get involved, a more targeted threat to local government: HB 1033. This bill would prohibit any recipient (e.g., organization, individual) of town or city funds from lobbying. Any recipient of such a grant or appropriation would have to segregate the funds in such a manner that they are “physically and financially separate from any other funds that may be used for . . . these purposes.”

This type of bill is not new; in fact, every few years there has been a bill like this that seeks to cripple the ability of local governments to express their opinions to the legislature. However, given the emerging trends in the legislature, this legislation requires significant attention.

Every year, legislation is filed that affects local government directly—often to encumber, micromanage, or otherwise burden the ability of local officials to do their jobs. There is often legislation to create new costs for local governments or to downshift costs from the state to cities and towns, and strong advocacy is needed to reject new burdens and to urge the state to keep its promises on local revenue streams, like Meals & Rooms tax distributions and state aid grants for water and sewer. Of course,
helpful legislation is also filed every year, and it’s just as important that the voice of local government officials be heard to support those bills and work with legislators to make positive changes.

Supporters of legislation like HB 1033 have often argued that local officials should not be permitted to spend taxpayer money on legislative advocacy. Whether local
officials attend hearings or follow legislation on their own, or whether they join organizations or use lobbyists to assist them, engaging in the legislative process
requires the use of local resources. Local officials have formed various organizations to provide networks of support and a unified voice in training, education,
and advocacy, recognizing that it is more efficient, cost effective, and inclusive for these organizations to work for and with them. These organizations run the gamut
of the many areas of municipal service, from public works, to assessing officials, tax collectors and town clerks—all of which help local government officials engage
with each other and with their legislature, as is their right to do.

And the expenditure of local funds should not be a state decision; local governments should make these decisions for themselves, just as the state makes its own
decisions about joining or contributing to organizations that engage in lobbying. Every municipal legislative body—in most cases, the town meeting—has the opportunity
to decide how it will spend its money. Most political subdivisions have decided that it is more cost effective to contribute to organizations that speak on their behalf, rather than pay to send elected officials or employees to the legislature every week.

HB 1033 and legislation like it serve to remind us that it’s more important than ever that local officials get engaged, and speak with their legislators, so that the voice of local government is not edged out of the legislative process.

Margaret M.L. Byrnes

Margaret serves as Executive Director and oversees all activities of the New Hampshire Municipal Association.