June 1, 2017

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

CONCORD — The state Senate worked into the night on Wednesday to pass a two-year state budget for 2018-19, with the Republican majority defeating several attempts by Democrats to increase spending on social services, education and mental health in a series of 14-9 party line votes.

Approved by the same margin, the budget now goes to the House, which as early as Thursday is likely to call for a conference committee of senators and representatives to hammer out differences between the two bodies.

The House failed to pass a budget in March, and the Senate-passed plan has made many changes to the House’s GOP-led proposal.

"What we’ve developed is a budget that serves the citizens of New Hampshire, but lives within our means," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Gary Daniels, R-Milford, in introducing the $11.8 billion spending plan. "I believe we have achieved an appropriate balance between the two and we’ve done a lot to get us to this point."

Democrats introduced amendments that would have added $45 million in additional spending, with most of the money coming in two ways — eliminating business tax cuts worth about $20 million and using higher revenue estimates provided by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.

"We left $20 million on the table that we could use to fund vital services," Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said of the revenue estimates. "The revenues are incomplete and the tax reductions are too high."

Whether it was full-day kindergarten, making Medicaid expansion permanent or setting aside more money to battle the opioid epidemic, the GOP majority stuck together and rejected more than 20 attempted amendments to the budget and its companion trailer bill, which makes all necessary changes in state law.

The debate became partisan when Senate Democrats criticized GOP budget writers for earmarking $2 million of grants meant for substance abuse programs toward a drug treatment wing for juveniles at the Sununu Youth Center in Manchester.

"We have $4.3 million sitting" in that substance abuse fund that’s unspent, shot back Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. "That’s outrageous."

Senate Democrats tried without success to eliminate a reference to the so-called Hyde Amendment that outlaws spending public dollars on abortions, to prevent any future cuts to Planned Parenthood.

"We have always stood up for Planned Parenthood," said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord.

But Daniels called the family planning language a "blank check" that could commit the state to unlimited future spending.

Failed motions

By a 12-11 vote, the Senate rejected adding $6 million in additional education aid grants to public schools.

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, warned senators not to draw attention to this issue because House budget writers have cut these grants in the past to make their spending plans balance.

Republican Senators Regina Birdsell of Hampstead and Harold French of Franklin voted with the nine Senate Democrats.

Bradley said conservative revenue estimates have served the state well in developing the two-year revenue and spending plan.

"If we’re going to protect taxpayers, we need to be careful with overestimating revenues," he said. "It’s more art than science, and it’s two years out in the future."

A proposal to add $15 million over the two years to fund full-day kindergarten was also defeated, although some form of full-day kindergarten funding, a priority for the governor, is likely to be adopted later this spring.

The House is considering a bill to use Keno as a funding source.

"Let’s see what the House does with kindergarten and keep our options open," Bradley said.

Avard praises Senate Finance budget increase, responsive funding for DD community

Concord, NH - Senator Kevin Avard (R-Nashua) issued the following statement on the Developmental Disabilities waitlist funding in the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget.

“We are all here for one reason: to help our friends and neighbors in need and provide individuals living with a developmental disability with community support and independence that can improve their quality of life.”

“The budget before us today in the Senate has both increased funding by $57 million over the last budget and has created a more responsive funding mechanism to address the changing needs of families with a disabled child.”

“Additionally, this budget provides $250.1 million in Fiscal Year 18 and $260.9 million in Fiscal Year 19 while allowing the Department of Health and Human Services the ability to request up to $4 million per year in additional general funds with the approval of the Joint Fiscal Committee, if necessary, to respond to changes in the level of care and number of patients in need of these services.”

“I support the work done in the Senate Finance Committee budget and I hope that my Senate colleagues can agree that we should pass this budget and provide our friends and neighbors with a high quality of life they deserve.”