New Hampshire Senate passes 2-year $13 billion state budget
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate approved a two-year $13 billion state budget early Friday that Democrats praised as responsible and responsive to pressing problems and Republicans criticized as an unsustainable affront to taxpayers and small businesses.
Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, ticked off a list of concerns both sides have agreed must be addressed, such as the opioid crisis, child protective services and public safety.
“Bang! We’re on it!” he thundered after listing each issue.
“We have built a document that’s sustainable, and a document that takes care of the people of the state of New Hampshire,” said D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. “This budget reflects your values.”
The proposal passed 14-9 along party lines just after midnight, following hours of debate with one Republican senator absent. It would spend about the same amount in state general funds — $5.5 billion — as the budget passed by the House in April, but differs in several key areas. While both significantly increase education funding, in part by restoring so-called “stabilization grants,” the House budget would spend about $60 million more, paid for by extending the tax on capital gains. The Senate version would eliminate that tax and send more unrestricted money back to towns and cities in the form of revenue sharing — $40 million compared to the House’s $12.5 million.
Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, emphasized the proposal’s investments in women’s health care, services to help struggling parents and programs that allow the elderly and people with disabilities live independently.
“If our first priority is funding programs to allow people to live decently and with dignity, this committee amendment does that,” she said.
But a provision Rosenwald championed about Medicaid expansion drew vehement objection from Republicans. The budget would allow state funds to be used, if necessary, to partially pay for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Democrats argued doing so is necessary to protect the health care of roughly 50,000 people, while Republicans argued it violates the original bipartisan agreement to extend coverage to more low-income adults.
“We built a document, we did it in good faith, and we said we weren’t going to use general funds,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.
He angrily pushed back against the notion that Republicans were putting the program in jeopardy.
“To suggest that this senator doesn’t give a damn is absolutely wrong. What I give a damn about is building an honest budget that doesn’t change the deal we had and explains to the public exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
The Democrats’ plan also would do away with business tax cuts that were scheduled to take place and includes a paid family medical program funded via payroll deductions. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, Democrats defeated nearly two dozen amendments offered by Republicans, including one that would have replaced the family leave program with a voluntary plan Republican Gov. Chris Sununu proposed with the governor of Vermont.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said family medical leave insurance may be great for big companies, but it’s awful for small businesses.
“What’s the rush? We haven’t had FMLI yet ever, but we’re going to try to ram down a mandatory income tax on every employee in the state so we can say we have something no one has said we really need,” he said. “We continue to change the landscape in a state known for its independent thinking.”
After Giuda argued no one has cited family leave as a priority, Sen. Dan Feltes agreed his constituents also talk more about other topics. But he said family leave can be linked to many of them.
“They mention the opioid epidemic, they mention our caretaking crisis, they mention attracting and retaining the workforce of tomorrow,” said Feltes, D-Concord. “And paid family medical leave insurance is a tool to help with all of those challenges that face our state.”
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the business tax and family leave issues likely will lead to standoff when it comes to reconciling the Senate version with the House and passing a budget that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu would sign. The Democrats’ plan, he said, undermines the state’s thriving economy and will drive businesses away.
“Just keep doing it. Talking them right of New Hampshire, taxing them right of New Hampshire, regulating them right out of New Hampshire,” he said.
Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, urged colleagues to look beyond the economy.
“It’s about the people. Part of that is the economy but the other part is not to let us say ‘We’re being super successful while we have people in intense physical and emotional pain around us,’” he said. “We can’t just walk by them. And that’s what this budget does — it helps bring them up.”