Unresolved issues linger in budget negotiations
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Budget negotiators at the New Hampshire Statehouse aren’t budging yet on some big issues, but they’re plowing through others as their deadline nears.
A committee that includes House and Senate members has until Thursday to sign off on a compromise budget to send to the full Legislature for a vote next week.
On their second day of work Tuesday, members agreed on several provisions related to mental health, including funding for a new secure psychiatric unit, programs promoting a comprehensive system of care for children’s behavioral health, and boosting Medicaid reimbursement rates for addiction treatment and mental health care providers. But other issues remain unresolved, including education funding, a capital gains tax extension the House wants and a revenue sharing provision pushed by the Senate.
While both sides want to significantly increase education funding, in part by restoring so-called “stabilization grants,” the House-passed 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.
Rep. Richard Ames, D-Jaffrey, said 80% of the revenue generated by the tax would come from those earning more than $200,000 per year. But Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said it was unnecessary.
“I think capital gains is not a viable solution at this point in time, and the Senate rejects it,” he said.
House negotiators agreed to go along with the Senate’s plan to spend $17.5 million to build a 25-bed secure psychiatric unit to serve patients who are now held at the state prison despite not having been convicted of crimes. Gov. Chris Sununu originally proposed a 60-bed, $26 million facility, but said last week a smaller facility would be acceptable.
Many of the measures related to mental health are aimed at alleviating the growing problem of patients waiting for days or sometimes weeks in emergency rooms for inpatient psychiatric care. The House budget called for spending $2 million on up to 30 designated receiving beds for short-term stays, but House members on the conference committee agreed to the Senate’s position, which would spend $1 million on up to 10 beds. Senators also prevailed on spending $5 million on transitional beds for patients leaving the state psychiatric hospital.
“When you look at things in total, you try to solve it all,” D’Allesandro said. “In the past we’ve done little piecemeal things, and waited ’til we were sued to address the situation.”
The committee also inserted funding contained in a bill Sununu recently vetoed. The bill would have provided $3 million for Medicaid reimbursement rate increases for mental health and addiction treatment providers during the current fiscal year and $450,000 for emergency shelter services for those in addiction recovery.
Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature. Sununu, a Republican, has said he will veto the budget if it includes a mandatory paid family medical leave program he equates to an income tax or a halt to scheduled business tax cuts, both of which negotiators so far have agreed to keep in their plan.