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N.H. Senate Passes $10.7 Budget

GOP Senate leaders say the proposal is prudent, while democrats say republicans failed NH by opting to study – rather than expand Medicaid.

Budget debates tend to be partisan, and this was no exception. Republicans made clear from the outset their comfort with their spending calls.

"Our budget in senate finance increased spending over the house budget by 24 million dollars."

Chuck Morse chairs the finance committee.

“This is a strong budget.”

Republicans were also bullish about their decision to avoid increased taxes and fees. Bob Odell of Lempster leads the ways and means committee.

“We gave a very good revenue estimate for the array of taxes that we have and I would hope that we would not change the revenue base upon which we are operating.”

Democrats, for their part, acknowledged that the budget funds bipartisan priorities like higher education and mental health. But they mostly criticized it. Manchester’s Lou D’Allesandro said the plan was needlessly lean, given the needs of the state.

“We are getting older, we are getting poorer, and we eliminate a program that takes care of the elderly and poor. Does that make sense? I just don’t think so. “

D’Allesandro was talking about a Medicaid program that helps the elderly who live in public housing. It cut from the budget two years ago. But it wasn’t cuts to Medicaid that had outraged democrats most. It was the GOP’s refusal to move ahead to expand Medicaid, under so-called Obamacare.

“Mr. President this is simply the right thing to do.”

Peggy Gilmour is from Hollis. She stressed that expansion would ultimately mean insurance for up to  58,000 people who now lack it. She also noted that it would mean big money for NH: $2.5 billion over the next seven years, starting immediately.

“Remember, delaying a year cost us $340m.”

Republicans also cited the money. They warned that once NH expands Medicaid there will be no turning back, and argued that federal support is not promised beyond 2020. Majority leader Jeb Bradley compared the scope of the Medicaid choice to what faced lawmakers in the wake of the Claremont school funding decisions. Senate President Peter Bragdon, meanwhile, took the rare step of giving up his gavel to join the floor debate. He said NH needs to take its time.  Yet when asked by fellow republican Nancy Stiles of Hampton, whether there might be a way to move ahead on expansion in some form this year, Bragdon didn’t close the door entirely.

“If in the two week time period we find something that works for NH, then I think we should certainly look at it and do what we can to make that happen. Again, though we are dealing with t  You know we are dealing with an administration that takes three weeks to deliver a photocopy, but if a solution comes up that works for NH, then I think the time is there if people are willing to work together.’

For that to happen it will take teamwork: After exploring the option of moving ahead with Medicaid expansion without legislative approval Governor Maggie Hassan said Tuesday,  legislative “collaboration” looks needed.  In a statement following the senate budget vote, Hassan said rejecting Mediciad expansion undermines efforts to strengthen the state’s economy and improve the well-being of its citizens. She also urged lawmakers to “set ideology aside.”