Senate Budget Plan Heads For Key Vote This Week
The New Hampshire Senate votes Thursday on its version of the next two-year state budget. Here’s an overview of what’s in it.
Bottom line numbers
- Spends $13.5 billion over the biennium, $5.5 billion in General and Education Trust Funds.
- Spends roughly $150 million less than the $13.6 billion budget adopted by the New Hampshire House in April, and almost $300 million less than the spending plan proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu earlier this year.
The Senate plan, like the budget passed by the House, includes an array of tax cuts:
- Meals and Rooms Tax would drop from 9% to 8.5%.
- The Business Enterprise Tax rate would fall from 0.6% to 0.55%; the filing threshold would also increase.
- The Business Profits Tax rate would drop from 7.7% to 7.6%.
- The budget also initiates a phase out of the state’s 5% tax on Interest and Dividends Tax over five years.
- The Senate budget proposal also shields business income derived from the federal Paycheck Protection Program income from the Business Profits Tax.
The Senate budget includes $2.4 billion in state aid to cities and towns over the biennium. That includes:
- $1.95 billion in Adequate Education Aid to school districts and public charter schools.
- The budget adds $50 million from Meals and Rooms tax revenues and distributes it to cities and towns. It also sends $83 million in highway aid to cities and towns.
- The Senate plan restores water grants to cities and towns.
Health and Human Services
The Senate plan closes the Sununu Youth Services Center, the state’s secured facility for minors. The House budget proposed closing the center next year. The Senate plan would do it in 2023.
The House budget required top state health officials to find $50 million in unspecified savings over the next two years. The Senate stripped out that mandate, but stopped well short of funding more than 200 vacant positions in the state health department that were eliminated under the House plan.
The Senate plan sets aside $30 million for a 24-bed secure psychiatric unit, for those in severe mental health distress who are determined to pose a risk to themselves or the public. The state’s current secure psychiatric unit is on the grounds of the state prison for men.
Throughout the budget process, Republicans in the House and Senate have included new policies related to family planning and abortion providers in the state.
The Senate budget proposal would make it felony for a doctor to perform an abortion after 24 weeks, save for emergency circumstances.
The Senate plan stripped language the House included in its budget that would entities that receive state funding to separate -- financially and physically -- family planning and abortion services.
The Senate budget removed curbs on emergency powers of governors contained in the House budget, including a provision that would require legislative approval to extend states of emergency. Several House conservatives have said including these limits in the budget are crucial, and they have threatened to withhold this support for the final spending plan without them.
The debate over so-called ‘divisive concepts’ has been at the center of the latter stages of the legislative budget process. The Senate replaced the House’s proposal to police certain kinds of teachings on racism and sexism by government entities - including public schools - and government contractors. Instead, the plan spells out what top Senate Republicans call “A Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education.”l
The Senate’s provision would allow public employees to opt out of any training that suggests race or sex could make someone inherently oppressive or oppressed, even unconsciously. It also lays the ground for lawsuits against school districts that don’t comply.
Republicans say the language ensures equality under the law; Democrats say it could limit necessary teaching on systemic racism and bias. Several major businesses, nonprofits and other groups have raised concern about the ban.
Gov. Sununu has said he’s opposed to the earlier House version of this proposal, but has been silent on the Senate’s latest version.
The Senate’s budget includes a plan to create “education savings accounts,” allowing qualifying families to receive grants as high as $8,000 to spend on private schools, religious schools, homeschooling or alternative education programs for their child.
Democrats claim the program, which was also considered as a standalone bill, could pull $60 million out of school districts. Republicans say the hit to districts will be slight over the next two years.