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The New N.H. State Budget: Everything You Need To Know

N.H. State House
Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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It happens every other year, but amid a deadly pandemic and an unprecedented session of remote legislating, lawmakers are finally closing in on how New Hampshire plans to spend its money over the next two years. 

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Republicans control the entire legislative body, so much of this negotiation has been internal. And levels of spending haven’t always gotten the most attention. Provisions regarding abortion, the “divisive concepts” bill and school choice have gotten caught up in — and sometimes dominated — the debate. 

Lawmakers are set to vote Thursday on the final compromise version of the spending plan, before it heads to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. We broke down the top issues in the state budget and figured out how they apply to New Hampshire residents. 

How Much?

  • Spends $13.5 billion over the biennium, including $5.5 billion in General and Education Trust Funds.
  • Spends roughly $150 million less than the $13.6 billion budget proposal adopted by the New Hampshire House in April.
  • Almost $300 million less than the spending plan proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu earlier this year.
  • Increases Rainy Day Fund Balance from $121 million to $158 million by 2023.

School Choice

The budget includes a sweeping school choice program that GOP lawmakers call Education Freedom Accounts. The program would allow parents to use tax dollars to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, or for costs associated with homeschooling.

Qualifying families would receive between $3,709 and almost $9,000 from the state — a state grant for educational adequacy, plus additional money if the student receives free or reduced lunches, has special education needs, if English is not the student’s native language or they have  failed to reach English proficiency.  Participation in the program is limited to students whose families make 300 percent or less of the federal poverty line ($79,500 for a family of four). 

State education officials predict few students will use the program in the first year, but believe 700 could in the second year. If so, the program would take $3.2 million from the Education Trust Fund for the biennium.

Abortion And Family Planning 

Anyone seeking an abortion at any time in New Hampshire will need to get an ultrasound prior to the procedure.

Abortion would be banned after 24 weeks, save for emergencies involving the heath of the mother. The ban includes no exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomalies. Under the policy, doctors who don’t follow the policy could be charged with a felony. The budget would also require an ultrasound for all abortions, regardless of when the abortion is sought. No state in the northeast currently requires ultrasounds for all abortions.

The budget also tightens oversight of state-funded family planning providers by mandating a state review to ensure no tax money is directly or indirectly funding abortions. Under the proposal, the state could shut down providers or force them to physically and financially separate family planning and abortion services if the review found that tax dollars were improperly funding abortion. State law already forbids the use of public dollars to cover the cost of abortion. 

Mental Health

There’s increased money in the budget for designated receiving facilities, and there is also funding allocated for a new, secure psychiatric facility. The budget allocates $30 million to build a 24-bed forensic psychiatric hospital, $6 million for new transitional housing beds and $8.2 million for community mental health care and stabilization.

The Sununu Center and The Division Of Children, Youth And Families (DCFY)

The budget would fund 10 new child protection workers; it also spends $3 million to provide child care for families whose DCFY cases have already been closed.

The plan also closes the Sununu Youth Services Center in 2023, and sets aside $20.4 million over two years for the center’s closure and to develop a facility (on the Sununu Center grounds or elsewhere) for housing up to 18 minors of mixed gender and treatment needs in a secured setting.

Teachings On Racism, Sexism

The budget contains language derived from the earlier so-called ‘divisive concepts’ legislation. While provisions from the House were scrapped, legislators have agreed on the Senate version. One update from the House bill is that public sector employees can opt out of training they feel aren’t following the law, though further implications and implementation of the language remain unclear. 

Sununu has said he expected the state Department of Education to issue guidance on the new regulations. 

Governor’s Emergency Powers

Lawmakers have settled on a compromise that would require a governor to convene a session of the full Legislature 90 days into a state of emergency. The governor would offer rationale for the emergency and lawmakers would vote to uphold or end the governor’s state of emergency. It’s worth noting that lawmakers already have the power to end states of emergency, but members of the House particularly wanted to ensure lawmakers have more say.

The budget also includes $10,000 to repay the eight businesses fined for violating state COVID-19 guidance. The plan also requires the Attorney General’s Office to ask courts to dismiss any pending enforcement actions, and would expunge state records related to the fines.

Taxes

Republican lawmakers have prioritized a range of tax cuts since the early days of budget talks. Here’s a quick reminder of the tax cuts ahead.

  • Meals and Rooms Tax would drop from 9% to 8.5%.
  • The Business Enterprise Tax (BET) rate would fall from 0.6% to 0.55%; the filing threshold would also increase.
  • The Business Profits Tax (BPT) 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 budget proposal also shields business income derived from the federal Paycheck Protection Program income from the Business Profits Tax.

The budget would also lift the threshold for filing of BET. Now businesses that have an enterprise tax value base, which is determined by employee  salaries and interest, of at least $100,000 or that generate $200,000 or more in profits, must pay the tax. This proposal would lift both filing thresholds to $250,000, thus ending the filing requirement for some small businesses.
Local Aid And Downshifting

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 budget also  includes water grants to cities and towns.

But Will It Pass?

Now you’re caught up on the details within the budget. It will head to Gov. Sununu’s desk for his signature later this week — provided it can garner a majority vote in both the House and Senate. But that last point is far from certain. 

Thursday's vote may be on a spending plan, but it's mostly the budget's non-fiscal policies that some State House observers say could sink it in the New Hampshire House. Greg Moore, who heads the New Hampshire branch of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group working to persuade lawmakers to adopt the plan, said it’s touch and go – mostly because of fissures within the majority Republican caucus.

"There is a group that doesn't feel that this budget sufficiently changes emergency powers and shifts them towards the direction of Legislature and away from the governor,” Moore said. “Other representatives have some concerns over the family medical leave insurance."

The loss of even a dozen Republican votes could doom the proposal. GOP legislative leaders and Sununu himself have told lawmakers to focus on the budget as a whole. We’ll see whether that argument carries the day on Thursday.

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