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NH House Finance Committee backs budget plan that includes pay boost for state workers

Ethan Dewitt
New Hampshire Bulletin
Michael Kane, legislative budget assistant, briefed House Finance Committee members on the state budget Wednesday. They passed it, 14-11.

The House Finance Committee on Wednesday voted, 14-11, for a budget that includes $100 million for a 10% pay raise for the state's 10,000-plus workers in July and a 2% raise the following July. Gov. Chris Sununu first proposed the increase in his budget in February.

The budget heads next to the full House, where it could face a challenge from Democrats, who cited several concerns, including what they say are insufficient Medicaid rate increases and significant changes to education funding. From there, it will go to the Senate.

Rep. Peter Leishman, of Peterborough, was the only Democrat on the committee to vote with Republicans for the budget.

Rep. Mary Heath, a Manchester Democrat and House Finance Committee member, voiced her concerns at Wednesday’s meeting, citing increased spending for school vouchers and decreased support for school building aid. She said those concerns outweighed her support for other items in the budget, including the pay raises for state employees.

“There are lots of good things in this budget. The raises for our state workers are critical,” Heath said. “And it is intensely painful for me not to step forward and vote for that.”

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, another Democrat on the committee, said she hoped the parties could continue negotiating before the budget goes to House members.

The House’s near-even party divide makes it especially difficult this year to gauge the budget’s chances once it reaches the floor. Last week, a significant abortion bill failed in a 192-192 vote, while others passed by just a handful of votes, with Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats.

The House must pass a budget by April 6, when the state Senate takes up work on it.

Rep. Joe Sweeney, a Salem Republican on the committee, gave a preview of how his party will likely sell the budget to fellow House members.

“There’s always going to be part of a budget we don’t like. That is just the basic bare-minimum fact of reality,” Sweeney said. “What we’ve been hearing is we aren’t spending enough. We are spending roughly a billion over the last biennium without increasing taxes, without increasing fees. We should be proud of that. It is a strong bipartisan budget today that delivers for the people of New Hampshire.”

In a statement following the vote, Rich Gulla, president of the State Employees Association, said a raise for state workers is desperately needed given New Hampshire's serious workforce shortage.

“Wages for state employees are behind by 14%,” he said. He said a 12% increase over the next two years is a modest adjustment given the inflation rate.

“It’s crucial when we look at the overall picture,” he said.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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