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N.H. House Passes Budget, Cuts $300 Million From Hassan's Plan

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire house has passed an $11.2 billion state budget.

The proposal includes no tax and fee increases and lifts state spending by about $400 million, some $300 million dollars less than the plan proposed by Governor Maggie Hassan.

“This was an effort to look under every cushion of the sofa to look for loose change.”

That’s House finance chairman Neal Kurk.  Over the past few weeks, Kurk has reversed course on several big budget ideas: a proposed gas tax hike, a $26 million trim to education stabilization grants, and a promise not to tap dedicated funds. But his hardest choice, Kurk told colleagues, was to support emptying the state’s rainy day fund.

"I do this as a last possible option, when the greater good demands it. And I do it very reluctantly and I do it with the intention of reversing that before the bill comes back from to the house in June."

Other changes adopted via floor amendment include a $7.5 million dollar reduction in special education money, and another $4 million pulled the from the overtime budget of the Department of Corrections. $2 million more came from cutting nurses at New Hampshire Hospital.

Democrats, like Dan Eaton of Stoddard, derided them as short-sighted.

"The amendment before us, will, in fact, jeopardize inmates and staff at the state prison, and inmates and staff the New Hampshire state hospital."

The house backed that amendment on a near party line vote.

It later rejected, more narrowly, an effort by Democrats to add funding to Health and Human Services. Democrat Marjorie Smith, a former chair of the finance committee, warned colleagues the budget may serve the political needs of the majority, but it ill-serves the people.  

"Ladies and gentleman, some day we have to pay the piper. We have a pot and we turn off any spigots of money coming into the pot and then we set out to turn one of us against our neighbor."

But lawmakers did open one new spigot. Backing allowing Keno in  bars and restaurants in towns where voters approve.  It could net the state $9 million a year. While there was broad agreement money could come in handy, for most Republicans, passing a budget without new revenue – at least new revenue from higher taxes and fees was  --  the main thing. And when the voting was done both wings of the house GOP seemed to feeling good.

Here’s House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan: "All republicans came together as the votes reflect."

And here’s Steve Stepanek, deputy leader of the so-called House Republican majority caucus, lead by former speaker Bill O’Brien.

"We came together as a team. We reached out to speaker Jasper as his team. And we worked together tirelessly to create the good republican budget moving forward."

The budget now heads to the senate. Leaders there say they are glad the house passed on a spending plan, and look forward into diving into the details of the proposal, and "to re-establish the state’s rainy day fund and reduce business taxes."

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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