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Hassan Makes Budget Overture; GOP Finds it Lacking

Paige Sutherland for NHPR

With state budget negotiations largely stalled, Gov. Maggie Hassan presented what she called a new compromise proposal Thursday. But the plan seems to have done little to persuade Republicans to return to the negotiating table any time soon.

In the proposal, Hassan conceded to GOP leaders by not only including but expediting business tax cuts included in the Republican-backed budget plan.

“It is very, very clear to me that the Republican legislators think this is their number one priority, and they are insisting on it as part of any budget to move New Hampshire forward, so in the spirit of compromise I am moving forward with a business tax reduction,” Hassan said in a State House press conference.

In exchange, the proposal includes several Hassan priorities that Republicans had previously rejected, including a 2 percent state employee pay raise and an additional $5.7 million for substance abuse treatment. It also includes a 21-cent increase in the cigarette tax, and a $5 increase to the motor vehicle registration fee.

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Hassan’s proposal does not, however, continue Medicaid expansion. But she includes funding for the expanded program if legislators decide to reauthorize it before it ends in December 2016. Her proposal would also restore funds to the state's renewable energy fund and community colleges, and includes money to pay for the so-called "Planet Fitness" tax provision passed by the Legislature. That bill would have changed the way the state Business Profits Tax applies to companies planning to issue stock.

“While people on both ends of either party may still want a different plan than the one I am proposing, this plan attempts to address the concerns of both parties,” Hassan said, adding that she has met with GOP leadership several times since the budget veto. 

House Speaker Shawn Jasper told reporters Thursday that these items, which were included in the governor's original budget proposal, "are things the House has already looked at and rejected, and I am not seeing a path forward with this proposal.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Hassan stressed that both sides need to give in order to get a budget passed.

"This is a compromise, and compromise requires people to actually do things that people may not want to do but that are the nature of this," she said. "The people of New Hampshire elected a Republican legislative majority and a Democratic governor. That means both Democrats and Republicans need to have a voice in whatever budget is passed, and that is what this is about.”

"I am not seeing a path forward with this proposal," House Speaker Shawn Jasper.

But Republicans, including Senate President Chuck Morse, seem unwilling to budge. 

“The budget we built should be in place, up and running. I strongly agree that the Speaker is right, we need to come back and we need to override a veto in September and put this budget back in place,” Morse told reporters Thursday afternoon. 

In order to override a veto, the Legislature will need a two-thirds vote, which given the political climate does not seem likely. Hassan vetoed the Republican budget proposal in June. Since then, state government has been running on a temporary plan, which funds spending at 2015 fiscal year levels.

Many on the right were displeased that Hassan presented her proposal at a press conference, a move they described as a political stunt. House Majority Whip Richard Hinch of Merrimack criticized Hassan, saying her proposal "clearly demonstrates a lack of bi-partianship and the people of New Hampshire deserve better than someone governing via press conference." 

Democratic Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, who sits on the Finance Committee, disagreed, saying regardless of whether the proposal stands or not, it at least sparked more discussion.  

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Senate President Chuck Morse and House Speaker Shawn Jasper met with reporters after the governor's press conference on Thursday.

“The only way this is going to get done is through a cooperative venture, House, Senate and the governor, so it is good for her to bring forth proposals," said D'Allesandro. "We all should be bringing forth proposals, and I expect Senator Morse and Speaker Jasper will do the same. We have to get this done, it is imperative to get this done because we are hurting the people of the state by not doing it.”

Despite today’s efforts, according to Republican leaders, the state will continue to run at 2015 spending levels until at least September, when lawmakers are scheduled to return to Concord.

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