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N.H. 'Freedom Caucus' Member On Why He Opposes House Version Of State Budget Plan


  A vote is expected Wednesday in the Republican-led New Hampshire House on its proposed state budget.

The two year, $11.9 billion spending plan has its share of critics, with Democrats arguing it doesn’t go far enough.

One of their complaints is the budget eliminates a proposal by Gov. Chris Sununu to expand full-day kindergarten.

But there’s resistance among Republicans, as well, who believe the budget’s price tag is too high.

JR Hoell is a Republican from Dunbarton and a member of the New Hampshire House Freedom Caucus. He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

You were at the budget presentation Monday to House lawmakers. Did you hear anything from leaders in your party who support this plan that changed your mind?

Nothing. My concern, and I was one of the last people to stand up and ask questions of the chairman of House Finance, was the bill pretends to cut $219 million, but during that discussion, he acknowledged the plan is to bring those funds in later on through the Fiscal Committee. I don’t think that’s honest and it’s not something the House has done in the recent past. I’d like to see those funds put in there and if we’re going to make cuts, make cuts elsewhere.

Your group calls this a "bloated budget" filled with accounting gimmicks. What specifically needs to change in this plan for you to vote yes?

I think the overall dollar amount of $11.9 billion for the biennium is probably close to the right number. My issue is there’s $219 million of phony cuts. This is money that’s planned to come in from the federal government, so we’re actually talking about a $12.1 billion budget right now. And until Concord is ready to make the needed cuts to spending and in the general fund, the one area where we have complete control over and is up about 10.5 percent right now above the last budget for that one fund alone, that’s the area where we can go make some changes.

What cuts specifically would you like to see?

What we’re talking about is a 1 percent efficiency cut in every department, which would net over $120 million. So if you’re looking for $200 million, it’s a 1.5 percent to each department’s budget. It’s not a huge change overall. It would solve the issue of these phony cuts that make the budget appear a lot smaller.

Have Republican House leaders reached out to your caucus at all to try and address some of your concerns to get you on board? Has there been any communication?

The Speaker (Shawn Jasper) pulled me out of the budget hearing. We sat in the back of the room and talked and I explained that some of us wanted to see tax cuts. There are no tax cuts in this budget. Revenues have gone up, but it’s time to take a look at the interests and dividends tax. There are a lot of retired folks out there living on interest and dividends type incomes. To move it down from maybe 5 percent to 4 percent, to raise the floor at which point you have to file, currently that’s $2,400, maybe making that $10,000 instead. To give some of these families who are living on fixed incomes in their retirement years a better shot at continuing to make payments for taxes and just living.

I've left it up to the Speaker whether he wants to play ball and make these changes or not. That's entirely up to him.

What was that communication like with the Speaker? Was there a back and forth?

He was trying to figure out how to make these germane. There might be ways to make changes to HB1 and HB2 at the same time. I’ve left it up to the Speaker whether he wants to play ball and make these changes or not. That’s entirely up to him.   

If this budget fails, are you at all concerned about political implications? Voters may see this as a sign Republicans are too fractured to lead in Concord.

The budget failing in the House just changes how the budget gets processed. At the end of the day, state government is going to continue to run. What it does is it forces House leadership to give up their ability to negotiate at the final budget passage, which is June. So the budget has multiple steps. It starts with the governor and agency heads, goes the House, goes to the Senate, and then ultimately the final budget is worked out in the committee of conference between House and Senate leadership. If the budget fails, what has effectively happened is the Speaker and his leadership time have lost a significant ability to negotiate in that final passage.

So as it stands now, you plan to vote no tomorrow?

I plan to vote no tomorrow.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.

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