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N.H. House Fails to Pass State Budget For First Time in Decades - What Happens Now?

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire House will not have a budget proposal to work off when finalizing the next two year state spending plan this June.

It’s apparently the first time in decades the House finds itself in this position, after Republican leaders failed to rally a majority to support their preferred budget this week.

That leaves many wondering what the House’s role will be later  in the budget process. 

Look back at State House records over the past five decades, and you won’t find a time when the House of Representatives didn’t pass a state budget proposal.

That’s left House members in uncharted territory after this week’s failed budget votes.

“This is a new experience for a lot of us including myself – I can’t predict where this is going,” said fourth-term Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell.

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
House Speaker Shawn Jasper said he's disappointed the chamber was unable to pass a budget proposal - the first time ever.

Hoell was one of several conservative Republicans who voted down the GOP-backed budget on the grounds it spent too much.

Although Hoell was happy the budget didn’t pass, afterwards he wasn’t too sure what it meant.

The typical pattern is this: the House passes its budget plan, the Senate passes its own, and then the two bodies come together and reach a compromise plan. But without any position to negotiate from – the House will have less sway compared to past years.

But House Speaker Shawn Jasper says although many of the House’s positions will be left out of the budget talks – he’ll try to get these initiatives through by other means.

"This is a new experience for a lot of us including myself - I can't predict where this is going," said fourth-term Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell.

“I think it is safe to say that you will see a lot of non-germane amendment hearings in the coming weeks and you will be seeing many of these initiatives that failed here being resurrected as amendments to Senate bills. Unusual process but we will deal with it,” Jasper said after Thursday' vote.

These initiatives include money for fixing local roads and bridges, property tax relief and reforms to the state’s juvenile detention center.

But if that strategy fails – the House will have no leverage to put these items into the budget down the road.

“We will only be able to argue the points that they have brought forward – no new initiatives if they have not included those in. We can say no to anything we want to but we don’t have the opportunity to add to it,” Jasper said.

Senate budget  writers begin the task of drafting their own version of the state budget next week. And while they are now under no obligation to consider the House’s ideas, Senate President Chuck Morse says they won’t necessarily fall by the wayside.

"We can say no to anything we want to but we don't have the opportunity to add to it," said Speaker Jasper about the House's role in the final budget process.

“Absolutely not – we respect the process that they just went through and we certainly understand that they brought up some stuff that we wanted to incorporate in the budget also but everyone has to understand the Senate wants to go through its process now and that is what we will do,” Morse said.

Once the Senate finalizes its spending plan, both bodies will have to agree on a common budget before the end of June.  The question remains: Will House leadership have the votes by then to pass something?

As Speaker Jasper says: “Stay tuned.”

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