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In Big Win for Sununu, N.H. Lawmakers Pass $11.7 Billion Budget, 'Keno-garten'

Josh Rogers for NHPR
Governor Chris Sununu celebrates the passage of the budget with Republican lawmakers

The GOP-led legislature is sending Governor Chris Sununu a $11.7B dollar budget and a bill to fund full-day kindergarten via Keno.

The outcomes are big wins for a governor who hasn’t always gotten his way with the legislature.

The cheering and backslapping started midday, after the budget votes. And when the Governor Sununu welcomed lawmakers into the Executive Council chambers, all were quick to claim a victory, particularly the governor.

"Absolutely a big win, a big win for New Hampshire - people sent us to Concord to get a job done and we did it. And we did it the right way, we brought folks in and we listened and we talked, we kept working it the best we could and we came out with what I think is incredible progress for the state of New Hampshire."

The margins on the budget and kindergarten votes ended up being wider than most expected. And that’s because Republicans stuck together.

In the house, where conservatives sank a budget in April, fewer than one in ten Republicans opposed it.

Speaker Shawn Jasper said that result could not have happened without help from the senate and the corner office.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we would have not crossed the finish line as we did today without his efforts. He was fully committed to making sure this budget passed.”

That commitment can be seen in the product.

This budget is leaner than those proposed by house and senate and threw more bones to conservatives than did earlier versions.

Among other things, there were fresh business tax cuts, and language codifying existing restrictions barring the use of public money for abortions.

Victoria Sullivan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who had voted against the budget in April says the tweaks made a difference to her and to other conservatives.

“A lot of us have concerns. However, in the end the majority felt confident in the changes that were made and things that we are able to bring to the taxpayers, I think the the long run are going to be beneficial to the state.”

But Democrats, even those who concede the budget marks a political win for the governor, are quick to note the tradeoffs Sununu accepted carry risk.

Lou D’Allesandro is the ranking democratic budget writer in the senate.

“He had to move the majority, particularly in the house. Will we pay a price for that in the next two years? It’s anybody’s guess but I think we are always open to lawsuits when we underfund.”

Yet the biggest takeaway on this day – politically and perhaps policy-wise - may be kindergarten.

Sununu called for full-day kindergarten in his budget, and stuck with it after house Republicans first stripped it from their budget, then embraced it after the senate passed it as a standalone bill.

Along the way, Sununu reached out to all comers  and stayed flexible when the policy and funding levels bounced around, and then ended up tied to Keno.

His backing was what drove senate Republicans to adopt the video lottery game, which the senate has opposed for years. Senate president Chuck Morse has led that opposition but backed KENO and kindergarten today.

“It’s a big day for the governor. He had initiatives. He wanted to make sure we moved forward on them. We certainly wanted to make sure we moved the economy, and it’s a good day.”

A day Republicans at the State House showed they can work together.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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