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Legislature Passes State Budget, Sununu Expected To Veto

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

The New Hampshire House and Senate voted along party lines Thursday to pass a $13 billion dollar state budget. Governor Sununu is expected to veto the bill.

Democrats in the Legislature say they met the governor more than halfway on the budget, by stripping a paid family leave program and a capital gains tax originally backed by the House from the final bill. 

Listen: Josh Rogers talks to NHPR's Peter Biello about where lawmakers are on the state budget. Scroll to the bottom of this story for a transcript of that interview.

They say their budget boosts spending in areas where it's needed - education, child protection, and supplies direct aid to cities and towns. 

Lou D'Allesandro is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

"We have the ability and we have the desire to serve people. and we have the financial component which is available to do that," he says.

Republicans say the budget puts the state on a path to higher taxes.

"$1.5 billion dollars in additional spending. There is a lot wrong with this budget," says Senate minority leader Chuck Morse.  

In anticipation of a veto by Governor Sununu, who doesn't like that the plan reverses tax business tax cuts that took effect in January, lawmakers also passed a continuing resolution to keep the state operating at current spending levels for 90 days.

Transcript: Josh Rogers talks about a potential impasse on the state budget with NHPR's Peter Biello

Peter Biello:
This is All Things Considered on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. The New Hampshire House and Senate passed a 13 billion dollar state budget along party lines this afternoon but lawmakers are also preparing for what could be a long summer if Governor Sununu makes good on his threat to veto the spending plan. Our senior political reporter Josh Rogers joins me now in the studio to discuss what happened today and where things are headed.

Peter Biello:
Hey Josh.

Josh Rogers:
Good afternoon Peter.

Peter Biello:
So today's vote by the House and Senate were foregone conclusions with Democrats in the majority supporting the budget crafted by their own leaders and Republicans opposing. Remind us what's really at the core of this debate right now.

Josh Rogers:
Well, business tax rates are certainly at the core of things at the moment. Democrats want the business profits tax restored to the 7.9% rate that was in effect until January. The governor and Republicans, meanwhile, want that rate to remain at 7.7% which kicked in in January and they also want to preserve scheduled tax cuts that Lawmakers passed a few years ago. The Republicans say those cuts have been crucial to the economy. Democrats say we're talking about 90 million dollars in revenue and that that money is crucial to making their budget work. It would help pay for more school aid, allow them to boost Medicaid provider rates, and it would make it easier to hire child protection caseworkers. And the debate on business taxes has been going on for some time. Newer to this fight is a more broad focus on the size of the budget and what Republicans argue are its implications a long term one we take a listen to Chuck Morse. He's the Senate minority leader.

Chuck Morse:
I know some of you say you want to get back to the days when we had a 24-0 vote on a budget. This is driving us apart. It's driving us apart because it's going to cause New Hampshire to have a broad based tax. And I find that totally unacceptable.

Peter Biello:
So do you hear room for compromise and statements like that?

Josh Rogers:
Not a lot. Morse said he wants Governor Sununu to veto the budget and then for the whole thing to be reopened. Democrats are saying similar things though, that if this budget does get vetoed issues they bent on, like paid family leave, and other things regarding taxes could be back on the table. They think that's going to be a disincentive for for Sununu. Here's Dan Feltes the Senate majority leader talking about how he sees compromise.

Dan Feltes:
We need to move forward. Right now the entire budget gets reopened on a veto and everything is back on the table everything.

Peter Biello:
So assuming the governor vetoes the bill what happens next?

Josh Rogers:
Well, before lawmakers debated the budget today, they quietly without debate passed a continuing resolution which would essentially keep government operational for 90 days under caring for the current budget. So they figure that 90 days to work out a deal and we'll see what happens.

Peter Biello:
And with all this focus on the budget it's easy to forget that there are a lot of other big bills in limbo right now. What's going on there?

Josh Rogers:
Well, I mean some of the bills that were core to the Democratic agenda this year: of raising the minimum wage, of requiring background checks on gun sales in a waiting period, and also a school gun bill, and also rollbacks of Republican voting requirements. Those bills are headed to the governor. And he's dismissed a lot of those as political. Has indicated that vetoes are likely there. So how that dynamic affects budget talks are unknowable this point. But it does leave us at the end of the legislative session without really a clear sense of how we're going to end up in.

Peter Biello:
NHPR's Josh Rogers. Thanks very much for speaking with me.

Josh Rogers:
You're welcome Peter.

Peter Biello:
And you can find more of Josh's reporting on the state budget at our Website NHPR.org.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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