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Sununu Talks Taxes With CEOs, Democrats Highlight Cuts To Services As Budget Impasse Continues

Josh Rogers | NHPR

While Governor Sununu and Democratic lawmakers say they want to make a deal on the state budget, neither is giving much ground, and both are working to frame a debate that doesn't look likely to end soon.

In June, Governor Sununu vetoed the state budget passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.

Sununu took his budget message to friendly territory Thursday, a room full of CEOs at a meeting convened by the Business and Industry Association.

"Just the 24 or 25 individuals we have in this room are literally connected to tens of thousands of employees and families, and that's the benefit here," Sununu said. 

Sununu's tone was mostly upbeat. He opened with a rosy assessment of the likelihood of making a deal with Democrats.

"They have a $13.3 billion dollar budget proposal," Sununu said, "My budget can do it at $13.1 billion, without raising any taxes and keep everything balanced....I mean that's a small gap and I really feel confident and optimistic we can get there."

But when the decision turned to what may be the key sticking point in the budget, business tax rates, Sununu's tone sharpened. Sununu wants to keep a round of tax cuts that took effect in January, while Democrats want to reverse them. 

"When stupid comes knocking, shut the door quickly," Sununu said to laughs from the room. "And so, to be honest that's why I'm a little blunt about why there are certain lines I absolutely will not cross or entertain." 

Meanwhile, across the statehouse plaza at the Legislative Office Building, Democrats were holding a different kind of budget meeting, a public hearing on the effect a temporary budget is having on the Department of Health and Human Services.

Credit Josh Rogers | NHPR
Democratic lawmakers convened a hearing to discuss the impact of the state budget impasse on the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday

"There are Medicaid rate increases, and increases to the behavioral health services that were provided for in the budget that have not taken effect because of the continuing resolution," said Jeff HHS commissioner Jeff Myers. 

Democrats pressed Myers on issues like provider rates and child protective services. Concord Senator Democrat Dan Feltes wanted Myers to weigh in on what Democrats see as a key contrast between their budget and Sununu's: tax cuts versus payments to service providers.

"Do you have a position about what level they should be cut from the budget that's proposed as commissioner of Health and Human Services," Feltes asked. 

"No," Myers said. "It's a legislative decision to determine what money you wish to fund for these services."

After Myers was done, lawmakers heard from a string of witnesses, including disabilities rights groups, senior citizens, and people with substance abuse issues. All said they were being hurt by the current budget impasse. 

Cheryl Wilkie of the Farnum Center, which provides drug treatment, said operating under the temporary budget is forcing her to cut services.

"We will be deciding what we will close because we have not gotten the support we need from the governor, from the commissioner, or from this legislature," she said.

All those parties are going to have to be at the table for a budget deal to be reached. But right now that feels like a long way off.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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