Governor Maggie Hassan delivered her 2015 budget address to a joint session of the N.H. Legislator Thursday.
Click through the gallery above to see photos of the address. Scroll down for our live blog, the full text of her speech, as well as the Republican response, related links, explainers, and photographs.
Reporting by Brian Wallstin, NHPR Staff. Photography by Allegra Boverman.
Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare gave the Republican reaction to Hassan's budget address. Listen to his full conversation with NHPR's Laura Knoy and Josh Rogers right here:
Speaker Shawn Jasper gives a press conference after Hassan's budget address.
Representative Neal Kurk of Weare gives the Republican reaction to Hassan's budget speech.
Wrapping up, Hassan says that the last two years have shown the benefits of lawmakers working across party lines. Investments in the workforce, health care and innovation strengthened the state, she says, and ensures that “all of our people can share in our high quality of life.”
“The budget I present to you today is a fiscally responsible, balanced budget.
I stand ready to work with any member of either party who is willing to bring constructive, long-term ideas to the table so we can continue investing in critical priorities. Together, we can expand middle class opportunity, support job-creating businesses, encourage innovation and keep our economy moving in the right direction. Together, New Hampshire will thrive.”
Hassan offers a shout-out to state workers, drawing a standing ovation from the the audience. “Our hard-working state employees and the critical services that they provide have a positive impact on the lives of New Hampshire’s citizens each and every day.”
Hassan recounts story by a DOT worker, who says a resident whose wife needs to make trips for cancer treatment even during the harshest days of the New Hampshire winter, she was able to make the trip safely.
“This story is just one example of how the daily functions of state government help ensure that our people can do the things they that want and need to do in their lives – whether it is keeping our roads safe, maintaining and promoting recreational opportunities, responding to the needs of the business community, or any of the other countless examples of how a state must work for its people and businesses.
“We must never lose sight of the real difference that dedicated public servants and the services that they provide make in the lives of our citizens.”
These revenue changes, Hassan says, will not diminish New Hampshire’s standing as having one of the lowest tax burdens in the nation, and she reiterated her commoitment to vetoing any proposed sales or income tax
Hassan says the state continues to face challenges keeping up with bettered infrastructure. While a hike in the gas tax will make critical investment in capital improvements possible, “we cannot ignore the day-to-day efforts that keep our highways and bridges open and safe.”
“I know that nobody in this room wants to jeopardize those priorities, so this budget increases vehicle registration fees, ensuring that we can fully address the challenges facing the Highway Fund and keep our roads safe.”
Related: Road improvements are funded in part by the state's vehicle registration fee. In 2013, Emily Corwin produced a series on N.H. Roads, which included this video explaining the challenge of funding road improvements in the state.
Citing lost revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax, “as well as other lost revenues over the years,” the new budget makes “modest investments to add revenue.
Hassan proposes raising the cigrette tax by 21 cents a pack, which will still allow the state to boast the lowest in New England.
Related: NHPR's coverage of Hassan's 2013 attempt to increase the tobacco tax
Hassan also proposes another go at authorizing keno.
“Six of the ten most lucrative Keno locations in Massachusetts are located within five miles of the New Hampshire border. Allowing Keno and self-service lottery terminals would help bring that revenue back home to invest in our priorities.”
Hassan says the state must “renew” its focus on the corrections system. The new women’s prison, she says, is an important step forward for the safety of our communities.
But, for too long, the department has required corrections workers to work mandatory overtime because of staff shortages.
“Through enhanced recruiting efforts and a new program to re-certify probation and parole officers who have previously worked as corrections officers, the Department of Corrections has made progress in addressing its staffing challenges, and we must continue that progress.
That is why this budget recognizes our responsibility to adequately fund the Department of Corrections, allowing the department to fill positions and staff the new women’s prison.”
On energy, Hassan says the state needs to increase the supply of natural gas and diversify energy resources.
But, she says, “we cannot do it in isolation or with the expectation that they will solve all of our problems. Any proposed project must deliver real benefits to our ratepayers, while also incorporating the views of local communities and protecting our natural resources”
Hassan proposes $2 million for affordable housing as part of her capital budget that she says will help create 100-250 new homes, with priority for vets.
To keep more young people here and to encourage others to move here, Hassan wants to fund a workforce recruitment strategy for the Department of Resources and Economic Development.
It also adds $250,000 for accelerator programs to help businesses grow and attract funding.
“These accelerator programs provide intense support, mentorship and investment to help participating companies grow faster and put them in a better position to seek additional long-term funding through angel investors and venture capitalists.”
Hassan says businesses are clammering for commuter rail. The new budget provides $4 million for environmental and engineering assessment
“Finding a consensus to make commuter rail a reality will require buy-in from local communities, the federal government and Massachusetts, as well as robust public-private partnerships. I know that we can work together to move this project forward, and the environmental and engineering assessment is an important next step.”
Hassan says New Hampshire had more than 280 drug overdose deaths in 2014 - “an unprecedented number.” She says the state responded by giving first responders training in the use of Narcan and to allow police officers the authority to carry the overdose treatment.
The new budget adds funds in the second year to extend the full substance use disorder benefit to traditional Medicaid, and it triples funding over the biennium to the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery.
“These steps together will help ensure that our state remains among the healthiest in the nation, while promoting a healthy, highly skilled workforce that is prepared for success in the innovation economy.”
Legislators applaud for Hassan's plan to pay for additional care for veterans.
Switching gears to veterans, Hassan proposes funding for 25 more beds at State Veterans Home, plus capital funding for an additional unit to care for vets with Alzheimers disease and dementia.
“Step 2” of Medicaid managed care, Hassan says, includes “stable funding for both years of the biennium, ensuring that implementation is based only on a timeline and principles that work for recipients, families, providers, and all other stakeholders.”
“And to further ensure that our most vulnerable have the services that they need, our budget proposal maintains funding for services for people who experience developmental disabilities, people with acquired brain disorder, those needing long-term care, and other ‘waiver’ services.”
Hassan says the budget provides for reauthorization of Medicaid expansion, “maintaining our commitment to our people and businesses, and to the future of our economy.
“Our budget also recognizes the savings we will see in the next two years from our work on health care expansion, including estimated reduced costs for uncompensated care and the ability to move people formerly served by several special programs to the marketplace or the health protection program.
And those savings don’t even include the long-term savings that come from a more productive and healthier workforce.
In addition, our budget also recognizes a significant increase in insurance premium tax revenue from the health protection program and the marketplace.”
The new budget provides for $19 million in charter school funding over the biennium “to allow for growth in the charter school population and to allow for new charter schools.
And to support students across the state, we are increasing the cap on adequacy distribution growth to local districts to 115 percent.”
Related: The Education Funding Debate Is Back, via The Exchange
The governor also wants full-day kindergarten, but says funding is not there in this budget. She proposes a study to evaluate the neds of local districts “to make full-day kindergarten a reality.”
Hassan proposes increasing funding for higher ed over next two years by $13 million for the university system and $6.5 million for community colleges.
“With this renewed commitment to our colleges and universities, we believe the leadership of both systems should work as hard as possible to hold down the cost of tuition. In fact, the community college system has already indicated that with this increase, they will be able to lower in-state tuition again in 2016 and 2017.”
Hassan proposes a make-over of state government structure, which she says has been fundamentally the same for 30 years despite need budgetary needs.
She wants to merge the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission into the Lottery Commission and move the Highway Safety Agency into the Department of Safety by the end of the year.
"We can no longer afford numerous one-, two- or three-person agencies. That is why this budget creates the Office of Professional Licensure, to provide staff and support to all of our professional boards, merging the Joint Board, the Health and Human Services boards, the Real Estate Commission, and several other small boards.”
Hassan proposes creation of Chief Operating Officer position to to work across state agencies to drive process and efficiency improvements.
And to help the new COO meet that goal goal, Hassan says, “we have also created an innovation fund, allowing agencies -- with the approval of Governor and Council -- to move forward with efficiency projects that can provide solid returns on investment.”
Hassan says administration cut more than one billion dollars from agency budget requests and more than $500 million from agency requests over the biennium.
“We also begin to transition away from the budgeting gimmicks that have been used for far too long, misleading the public about what we can truly afford to do.
This budget does not include back-of-the-budget cuts, a practice that requires department heads to cut programs and services that the legislature supposedly funded, and we begin to decrease so-called “lapse” estimates.”
Young families appreciate low taxes of New Hampshire, but they also expect good schools, affordable college, modern transportation and safe communities, Hassan says.
“...and they will not sacrifice the priorities that they care about… the priorities that will drive our economic growth for decades to come.”
Hassan: “As we take the responsible actions needed to close out this budget in balance and look toward the future, I hope that we can continue to build on our bipartisan progress of the last two years.”
“The good news is that, moving forward, our consensus revenue estimating panel projects that the economic recovery – combined with stronger revenues in some areas, such as the insurance premium tax thanks to health care expansion – means that we should end this year close to our original revenue plan despite the significant year-to-date shortfall in revenue from business taxes and the interest and dividends tax."
Hassan says new appropriations, lawsuits over the mental health system and Medicaid Enhance,ment Tax led to tough decisions to confront challenges “head on.”
“Last May, I issued a preventive and preemptive freeze on generally funded hiring, equipment, purchasing and out-of-state travel, and that freeze remains in effect today.
I also issued an Executive Order last November reducing Executive Branch expenditures by 18 million dollars, and I worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to put in place a plan to keep that department’s budget balanced in the face of new costs, new demands and across-the-board cuts required by the legislature.”
Hassan describes this biennial budget as “common sense” to ensure job growth and workers “once again choosing New Hampshire.”
Hassan says the budget passed two years recognized the “imperatives” of problem-solving, innovative thinking and strategic investments. It restored funding for higher education, “reinvigorated our commitment to economic development, and it made significant progress on the priorities that are critical for improving the health and wellbeing of our people and communities, helping maintain our status as one of the safest, healthiest and most livable states in the nation.”
Citing a four percent unemployment rate, one of the highest median incomes in the nation and a high quality of living, Hassan says New Hampshire is ahead of the economic curve.
Yet, she says, “we stand at a critical juncture. We lead the nation in many measures, and our economic potential is strong, but respected economists and public policy experts say there are warning signs ahead: our population is aging and in-migration is slowing.
“Our ability to address these trends as quickly as we might like is impeded by a number of challenges in recent years – the recession, tax law changes and resulting loss in revenue, and lawsuits that needed to be addressed in order for us to move forward.”
In her opening Hassan strikes all the major chords: expanding opportunity for the middle class; supporting job creation and innovation for business; attracting more young people to the state And it’s all possible with no income or sales tax.
“It is a budget,” she says, “that continues re-thinking and re-shaping how state government works to make us more effective and efficient and to stretch our citizens’ tax dollars as far as possible. It is a budget that is honest about how we will use our limited resources, beginning to move away from misleading budgeting gimmicks.
“And it is a budget that does not include a major new revenue source, while also recognizing that we cannot afford to further erode the revenue sources that we have.”
Hassan is introduced, enters the chamber to applause.
New Hampshire Senate enters the hall, followed by Senate President Chuck Morse, who joins Jasper on the podium as the joint session is gaveled into session.
As Jasper taps the gavel to begin the roll call, plenty of empty seats for this years budget address.
The state already faces a budgetary hole, caused by the settlement of lawsuits over over mental health services and the Medicaid enhancement tax. And partisan differences over business taxes – Republicans want to cut them, Democrats say the state will lose needed revenue without changes – will only add to the challenges to bipartisan consensus.
As NHPR's Josh Rogers reported this morning, with Republicans in charge of both chambers of the legislature, Gov. Hassan will find consensus harder to reach than two years ago, when a divided legislature came together on a $10.8 billion dollar plan.
House Speaker Shawn Jasper is at the podium, urging lawmaker to take their seats as Representatives Hall starts to fill up.