After hours of debate and more than a dozen failed floor amendments, the Senate voted 14-10 along party lines Thursday to pass a $11.3 billion budget.
The Senate proposal spends $99 million more than the House version but $66 million less than what the Governor proposed. A fact many Democrats were not shy to point out Thursday, including Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester.
“It’s what we didn’t do that we should focus in on. What is left on the table? And I am telling you there is 52 million dollars worth of requests that we didn’t address,” he told his colleagues.
The two-year spending plan increases funding cut in the House version for social services including substance abuse treatment, elderly care and developmental services but not as much as the Governor proposed. The budget also restores $20 million to the state’s rainy day fund as well as restoring the renewable energy fund.
Senate Finance Chair Jeanie Forrester stands by the budget as a “compassionate and conservative” one.
“This budget reflects our priorities and those priorities were simple. Ensure our most vulnerable citizens’ needs are met, help support job creation and economic growth, protect taxpayers and live within our means,” she said prior to the vote.
But Senate Democrats question the inclusion of the process– saying the plan is the result of partisan politics, with key decisions made behind closed doors.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn says such a budget is not in the best interest of New Hampshire citizens. “This process is 100 percent partisan, 100 percent Republican. We need a budget that meets our needs. That is fiscally balanced, that is politically balanced,” he said.
Democrats also claim the plan is filled with “budget gimmicks” such as unspecified cuts and includes favors for “special friends,” which refers to business tax cuts that will result in an estimated $19 million revenue loss in the next biennium.
But Majority Leader Jeb Bradley argues these tax breaks are a vital economic investment. “Budgets are more than what we need in the state but they also have to be about the overall economic health of the state and how we protect taxpayers,” he said on the floor.
Another sticking point for Democrats is the exclusion of a state employee pay raise and the extension of Medicaid expansion, which were both included in the Governor’s version. But Republican Sen. Gerald Little of Weare says it is too early to debate Medicaid expansion.
“I think it was jumping the gun on the part of the Governor for proposing her budget that at this point in time we should extend Medicaid expansion because we don’t have the type of information, the data to make an informed decision,” he argued.
Throughout the day, Democrats proposed several amendments on the floor aiming to restore funding for services such as mental health, winter maintenance and the renewable energy fund – all were rejected along party lines.
An emotional debate did; however, break out on an amendment calling for $3.1 million more for substance abuse treatment and prevention.
Democratic Sen. Andrew Hosmer of Laconia says it’s irrational to not fully fund substance abuse treatment when there were 320 drug-overdose deaths last year.
“One of them worked for me, good kids, good families, education. You say, how could they ever end up in this situation? Darcey S. said about her son that worked for me, every life matters, her son’s life matters. They didn’t have the resources they needed,” he said firmly. But Forrester, who advocated for more funding in committee, says the money just isn’t there.
Prior to the vote, Woodburn warned colleagues that with the budget as is, "we are on the brink of a veto.” Hassan; however, says she will not decide if she will veto the budget until after it reaches her desk, but says she has “serious concerns” with the proposal.
House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to begin meeting next week to reach a compromise budget plan, which must be signed into law by Hassan by July 1 before the start of the fiscal cycle.