The New Hampshire Senate voted along party lines last week to pass the $11.3 billion dollar two-year state budget. The budget has been described by Republicans as "conservative, yet compassionate." Democrats say it doesn't go far enough. NHPR's Peter Biello sat down with Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley to talk about the budget and what's to come.
What do you like about this budget that was passed late last week?
Well I think we’ve had the opportunity, because we go later in the process and our friends in the House or even the Governor’s office, to understand where revenue projections are likely to be in the fiscal 2016-17 budget and so because revenue is improving, we’re able to restore things that people care about. Families with a disabled child, services for the elderly, funding to promote New Hampshire tourism funding, substance abuse, so I think that we were able to restore a lot of dollars to (as I said) programs that people care about and need, and I think that’s a very positive development in our budget.
Some democrats suggested that the revenue estimates are a little overestimated. How confident are you that these revenue estimates are accurate?
I think these revenue estimates are accurate. I mean, look, May alone came in $10 million higher than projected. And it’s interesting that in the Senate Finance Committee, Democrats brought in an amendment to raise revenue estimates even higher. So I think that these are conservative estimates, but they’re realistic.
And what don’t you like about this budget?
I think there’s been a lot of jawing, if you will, on our effort to try to stimulate the economy, so while I like the fact that business tax cuts are in it, what I don’t like is the fact that they have become so partisan. If you look at some of the national statistics for New Hampshire, we’re ranked 48th highest in terms of our corporate tax—that’s not a good place to be. And in terms of job growth, since the great recession, we’re ranked tenth worst, so I believe that, in order for a budget to be a good budget, it has to fund the services that people need. It has to protect taxpayers, and it has to do something for the economy, so I’m a little disappointed that there’s been so much back-and-forth partisan jawboning if you will over the business tax cuts, which are modest and a down payment on trying to ensure that we’re not in the competitive disadvantage that we are.
Governor Maggie Hassan has expressed concern over any kind of budget that seems to be guided by one party’s principles, and the Democrats couldn’t pass any of the amendments that they tried to during this last phase, so is this a partisan budget? Is this too far to the right?
Absolutely not. We restored a lot of money that the House—because they had different revenue estimates—had to do what they had to, but because our revenue estimates are better, we restored money to families with disabled children, the elderly services, Meals on Wheels, tourism funding, substance abuse—the list goes on, and on, and on. But as I said on the floor the other day, I think it’s time for our Democratic colleagues to recognize the restoration of funding that we’ve made for these valuable programs, but to meet us halfway. We have priorities, too, and our priorities are: better job growth for New Hampshire citizens and protecting tax payers. There were proposals early on to raise business taxes. To me, that sends exactly the wrong message, and so for a budget to be successful and to have bipartisan support, I think our democratic friends need to recognize that we have priorities, too, and those priorities are job growth and protecting tax payers.
Where do you stand on raises for state employees?
Nobody actually brought in that amendment to the Senate Finance Committee, which is unfortunate. I’d like to think that, as we go forward, we’re going to find some room in committee of conference to fund at least some of, if not all of, that pay raise. I’d like to hope for that, but we’re going to have to come up with the money to be able to do it?
Is the state not obligated to fund the whole thing?
No, it’s the prerogative of the budget writers, of the legislature, basically, to put that line item in the budget. So even while it’s been negotiated, it’s not valid until it’s been funded.
Some legislators argued that it was too soon to have any kind of debate on Medicaid expansion. Why not fund Medicaid expansion past 2016?
I believe that Medicaid expansion needs to be reauthorized. It’s working as intended. Emergency room visits are down. People have insurance. The hidden tax of uncompensated care, which is something that everybody with private insurance is paying for, which has led to the fact that we have among the highest health insurance rates in the country, is going down. That’s an important development. But at the same time, there’s still a lot of people that are skeptical about it, so the more information we have, the more that people who are benefiting from Medicaid expansion—I mean, regular working people who don’t have health insurance that have had this positive impact on their lives—their stories need to get out. And I think that as that kind of grassroots effort is developed over the next six months, that’s the time to have a vote. And we also need to see how the transition on January 1 to Medicaid but with private health insurance plans works. So there’s still some unanswered questions. I think it’s working, and I think it should be reauthorized. Now’s not the time to do it.