House, Senate Set To Take Up State Budget Today

Jun 24, 2015

The House and Senate will be voting on the $11.3 billion state budget proposal on Wednesday. But what is different from most budget cycles – is this time lawmakers will also vote on a temporary spending plan to extend past June 30, which will keep government running if the governor does make good on her promise to veto it. NHPR reporter Paige Sutherland talks with Morning Edition host Rick Ganley 

So, it has been a long couple of weeks at the State House, which ended with GOP leaders agreeing on a new two-year spending plan. The full House and Senate will now take it up today. What should we expect?

It is looking like the budget should be adopted along party lines. With Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

And because the committee of conference recommendation is only a thumbs up or down vote – no amendments will be introduced today, but lawmakers are still bracing for a long day of debates as members get their last words in before the big vote.

Take a look at the current budget proposal.

Gov. Maggie Hassan on Thursday pledged to veto the budget when it reaches her desk.
Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR

But assuming it passes – can we expect a veto?

Yes. According to all indications, the governor will veto it. And that is why Republican leadership have drafted a short-term spending plan that will keep government running for the next six months based on 2015 funding levels.

But the governor along with Democratic leadership have argued that the so-called continuing resolution should be funded on 2016 spending levels…is that correct?

Yes. The governor including those on the left have argued that if the short-term spending plan is adjusted to 2015 levels it would cause social services such as home health care, substance abuse treatment and elderly care services to miss out on increased funding included in the new budget.

It has been a while since a New Hampshire governor has vetoed a budget. Governor Craig Benson did in 20013. He was concerned about overspending. What is it about this spending plan that has the governor to be on the brink of a veto?

There are many concerns that the governor has addressed in the current proposal including a $12 million state employee pay raise that she negotiated in February as well as continuing Medicaid expansion past 2016.

But the main emphasis is business taxes, which she says are unfunded and leave the budget unbalanced.

“Republicans are setting our state on a perilous fiscal path,” said the governor at a press conference last week.

But Republican leadership won’t budge on this issue – arguing that the cuts, which will cost $21 million over the next biennium, will in the long run be an economic driver that will keep and attract more businesses to New Hampshire.

"If Governor Hassan vetoes our smart and sensible budget, it is only because of narrow special interests and her ambition for higher office," said Senate President Chuck Morse.

Also, Republicans say the governor’s veto threat is in part driven by her plans to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2016, which is currently held by Senator Kelly Ayotte.

“If Governor Hassan vetoes our smart and sensible budget, it is only because of narrow special interests and her ambition for higher office,” said Senate President Chuck Morse before voting on the final proposal last week.

If a continuing resolution does go into effect – what should we expect over the next couple of months?

It's hard to know. So far Republican leadership say they don’t expect a new budget to come easy – stressing that there isn’t much room left for compromise.

“We have moved, I believe as much as we can move. I just don’t see that we can go any further," House Speaker Shawn Jasper told reporters last week.

Jasper also said Republicans will hope for revenues to improve over the summer, which will give budget writers more money to work with.

Yes that is true and something the governor hopes for as well. And if that happens it’s quite possible the state employee pay raise could make it in. But that is something lawmakers are expecting to take all summer.