N.H. House Passes $11B Budget

Apr 3, 2013

Credit Emily Corwin, NHPR

The 194-172 vote was near party line, and came after both sides compared this year’s spending plan to the current state budget, crafted by republicans.  Democrat Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua is vice chairman of the house finance committee.

“This budget is a modest restoration of the some of the most devastating cuts of two years ago." 

Rosenwald went on at some length, selling the budget as one that increased spending from local taxes by just under 4 percent, while protecting the most vulnerable -- from those waiting for beds at the state’s psychiatric hospital, to truant and at-risk children going with services, to those born with severe problems.

"Because of this budget 654 individual with developmental disabilities with receive the services for which they are eligible and we will fund significant part of the 10-year mental health plan."

But Republicans countered that it would be crazy to support a plan that aims to repudiate the policies of the last two years.

" I’m here to tell you what a responsible budget looks like."

That’s former house speaker Bill O’Brien. O’Brien was a lightning rod when the house passed its last budget -- amid union protestors, and prayer vigils led by local clergy. This year, O’Brien claimed he was going to let others lead the fight, until his name was invoked in mimeographed talking points issued by House Democratic leaders.

"Abandon the boogie man talking points that so many distract us from what the issues are, and vote with the hard-working taxpayers and small businesses of N.H."

Other Republicans took aim and what they say is a shortsighted shifting of costs to the county and local taxpayers. So-called downshifting, is a concern in every state budget. Manchester representative Steve Vallaincourt says this budget does it to the tune of 11 million dollars.

“Were I to vote for this downshifting, I could not ever consider running again for re-election. In fact, if were I to fail to do everything to prevent this downshifting could not live with myself. Ultimately we all have to live with ourselves. “

And in vote after vote, Democrats showed they could live with themselves and with this budget, which increases the tobacco tax by 30 cents, and also includes a 12 cent hike to the gas tax.

Republicans meanwhile, tried to chip away at the budget, with 16 separate floor amendments: some aimed to limit the governor’s ability to scoop money from dedicated funds; others sought to secure more funding for charter schools; another aimed to impose a moratorium on wind farms and to stall the Northern Pass Project. All failed.

The House’s top budget writer, Democrat Mary Jane Wallner, says leaders well recognize that the House's proposals may not be to everyone’s liking, but says she’s proud of the work done to protect so-called safety net programs without big tax changes.

“You know we really did listen to what the people told us when we went around the state to public hearings. We really tried to balance it as carefully we could, as you know we didn’t have the gambling revenue in the budget, so we stated right off with 80 million dollars less than the Governor had in her budget when to came over to us.”

In a statement, Governor Hassan noted that in many ways the house funding priorities policies “align” with her own, but she also said a casino would address what she called the challenges of the house’s proposal. \

The N.H. Senate has already passed a Hassan-backed bill authorizing one casino, and gambling revenue is expected to be at the center of the senate’s budget plan. That’s where this process moves next.