On The Political Front: House Budget A Test For Divided GOP Caucus

Mar 30, 2015

Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

On the Political Front, NHPR's Josh Rogers speaks with Morning Edition host Rick Ganley about the state budget going before the House this week.

The state budget, the version crafted by House budget writers, heads for a floor vote this week. House Speaker Shawn Jasper has indicated he’s ready to lock lawmakers in to get the job done. Is it going to come to that?

Probably not, but getting the House budget to the floor wasn’t so easy, so who knows. The plan that's heading there, which totals about $11.2 billion, or $300-plus million less than the budget proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan, meets a big test for many Republicans, in that it doesn’t increase any taxes, and strips out the governor’s revenue ideas – cigarette tax hike, Keno, auto-registration fees. Whether that’s enough for conservatives isn’t entirely clear -- my sense is that it will be. Democrats on the other hand hate this plan – it cuts sending in some social programs. And by cut, I do mean reduction below current spending; that it shaves school aid money, flat-funds the University System of New Hampshire, and would undo Medicaid expansion.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

So it sounds like for this to pass, this budget will need votes from a lot of people who voted for Bill O’Brien to lead the house instead of Speaker Shawn Jasper.

Yes, and whether all of those folks are up for that isn’t clear. After the House Finance Committee voted through the plan last week – it was a party line vote – several members of the committee, Republicans and Democrats said it was a real possibility that this budget stalls on the floor. Not sure I buy that. The fact that the conservative group Americans for Prosperity came out in support of the budget late last week probably doesn’t hurt for some. But if you are a staunch conservative interested in shrinking government your logic could be let’s try to vote this down because it does increase overlay spending, hope to win a few more concessions, and get those passed, and at least that would be the House’s  position, and the starting point for whatever deal ends up emerging with the Senate. But that’s a long ways off.

You mention the Senate. Traditionally, the Senate waits until after cross over day, which is Thursday, to get going on the budget, but that may not be the case this year?

GOP leaders in the Senate have made it clear they will not be using the House budget – assuming this budget does pass – as their starting point. And there are indications the Senate has been unofficially working on e budget for some time.

Now, you’ve got Speaker Jasper talking about locking members in Representatives Hall to force progress on the budget, and the House is now right up on its deadline for getting this done. What if it fails?

Well, according to people close to Jasper, failure isn’t really an option. They don’t want that  -- or anything else  -- to remind people of the deep divide within the house GOP caucus. And some of the things top House budget writers did to get this plan to where it is, like proposing a higher gas tax, which of course failed, or like tapping a renewable energy fund for $51 million after several top Republicans said raiding dedicated funds wasn’t going to happen, does indicate that  a real desire to get something over to the Senate, even if it’s understood that the Senate isn’t likely pay much heed to the House policy recommendations.

Now the budget has dominated the recent headlines out of the Statehouse, but as you say its crossover day. What other bills are worth watching?

Well, one thing I’ve been keeping an eye on are bills that are likely to pass both houses that Gov. Hassan doesn’t want to see. The most high profile are the cuts to business taxes – the business enterprise and business profits taxes, that cleared the Senate on a party line vote. The Governor has long been critical of that idea, but politically, vetoing tax cuts always comes with a potential cost.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Another bill I’m watching passed the Senate without too much attention last week aims to tighten residency requirement for voting. Specifically the bill would require voters to have been a resident for 30 day before casting ballots. New Hampshire of course has same day registration, and Republicans say that, combined with our language defining the concept of domicile, has allowed people to vote here who have no intention of really living in New Hampshire. This bill is all but certain to make it to Gov. Hassan, and while she hasn’t said so yet, it’s hard not to see her vetoing it. Few thing get as partisan in Concord as fights over access to voting. And while specific durational requirements for domicile are on the books in other states – and not just heavily GOP ones – this fight will start to kick up as this bill move to the House.