On The Political Front: Plenty Of Challenges Facing Senate In Drafting Budget

Apr 6, 2015

Sen. Chuck Morse
Credit Allegra Boverman / NHPR

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a look at the state budget, as Senate lawmakers begin work on crafting their own version of a two-year plan.

The New Hampshire House did what some thought it wouldn’t – or couldn’t –  pass a budget. The process  now begins anew in the state Senate.

It does, and while the Senate gets more time to work on the budget -- a full two months -- and has the advantage of  more telling revenue figures, it still faces a steep challenge, particularly if Senate budget writers plan to follow on what they say they plan to do.

What do you mean?

Well, for starters, Senate leaders, including senate President Chuck Morse and Senate Finance Chair Jeanie Forrester both say they won’t rely on money from the "Rainy Day" fund for its budget – the House proposed taking $10 million, essentially draining it.

Sen. Jeanie Forrester

   Morse and Forrester have also said they don’t like the redirecting of $53 million dollars form the renewable energy to fund the Department of Transportation. Senate Republicans have also made cutting business taxes a top priority, but dropping the rates of the business enterprise and business profits taxes, will almost certainly drop collections – state revenue officials have estimates the state will lose out on more than $130 million over the next few years.

So the arithmetic for Senate budget writers may be tricky?

It certainly looks that way. But the last few budget cycles, the Senate has really reworked the spending plan sent over by the House and that’s expected this year, too. But with the priorities I’ve mentioned, the challenge of meeting the terms of the settlements of the state’s lawsuits over mental health services and Medicaid Enhancement Tax, there really aren't a lot of obvious places to the money to make the numbers add up.

Does this help or hurt the gambling bill the House will hear tomorrow?

Credit SalFalko via Flickr CC

Hard to say. Sen. Morse, who's a sponsor of that bill says the Senate wont include gambling revenue in its budget – so no casino, and no Keno revenue – but with every other revenue idea apparently off the table in the Senate, a few lawmakers might be willing to give gambling more of a look. But the House has never passed casino legislation. The idea isn’t popular with senior House lawmakers in either party, so if it is to go through, it will take support from most of the newcomers. Gov. Hassan says she still wants a casino –meaning one – and has dodged giving direct answers when asked if she’d be open to two casinos. But she’s been quiet on this issue this year. And the topic itself has been quiet – so far at least. Tuesday's hearing might be informative.    

The next few weeks could be informative for GOP presidential voters – all the top candidates and some of the not so top ones – will be here.

Yes. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will be in New Hampshire after he officially launches his campaign. He’s holding a big event on Milford. Then 10 days from now, the GOP will hold its so-called leadership summit in Nashua, where all the leading candidates will speak. It will amount – or at least be covered as—the  real kick off of this the 2016 primary.

This sort of event is new, or at least not traditional in New Hampshire.

Well there have been cattle call style events before, but not to this extent in the past few primaries. You could argue they are out of keeping with tradition, or that they are practical, given how many people are running, or looking at running on the GOP side. And for Republican activists, looking to see these folks if not side by side than at least in rapid succession, it will be quite a weekend.  Things are a lot more quiet on the Democratic side, right now.

Yes, I did that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said again she won’t be running –again.

True, but plenty of progressives here and elsewhere are going to keep pushing her. Former Maryland 

Martin O'Malley
Credit CHESBAYPROGRAM VIA FLICKR

  Governor Martin O’Malley made another trip to New Hampshire last week – he was here twice last month alone --making increasingly populist noises, and strumming a guitar and singing "This Land is Your Land" to young Democrats. I’m not expecting the same from Hillary Clinton if and when she when she next visits New Hampshire.