On the Political Front is a weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a look at the challenge facing lawmakers on coming to agreement on a new, two year state budget.
It’s getting to be that time of year in Concord – where House and Senate committees meet to negotiate agreements, or fail to negotiate agreements, on key issues. The state budget is, of the course the biggie.
Yes, budget negotiations really won’t get under way until next week – the House has to vote this week to set those up – but getting to a place where the House, Senate and Governor can agree won’t be a snap. The differences in spending aren’t huge this year. The plan passed by the Senate is $11.3 billion, and the plan passed by the House is $11.2 billion. The governor proposed spending $11.5 billion. The Legislature nixed some of the funding sources in Hassan’s plan – a tobacco tax increase, and Keno, for instance. And the Senate, as is typical in budget years, contains higher revenue estimates –$118 million higher, than the House. Assuming the House and Senate can come to terms on revenue, it’s hard to see any huge roadblocks to the GOP-controlled legislature getting an agreement by the last week in June.
What about the governor?
That’s a good question. When the Senate passed the budget the governor issued a statement that among other things, states that “any budget that relies exclusively on the votes of one political party will fail to meet the expectations of our citizens, the needs of our businesses and the needs of our economy." Now the House and Senate budgets were passed with the votes of a single party. And that tends to be the norm. There is often collaboration between the parties during committee work, but once the voting starts, things tend to get pretty partisan. The governor knows this well; it was also the case when she was in the state Senate. But facing GOP budgets she doesn’t like, she’s playing the card she has.
Is it clear what she wants to see put back into the budget?
Money to ensure the continuation of Medicaid expansion, more cash for higher education, transportation, more substance abuse treatment, funding to allow her to honor the pay raise deal she struck with state employees. There are other things, and right now all seem like they could be hard to get.
So might we be heading towards a veto?
It’s too early to say. The governor has said she will wait until lawmakers are done with the budget before making judgment on that score. In the meantime, I’m going to be watching to see whether her calls for a bipartisan budget get more emphatic or pointed. Recall that the budget during her first term did win adoption on bipartisan votes: 24-0 in the senate. But that budget was largely crafted by the GOP Senate. That year, Hassan also had the benefit for a Democratic house, which rejected her plan to include gambling in the budget, but adopted a great many of her spending and policy priorities. That’s a very far cry from the situation this time. Some in Concord are definitely expecting blown deadlines, and a long summer, but some always expect that.
Now the budget isn’t the only major issue where the governor and the House and Senate could be on a collision course.
No. The governor has said she’ll veto a bill to allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. That bill is on her desk right now, so expect that veto in the next few days.
This issue is a priority for Republican leaders, and gun rights activists, but an override of the promised veto isn’t likely based on the margin of passage. Another point of friction is the bill creating a 30-day residency requirement before a person can vote. The bill also seeks to square the definition of domicile for voting with that of resident. This issue has been fought over for some years now. Republicans have passed laws before linking voting to motor vehicle requirements, Democrats have gotten rid of them. Republicans call this latest bill common sense, and point out that similar requirements are on the books in many other states – not all of them deep red. Democrats, meanwhile, say it’s unconstitutional. Heading into a presidential year, both sides on this issue are pretty keyed up.