Senate Democrats Eye Rainy Day Fund for Opioid Crisis

Dec 13, 2017

Senator Jeff Woodburn announcing the Rescue Act proposal during a press conference in Concord.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

New Hampshire Democrats are backing a bill that would allow money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to be used to combat the opioid crisis.

The “RESCUE Act” would permit the governor or the state legislature to declare a public health emergency, triggering the release of 10 percent of the Rainy Day Fund, which currently totals around $100 million.

Senate Democrats say the money is needed to address the opioid crisis, and make up for a lack of funding from Washington.  

“I think it would be penny wise and pound foolish to put money away when you have a crisis that is devastating the state of New Hampshire and our families,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, during a press conference announcing the bill on Wednesday in Concord.

Democrats criticized the lack of funding from the Trump Administration to fight the opioid crisis, as well as their Republican colleagues in Concord, arguing that the recently enacted two-year spending plan failed to adequately address the drug epidemic.

“The opioid crisis is already costing the state so many lives, so much heartbreak, so many resources,” said Senator Donna Soucy. “And we owe it to New Hampshire citizens, and those working on the front lines, to combat this problem.”

The bill, which will be debated during the 2018 legislative session which begins in January, may not immediately find bipartisan support. Republican Senator Gary Daniels, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, rejected claims that his party wasn’t sufficiently funding the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, pointing to increases in the Alcohol Fund included in the current budget.

Daniels also questioned why the proposed legislation doesn’t lay out specifics for how the Rainy Day Fund money would be spent. He says the additional resources, however well intentioned, could be wasted on programs that don’t produce results.

“This seems to be the Democrat way is just to throw more money at something, as opposed to try to find out what the source of the problem is, and try to attack it from that point of view,” says Daniels.

While the bill doesn’t lay out specifics for how the money would be spent, it instead calls for “detailed recommendations” to be made by either the governor or legislature in their public health emergency declaration. The release of money from the Rainy Day Fund would then need approval by the Joint Fiscal Committee, a bipartisan group made up of lawmakers from both chambers.

Daniels added that bond rating agencies closely monitor the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and that any dip in its levels could harm New Hampshire’s bond rating, which increases the cost of borrowing.

Democrats say "RESCUE" stands for Responding Effectively to a Severe Crisis Using Emergency funds.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Chris Sununu reiterated the state GOP’s efforts to fund treatment and recovery programs during the past 12 months, adding, “Governor Sununu is happy to hear any additional concerns regarding the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and would assess the final language of the bill if it were to reach his desk.”