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Budget writers in the New Hampshire House are tossing aside policies sought by Gov. Chris Sununu as they work towards finalizing their proposed two-year state spending plan.
With the House projecting state revenues for the next two years $82 million lower than Sununu’s, lawmakers are looking for places to save — and the Republican-led committee used a common approach to help close that gap. On Monday, March 27, they prepared to include a requirement in the budget that the state’s largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, to find $23 million in unspecified savings over the next two years.
“There is no one answer to this,” said Rep. Jess Edwards, the Auburn Republican who leads the budget panel dealing with state health spending. “We are trying to keep a balanced approach to do the best overall job we can with limited resources and unlimited wants.”
Though much of the focus in Monday’s deliberations was on areas of difference from Sununu, budget writers will likely endorse some initiatives backed by the governor. That includes spending about $100 million per year to fund across-the-board pay raises for state workers. Those would amount to a 10% raise next year, and another 2% raise in 2025.
The House Finance Committee also plans to lift Medicaid rates paid to healthcare providers. Sununu proposed spending $34 million on annual increases of 3.1 percent to those rates. The House is likely to back more generous increases, targeting some providers, and boosting rates in total by $92 million, which Edwards termed “a nice chunk of change.”
Some on the committee, meanwhile, questioned if that spending was enough to help providers who say inflation is making it impossible to hire workers.
“At the public hearing, this was the issue we heard loud and clear from so many.” said Rep. Karen Ebel, a New London Democrat.
The Finance Committee also moved to pare back spending on Sununu-backed housing initiatives, trimming funding for InvestNH — Sununu’s plan to encourage developers and communities to add more housing units — from $30 million to $15 million.
The committee meanwhile reduced spending on the affordable housing fund from $25 million to $15 million.
The Finance Committee also largely scuttled one of Sununu’s most high-profile initiatives: a plan to eliminate 34 state occupational licenses. Sununu has promoted the idea as a way to cut bureaucracy and red tape in industries like foresters, medical technicians, and soil scientists, among others. Committee members on Monday, March 27, indicated Sununu’s proposal was too sweeping to be handled through the budget-writing process.
“I liked the governor's proposal, but It just turned out to be way too much for our division to process and deal with the level of detail involved.," said Rep. Dan McGuire, a Republican from Epsom.
The panel also rejected Sununu’s proposed repeal of the state telecommunications tax in favor of replacing it with an expedited phase-out of the state’s income tax on interest and dividends.
“The net gain for this biennium will be $40 million with the restoration of the communications tax,” said Rep. Peter Leishman, a Peterborough Democrat.
The committee plans to complete its budget work Thursday, March 30. The full House will vote on that plan next week; it will then move to the state Senate for further negotiation.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: NH House budget writers stake out key differences with Gov. Sununu