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N.H. lawmakers to begin altering Gov. Sununu’s budget plan

  • Weare Republican state Rep. Neal Kurk asks a question at a meeting in 2016. Monitor file

  • Rep. Neal Kurk AP



Associated Press
Monday, March 20, 2017

House lawmakers are preparing to take scissors to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s $12.1 billion budget plan.

The House Finance Committee has spent weeks taking testimony from state agencies on the two-year spending plan, learning everything from what the state spends on charter schools to how big the deficit is in the highway fund. This week, they’ll begin adding and subtracting from Sununu’s budget. Republican Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare, the House’s chief budget writer, is for now staying mum on how his committee might alter the governor’s plan.

“Whether we will have enough money to support all of (Sununu’s) initiatives at the level he has, I don’t know at this time,” Kurk said.

After the House approves a budget, it moves to the Senate. A final budget plan must be signed by the end of June.

Revenues

How much money the state has available to spend is dictated by how much it brings in through taxes and sources like vehicle registration fees and lottery ticket sales.

House lawmakers estimated about $59 million less in revenue than Sununu’s budget writers, meaning the House needs to find corresponding cuts or add new revenue sources. Legalizing the gambling game keno and selling lottery tickets online are two new revenue options the House is exploring. Keno could bring in $12 million annually, and the online ticket sales could generate up to $13 million in the next budget.

Education

Sununu proposed $9 million to support full-day kindergarten programs, with a focus on sending money to the neediest communities. Providing full-day kindergarten in every district would cost the state about $14 million.

Republican lawmakers say they’re open to Sununu’s plan, if they can find enough money for it. Democrats, meanwhile, want a plan that offers a uniform amount of money to districts, rather than targeted aid.

“I don’t think any of us are opposed to full-day kindergarten; it’s just the funding aspect of it,” said Republican Rep. Karen Umberger, who chairs a subcommittee overseeing education spending.

Health services

Health and Human Services is the state’s largest department and includes money for Medicaid, services for people with developmental disabilities and money to fight the substance abuse crisis.

Lawmakers haven’t made any formal decisions on health spending but said they’ll be keeping a close eye on Medicaid spending. Dozens of members of the public showed up at a budget hearing last week pleading with lawmakers to increase substance abuse and developmental disabilities spending.

Elsewhere, Democratic lawmakers are concerned about Sununu’s proposal for state retirees to contribute more to their health care costs.

Transportation

Finding enough money to keep up with road and bridge repairs is always a challenge. Lawmakers estimate a $12 million to $15 million hole in the state’s highway fund that will need to be filled to keep up with necessary maintenance, Umberger said. It’s unclear where that money will come from.

Sununu also proposed creating an infrastructure bank to fund one-time road and bridge repairs. But his plan lacks specifics on how the money would be spent, and lawmakers are likely to alter it.