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House fails to pass $11.9 billion budget amid GOP squabble

  • House Speaker Shawn Jasper adjourns the chamber for the remainder of the day after the House Finance Committee's proposed budget failed to pass at the State House in Concord on April 5, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, right, confers with House Chief of Staff Terry Pfaff, left, prior to a vote on the House budget on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at the State house in Concord, New Hampshire. The House adjourned 45 minutes later without passing a spending deal. In background are House Speaker Shawn Jasper, left, and House Clerk Paul Smith, center. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne) Kathleen Ronayne



Associated Press
Thursday, April 06, 2017

The New Hampshire House failed to pass a budget Thursday, an unprecedented move that left Republican House Speaker Shawn Jasper blaming members of his own party as “totally disconnected from their constituents.”

The budget stalemate won’t immediately cut any spending or programs, as a final spending plan isn’t due until June. The plan is now in the Senate’s hands, and they’ll work off Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s $12.1 billion proposal. But the House’s failure to reach a deal reveals fissures within the Republican party deep enough to derail legislation, similar to the dynamic in Washington that sank Republican efforts to reform health care.

Jasper made no effort to play nice, slamming his opponents as part of a new group of Republicans who put ideology above everything else.

“A large faction of this group only focuses on the fact that government really should be much smaller than it is, regardless of the consequences that that has on their fellow man,” Jasper said.

The budget’s failure hinged on a group of Republicans’ belief that the House’s $11.9 billion price tag was too high. They proposed cutting hundreds of millions of dollars, but didn’t specify where the cuts should come from, a plan leadership called unworkable and unrealistic. Democrats, meanwhile, wouldn’t cooperate unless the plan added fresh money for social service programs and full-day kindergarten. Jasper it made clear he would not seek votes outside of his own caucus.

Rather than engaging in a second day of full debate on the plan, Jasper’s leadership team moved to adjourn the session just 45 minutes after it started Thursday, shutting off any possibility for passing a plan.

Budget resisters, who dubbed themselves the “House Freedom Caucus,” said they would have continued seeking a compromise.

“I wish they would’ve stayed at the table and negotiated, but they walked away,” said Republican Rep. JR Hoell, who believed the budget was too big and wasn’t transparent.

Several dozen Freedom Caucus members sought advice from former GOP House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who lost the speakership in a bitter battle with Jasper in 2014. O’Brien, who is no longer in the legislature, said he hosted two meetings with members in Manchester this week.

Hoell said the outcome of the dispute with GOP leaders proved that representatives who believe in limited government hold sway.

“Those who believe in limiting the growth of government can and do make a difference by being elected up here,” he said.

The failure to pass a budget effectively rendered more than six weeks of work by the House Finance Committee moot and ceded greater power to the Senate in crafting a two-year spending plan. Democrats and Republicans alike warned that taking the unprecedented move of passing nothing would be bad for the chamber in the long run.

“I see what has happened in other legislative bodies across the country and in Washington, and I never want to be part of that,” Democratic Rep. Marjorie Smith said, as she urged fellow Democrats to back the plan even though she disagreed with much of it. “I never want to be part of a body that says let’s tear the institution apart, let the institution fail.”

The House’s plan included $50 million in property tax relief for cities and towns, boosted spending on road and bridge repairs, ensured state retirees above age 68 wouldn’t pay health care premiums and reformed the juvenile justice system. Budget writers sold it as a responsible plan that spent within its means and helped New Hampshire citizens most in need.

Sununu said he’s eager to work with the Senate in the next phase of the process and will be open to House members “who want to bring good ideas forward.”

“On matters of economic development, education and our opioid crisis, failure is not an option,” he said in a statement. “Granite Staters deserve results.”