Senate Republicans take hard line against Medicaid expansion in state budget talks
State budget talks between the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate kicked off yesterday, with the chief Senate negotiator taking a hard line on opposing expansion of New Hampshire’s Medicaid program.
“The Senate will not support expanding Medicaid as part of the budget,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “This issue is far too complex to be lumped in with a hundred or so other provisions of (House Bill) 2. We should study the issue further, as the Senate has proposed, and legislation seeking to expand the program should go through the normal legislative process as a standalone bill.”
The House wants to expand the Medicaid program under President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law, as does Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. The Senate has instead proposed appointing a commission to study the issue.
Despite that and other sticking points, Morse said yesterday the House and Senate agree more than they disagree when it comes to the state budget for the biennium that begins July 1.
And Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the budget committee of conference, said they certainly share a common goal.
“We are all here to have a positive outcome for our state,” said Wallner, the chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. “I look forward to the next four days as we work through the budget. . . . At the end of the process, we will produce a comprehensive conference report that makes up all of our agreements and that we feel is best for the interests of our state.”
Yesterday was the conference committee’s first meeting as the House Democrats and Senate Republican try to hammer out a new state budget for the next two fiscal years. The Senate’s $10.7 billion plan and the House’s $11 billion plan are similar in many ways, with increased funding for state colleges and universities, mental health services and services for adults with development disabilities, among other areas.
But, in addition to Medicaid expansion, there are a number of key differences, including:
∎ The House’s plan includes a 30 cent increase in the cigarette tax. Morse has said the Senate won’t accept any tax or fee increases.
∎ The Senate included a $50 million across-the-board cut to personnel costs, including $20 million to come from the general fund.
∎ The House wants a moratorium on new public charter schools, while Hassan and the Senate support enough funding for four new schools.
On Tuesday, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee adopted new revenue estimates for the next two years that came out $49.2 million above the Senate’s estimates. Adopting those estimates could mitigate several across-the-board cuts proposed by the Senate, including the personnel cut and a $7 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But Morse said yesterday he’s wary of setting estimates for business and other taxes too high.
“We are confident in the revenues produced by the Senate Ways and Means (Committee), and we will be skeptical about inflating those estimates in order to increase spending in this budget,” he said.
Yesterday’s meeting saw the House and Senate negotiators go through the budget and tentatively agree on a number of areas, but there was no extended discussion of individual budget items. The conference committee will meet again Monday to discuss revenue estimates and Medicaid expansion, among other topics.
It faces a Thursday deadline to complete its work.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)