Compromise budget gets green light from negotiators, including study this year of Medicaid expansion
People listened outside a packed room as Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, announces that negotiators were still in a stalemate as of Wednesday evening, June 19, 2013 while the commitee of conference on the budget met in the Legislative Office Building.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, is interviewed after an announcement that negotiators were still in a stalemate as Rep. Dan Eaton, a Democrat from Stoddard, looks on in a hallway at the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday evening, June 19, 2013.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
UPDATED, 1:05 p.m.: The budget conference committee unanimously approved the compromise budget today after receiving final numbers and language from the nonpartisan legislative budget assistant’s office. It will go before the House and Senate next Wednesday for approval.
“This bipartisan, fiscally responsible balanced budget agreement represents true and meaningful progress on the priorities that matter to the people of New Hampshire and that are critical for creating good jobs and building a more innovative economic future,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan in a statement.
For full coverage, see tomorrow’s Monitor.
An earlier version of this story appears below.
The framework of a compromise state budget took shape in the early morning hours today as House Democrats and Senate Republicans ironed out their differences, including on the critical issue of Medicaid expansion.
Under a tentative deal reached shortly after 3 a.m., the Democratic-controlled House agreed to drop its proposal to expand the Medicaid program through the state budget. The Republican-controlled Senate had proposed a commission to study the expansion option and got it, albeit one that will work on an accelerated timetable: Its final report will be due Oct. 15.
House Democrats had proposed calling a special session of the Legislature in the late summer or fall to debate and vote on Medicaid expansion. Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, refused to commit the Senate to calling such a special session, but also didn’t rule one out.
“It would be difficult at this time for the Senate to support doing something in particular on a particular date, not knowing the results of the report or if they feel that is adequate information,” Bragdon said, then added, “The opportunity would be there.”
(A special session can be called by a majority in both the House and the Senate, or by Gov. Maggie Hassan and a majority of the five-member Executive Council.)
The agreement on Medicaid came after hours of negotiations yielded tentative agreements on nearly all aspects of the state budget for the next two years. While a number of relatively small items remained on hold, the negotiators had assembled the “framework” for a budget deal, said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Finance Committee.
The budget conference committee went home at 3:25 a.m., after putting in four hours and 44 minutes of public negotiations since 10 a.m. yesterday. Much of the rest of the time had been devoted to private talks.
They’ll be back at the table this morning at 10 to work out final details and, if all goes well, approve a compromise state operating budget for the biennium that begins July 1.
Today is the deadline for committees of conference to complete their work. The House and Senate would vote on the budget next week, sending it to Hassan’s desk.
In addition to the progress made by 10 p.m. or so last night, budget negotiators agreed on items including eliminating funding for the Green Launching Pad and Hassan’s proposed Office of Innovation and Efficiency, language clarifying that tips don’t count as taxable compensation under the state’s Business Enterprise Tax and the use of surplus money from the current fiscal year to balance the next year’s budget.
The House agreed to a slightly modified version of the Senate’s plan to tie uncompensated care payments to hospitals to participation by those hospitals in the state’s delayed managed-care system for Medicaid, and also concurred with the Senate’s plan to spend $20 million from the general fund on uncompensated care payments.
The House agreed — “reluctantly,” said Rep. Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee — to use the Senate’s revenue estimates for the next two years. The House had hoped to adopt estimates that were $49.2 million higher over the biennium.
And the two sides resolved their dispute over the Senate’s proposed across-the-board cut to personnel costs. It originally stood at $50 million over the biennium including $20 million from the general fund. They agreed last night on a $25 million cut including $10 million from the general fund.
“Reluctantly, the House agrees to this,” Wallner said.
A Medicaid deal
The path to an agreement on Medicaid expansion was more convoluted as negotiators sought to close the gap between House Democrats who want to expand the program next year using federal money, and Senate Republicans who want to study the option in detail for a year or two.
The House made an offer yesterday morning: appoint a commission to study expansion in July ahead of a special session of the Legislature that would vote on a bill in August.
“That would allow for the Senate’s request that there be an up-or-down legislative vote,” said Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat and vice chairwoman of the House Finance Committee.
The Senate’s counter-proposal, offered early this morning, would give the study commission a deadline of Nov. 30 to finish its work, presumably delaying any vote by the Legislature on Medicaid expansion until next year.
“The prior proposal from the House, which basically ended up being a three-week study, was unacceptable to the Senate, really a disservice to the Legislature and the people of New Hampshire,” Bragdon said. “From our perspective, we continue to feel the issue needs a thorough review and a three-week study is really, in our opinion, a make-believe study committee.”
Wallner replied that she was “disappointed” by the timeline envisioned by Bragdon’s plan. A shorter study, she said, could and should work.
“I know that when we get ready to do the work, we can get it done and we can get it done in a timely manner,” Wallner said.
The House then brought in a new proposal, which would give the study commission until Sept. 30 to complete its work, followed by a special session no later than Oct. 16 to vote on expansion.
“We feel this will give the Senate, the House, the state the time it needs to do the study that people feel needs to be done,” Wallner said.
Bragdon came back with a revised offer: an Oct. 31 deadline for the commission’s report, and no specific promise for a special session, though he said one could be held under the right circumstances.
Wallner countered with an Oct. 15 deadline for the commission’s final report, and Bragdon agreed.
That raises the possibility — though not a certainty — that the Legislature will meet in a special session late this year to debate and vote on Medicaid expansion.
And even if it doesn’t, legislation to expand Medicaid could be filed for consideration by the Legislature when its normal session begins in January.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)