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State House Memo: We passed the first truly bipartisan state budget in decades

Last November, New Hampshire voted in a new Democratic House, a new Democratic governor and a Republican Senate. Voters sent us to Concord to put aside ideological agendas and work together to restore investments in our communities and to solve the problems facing our state. The House, along with Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Senate, accomplished this goal by passing the first truly bipartisan budget in decades.

While many will jump at the chance to take credit for this budget compromise, this is not a Republican budget or a Democratic budget; it is a New Hampshire budget. Beginning with the governor’s initial proposal in February, all sides worked hard to address the challenges our state faced in the aftermath of the last budget that slashed funding for higher education and social services.

The House agreed with most of the governor’s proposed budget, and we found common ground with the Senate version, which, with the aid of additional revenue, funded many things that the House supported but did not have sufficient revenue for at the time. We didn’t agree with all of the Senate’s choices, but our agreements far outweighed our disagreements as we sat down to negotiate the final compromise.

The two most significant areas of contention were a $50 million “back-of-the-budget” cut to the state workforce and the omission of Medicaid expansion in the Senate budget. The Republican Senate was miles apart from the position of the Democratic House and Hassan on both these issues when we started negotiating. We believed the “back-of-the-budget” cut was a glaring example of ideology trumping common-sense government. Rather than identify areas that should be cut, Senate budget writers chose to fund programs on one side of the page and offset that with debilitating cuts on the backside. During negotiations they were asked to defer those cuts to the second year of the biennium, reduced by any revenue surplus beyond their own projections. This would further allow the governor and agency heads to better plan and execute re-organization and implementation of these deep cuts. The Senate refused, making harsh statements about labor (New Hampshire working men and women) needing to feel the pain. But, through negotiations, the House was able to reduce the cut by half.

House Democrats firmly believe that the studies have already shown that Medicaid expansion is the right choice for New Hampshire. We recognize that our communities, our families and our economy will benefit tremendously from implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Expansion has been shown to end medical induced bankruptcies, provide essential coverage to working men and women paid less than living wages, and dramatically reduce depression. We wanted Medicaid expansion included in the budget to guarantee that New Hampshire takes full advantage of the program that will provide about $1 million per day into our economy beginning Jan. 1. The Republican Senate started the negotiations by stating that they would not entertain a discussion of Medicaid expansion. But, after several proposals back and forth, we agreed to a compromise with a commission that will report back to the Legislature in October and gives us a pathway to expansion in time to maximize the benefit to our state.

In total, the budget overwhelmingly passed by the House and the state Senate is $10.8 billion from all sources and $2.8 billion from general tax revenue for the biennium. This is a modest increase over the 2012-13 budget, an increase that goes a long way toward restoring the devastating cuts to essential services throughout the state.

In this budget, the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program was fully restored, as was the UNIQUE scholarship program. We were further able to fully fund the community college system and provide sufficient funding to the university system to freeze tuition. We protected our state’s commitment to our public K-12 education system by fully funding the existing adequacy formula and raising the cap, increasing funding for 58 towns. School building aid is fully funded for existing schools.

While some Republicans have been quick to criticize her, Hassan’s leadership in re-establishing the state’s commitment to mental health and the developmentally disabled was critical to funding our priorities. This budget provides $24 million to address New Hampshire’s strained mental health system, including funding for additional beds and community support services.

The budget goes on to address additional priorities: public safety, domestic violence, fully restoring funding for the Children In Need of Services program, putting 15 more troopers on the road, funding delayed and deferred water projects, and too many more things to list here.

It isn’t perfect; no compromise ever is. I don’t like every piece of it, but our work is not done. We will continue to fight for greater investment in our families, our communities and our state. We will fight to address the deteriorating state of our roads and bridges, to preserve the “New Hampshire Advantage,” and to restore common sense government. I’m proud to have presided over the overwhelming bipartisan passage of this budget and even prouder that we were able to keep our promises to the people of New Hampshire.

(State Rep. Terie Norelli of Portsmouth is speaker of the New Hampshire House.)

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