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N.H. Democrats want to use some surplus to restore cuts

With an unexpected surplus in hand, New Hampshire’s Democratic political leaders want to use some of the money to restore budget cuts, but Republican leaders say saving the money might be a better idea.

“Just because we have the money doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” House Republican Leader Gene Chandler said yesterday.

Chandler, of Bartlett, said he’s open to talking about using some of the money to restore spending cuts but would like to proceed cautiously. Whatever changes lawmakers make this year could affect spending levels in the next budget, he said.

New Hampshire ended the fiscal year June 30 with about $19 million more than anticipated and tax receipts this year are almost $27 million ahead of projections, Gov. Maggie Hassan announced last week. She and House Speaker Terie Norelli, both Democrats, would like to use some of the money to restore budget cuts, particularly those affecting social service programs, and to put some into the state’s depleted $9 million savings account.

“A portion should go into the rainy day fund. We’ve had a lot of rainy days,” Norelii said yesterday.

Norelli said she wants to talk with Republicans about also easing some of the cuts in the $10.7 billion budget passed in June that was a compromise of both parties’ wishes, particularly an unspecified $7 million in program cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services.

She said she does not have a set split of the money in mind.

Lawmakers also may debate another unspecified budget cut that requires Hassan to cut $10 million from state staff salaries and benefits that are paid by taxpayer dollars. Another $15 million must be cut from personnel salaries and benefits that are paid for with federal, highway and other funds.

But Norelli warned against too much revision of the spending plan.

“We don’t want to open up the entire budget,” said Norelli, of Portsmouth.

Instead, she said, Democrats want to talk about restoring specific cuts.

GOP Senate Finance Chairman Jeanie Forrester said yesterday that New Hampshire should save the surplus and the governor should manage state spending as outlined in the budget.

“The priority for me is to build up the rainy day fund,” said Forrester, of Meredith.

Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon pointed out that the $27 million in extra taxes received this year could be inflated by an increase in the tobacco tax that prompted businesses to buy tax stamps in advance of the increase taking effect. The $27 million figure could drop over time as businesses use the stockpiled tax stamps instead of buying new ones, she said.

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