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House looks to cut higher education, kindergarten spending from Sununu budget plan



Monitor staff
Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Republican House budget writers are taking scissors to GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s spending priorities, with plans to defund his high school scholarship program and full-day kindergarten plan. House leaders on Tuesday outlined their own budget goals, which include $25 million a year in property tax relief for cities and towns.

“With an aging population, we need to protect our seniors’ ability to stay in their homes,” House Speaker Shawn Jasper said in a statement.

Divisions of the House Finance Committee are voting this week on revisions to Sununu’s $12.1 billion spending plan, and differences are emerging already. Members voted to effectively kill Sununu’s proposed high school scholarship program by giving it a single dollar, instead of the $5 million he sought each year of the budget.

Jasper said the House version of the budget won’t include the $9 million Sununu sought to fund some full-day kindergarten programs in needy districts. House budget writers have yet to officially vote on that, though action is expected Wednesday.

“The capacity of a 6-year-old to be attentive in a classroom for a full day is pretty much non-existent,” said Jasper, a Hudson Republican. “The state paying for (half-day kindergarten) is appropriate. Beyond that, I think that is a local decision.”

House budget writers must trim Sununu’s proposal by about $59 million because the chamber anticipates fewer tax dollars will come in. They also must find $50 million to pay for the proposed property tax relief. Some new sources of revenue are under consideration, including authorizing keno and making scratch tickets available over the internet.

Major changes to the Department of Health and Human Services budget are expected later in the week, though some have already provoked debate.

Democrats pushed back on a Republican plan to do away with the so-called alcohol fund formula. In the past, money for a key substance abuse treatment fund came out of state liquor profits and was set at a certain percentage. Lawmakers typically suspended the 5 percent formula and allocated whatever money they saw fit. A change made Tuesday, in a party-line 6-4 vote, would codify that practice by eliminating the formula for good. House budget writers voted to put $12 million of general and federal money into the fund, about $2 million less than Sununu’s suggested amount.

“The alcohol fund is theoretically a stable funding source, rather than relying on the Legislature to appropriate money every two years at what could be varying levels,” said Democratic Rep. Cindy Rosenthal of Nashua. “We know our treatment providers need stability.”

Once the House Finance Committee signs off, the revised spending plan will go to the full chamber for a vote. The Senate will then get its turn and may have more money to work with and its own priorities. Revenue estimates change throughout the year, especially after March and April, the two big months for business taxes. By then, Senate budget writers will have a clearer picture of what the state can spend over the next biennium, which begins July 1.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)