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House budget panel may cut university funding, protect money for mental health and community colleges

  • People at the pass out copies of proposed budget amendments to the goveror's budget at the House Finance Committee meeting; Monday, March 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    People at the pass out copies of proposed budget amendments to the goveror's budget at the House Finance Committee meeting; Monday, March 25, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Representative Steve Spratt (center) of Greenville jokes with Representative Richard W. Barry (top right) of Merrimack while Kevin Ripple (left) of the Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant passes out copies of the budget amendments to Representative Susan Ford (right front) of Easton; Monday, March 25, 2013. The House Finance Committee meets to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Representative Steve Spratt (center) of Greenville jokes with Representative Richard W. Barry (top right) of Merrimack while Kevin Ripple (left) of the Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant passes out copies of the budget amendments to Representative Susan Ford (right front) of Easton; Monday, March 25, 2013. The House Finance Committee meets to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Keith Kuening, advocacy director of Child and Family Services, sits in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building to listen to the House Finance Committee's meeting to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget; Monday, March 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Keith Kuening, advocacy director of Child and Family Services, sits in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building to listen to the House Finance Committee's meeting to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget; Monday, March 25, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • People at the pass out copies of proposed budget amendments to the goveror's budget at the House Finance Committee meeting; Monday, March 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Representative Steve Spratt (center) of Greenville jokes with Representative Richard W. Barry (top right) of Merrimack while Kevin Ripple (left) of the Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant passes out copies of the budget amendments to Representative Susan Ford (right front) of Easton; Monday, March 25, 2013. The House Finance Committee meets to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Keith Kuening, advocacy director of Child and Family Services, sits in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building to listen to the House Finance Committee's meeting to go over changes to Governor Hassan's Budget; Monday, March 25, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

The House Finance Committee isn’t counting on $80 million in revenue from a casino license. That means the panel needs to pare down Gov. Maggie Hassan’s proposed two-year state budget, and it’s looking at cuts to funding for, among other things, the University System of New Hampshire, public charter schools and Medicaid providers.

The budget-writing committee yesterday reviewed tens of millions of dollars in proposed cuts. But some of Hassan’s budget priorities weren’t on the chopping block: community colleges, mental health services and the state’s waiting list for adults with developmental disabilities who need services.

For now, House budget writers are looking to protect that money.

“I don’t know anybody in the state who doesn’t think our mental health system needs serious work. . . . We’ve been falling farther and farther behind,” said Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat and the committee’s vice chairwoman. “So we felt that the budget as presented by Gov. Hassan made a major commitment in terms of investing in our community mental health services. And those are my values, too.”

The committee heard presentations yesterday from its three subcommittees outlining proposed cuts and other changes to the budget that Hassan, a Democrat, presented last month for the biennium that begins July 1.

Nothing is final, and more proposed changes are coming. The Finance Committee will meet again today and tomorrow, while the House Public Works and Highways Committee works on the separate state capital budget for the next two years.

The full House is expected to debate and vote on the budget next week.

No casino cash

On Feb. 14, Hassan presented a budget to the Legislature that called for a 10.2 percent increase in state spending in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 compared with the current biennium, and a 7.1 percent increase in general-fund spending.

Since then, the House Finance Committee’s three subcommittees, called divisions, have been going through the budget and making tentative changes. One goal: identify tens of millions of dollars in cuts.

Why? A bill that would allow a single casino in the state has passed the Senate, but the House has traditionally been hostile to proposals for expanded gambling. Hassan’s budget counted on $80 million from a casino license e_SEnD revenue that the House Finance Committee isn’t looking to include in its budget.

“I think it’s the prudent approach at this point,” Rosenwald said yesterday. “We don’t have a House position at this point, and I think it’s really uncertain.”

In addition, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee has adopted less optimistic baseline revenue estimates for the next biennium than the numbers in Hassan’s budget proposal.

The House is on track to diverge from Hassan’s budget on other taxes and fees, as well.

Hassan proposed a 30-cent increase in the cigarette tax, but the House last week passed a bill for a 20-cent increase. Hassan proposed raising three saltwater-fishing license fees, but the House Finance Committee is looking at raising only one.

One of the Finance Committee’s divisions has also recommended raising the fee for a marriage license by $5, to $50, to raise an additional $80,000 for domestic violence programs.

Funding flat or increased

The Finance Committee yesterday spent more than three hours hearing its divisions’ recommendations for the budget.

Some areas of Hassan’s budget are pretty much untouched: $28 million more over the biennium for mental health services, an increase in funding for the Community College System of New Hampshire, money to fund the waiting list of adults with developmental disabilities or brain injuries who require services.

Other areas could get more money. Division I recommended $1.9 million more over the next biennium for the Department of Environmental Services’ local grant program. That would fully fund a list of delayed and deferred local infrastructure projects for drinking water and landfill closures, in addition to funding for wastewater treatment projects that was included in Hassan’s budget.

“I think all of us on the division felt the state made a commitment to these communities,” said Rep. Peter Leishman, a Peterborough Democrat who chairs the division.

Division II – chaired by Rep. Dan Eaton, a Stoddard Democrat – recommended spending $175,000 on a new mini fire pumper truck for firefighter training and $200,000 on a new evidence van for the state police’s Major Crime Unit, which investigates homicides in the state.

Eaton said the unit has two vans, but one is “essentially a converted old ice cream truck” that can no longer pass state inspection.

Cuts on the table

But even with some increases in funding, the recommendations presented yesterday by the three divisions add up to roughly $61 million in cuts to general-fund spending.

LCHIP, which provides grants for preservation and conservation projects, would be fully funded at $4 million in the second year of Hassan’s budget. Division I proposed cutting that in half, to $2 million.

Hassan proposed sending $165 million to the university system over the next two years, an increase of about $59.4 million from the current biennium. Division II proposed cutting that funding by $12 million.

Division II also proposed cutting $3.1 million from the betterment program, which pays for repaving state roads, and $7.2 million from the state building aid program for school districts, which would continue a moratorium on state aid for new construction projects.

And Division II recommended cutting Hassan’s proposed increase in funding for charter schools, which would have allowed four new schools to open and existing schools to increase enrollment. Instead, the division proposed a two-year moratorium on new charter schools; a de facto moratorium was declared last September by the State Board of Education, which expressed concern about the availability of future funding.

The biggest proposed cuts are from the Department of Health and Human Services, the single largest state agency. Rosenwald, who chairs Division III, said the subcommittee looked at current caseloads for social services and adjusted estimates downward for the next two years.

“Through doing that, we were able to find nearly $10 million of budget efficiencies in general funds,” she told the committee.

The division also proposed cutting provider payments under the Medicaid Enhancement Tax by $12.6 million, among other cuts.

The divisions also proposed several bottom-line reductions in departmental budgets, with the agencies left to decide the specific cuts: $2.5 million from the Legislature’s budget, $1.5 million from the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton and $1.25 million from the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester.

The Finance Committee will meet again today starting at 10 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building, Room 210-211.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments16

I disagree Mauser. It is the Dems who want more and more money thrown at programs, schools etc, that are not working. I agree with you on Community Colleges, and I would like to see more programs based on careers in electricity, plumbing, etc. I was brought up in MA and you are correct, it is one of the most corrupt states we have, and wastes taxpayer money at every turn. I was there in the 60;s when illegals came to MA in droves. And the first thing they did was get welfare even though they were illegal.

There are some deeper issues at work here. The cost of tuition has risen much more than almost anything else. Tuition's were able to reach the level they are now because of the dramatic increases in federal student loan assistance. These loans enabled schools to inflate the cost of attending knowing full well that "federal financing" would cover the increase. If you look at the relationship between the various forms of financing available, there is a direct correlation to dramatic tuition increases. The downside is when these "programs" get reduced or cut, these unrealistic budgets that have been inflated for years become painful. All one has to do is look at the inroads that Associate degree's have made into the four year degree model. More State funding isn't the answer, it's only a band-aid that doesn't fix the core problem.

"...there is a direct correlation to dramatic tuition increases." As any statistician or economist will tell you. Correlation is not causation. There is also a correlation which has been demonstrated to be more causal - the dramatic increase in college/university bureaucracy. New layers upon layers of deans, provosts and other non teaching high salaries to go along with the new model of the professor as a researcher/publisher rather than an instructor.

Correct gracchus, also paying for sabaticals, and pay Profs big bucks for teaching fewer and fewer classes. After all it is only taxpayer money, we be fiscally responsible with it. My guess is that if we did an audit of a lot of state funded depts, we would find a lot of abuse, waste and fraud.

So besides quibbling over definitions. Correlation or causation - so what. It is the same thing that happened in the auto industry, and still is with leasing,. In 1973 when I bought my Corvette - I had the option of 24 month or really stretching it with 36 month loan. So what does Detroit do, they let prices rise (don't even want to touch the union issue) and then banks start enabling with with 48 and 60 month loans and it spirals until today when leasing is the new enabler. Well the same idea can be applied to what happened with tuition and the big business of student loans. As long as there was an "enabler" there was no incentive to rein in costs. Remember, these are comments, not part of a Master's Thesis.

This is the result of overspending. Any economics person will tell you, when you have more going out and less coming in, you have to cut. Think of your budget. Say you need a new car. You have income of say just enough to pay for a car that costs 15 Grand. You go out and you buy a cadillac at 50 grand. You cannot afford your car payment. So you keep the car and cut your food budget, or stop going out eating etc. You folks do not get it. We have overspent, and nobody wants their favorite program cut. There is no money, unless we borrow.

"Say you" want to buy some big sticks and hand out tax cuts to billionaires, like the Kochs. "You have" no extra revenue to pay for those things. "You go out and you buy" all the big sticks and tax cuts on the credit card. "You cannot afford" to make any payments. "So you keep" trying to kill things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, The Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, The Department of Energy, and Big Bird in order to buy more big sticks and more tax cuts for the rich. "You folks do not get it."

Nobody is trying to kill programs earthling. That is your take fostered by the Libs. I find it quite unfair, that fixing anything is now equated with killing it. Not fixing anything will lead to more spending. The programs that are run poorly will be allowed to grow because folks can get on them easily. We need safety nets, yes, but we do not need safety nets that turn into lifestyles. That is the whole idea about improving one's lot in life. The immigrants who came here knew it, they knew they could achieve. And they did, with little help from the govt I might add. If you want a better life, you do need a helping hand along the way. You tell me, have we seen the War On Poverty created better lives or have we seen the War On Poverty create more poverty, a failure to thrive, and generational poverty?.

The modern day Republican notion of "fixing" a program is to slowly starve it to death. They've found it to be politically much more palatable than killing it quickly. The result is the same. And here's something you can bet your last nickel on: when somebody points out that more and more of the country's wealth is owned by fewer and fewer of the people and that some traditional liberal fiscal policies could reverse the trend, it's only a matter of time until the old "Class Warfare" nonsense is trotted out.

"Any economics person will tell you, when you have more going out and less coming in, you have to cut." Actually, Rabbit, there are far more economists (as distinguished from economics persons) who make the argument that if the budget must be balanced, raising revenue is a far better solution under current conditions than cutting programs. Two facts seem to have eluded you. 1) Governments are not families (neither are they businesses), and 2) while some government spending may be wasteful things like infrastructure, public health and education are not a "Cadillac."

I noticed in your post you forgot to mention reform gracchus, or to fix programs so they run more efficiently, thus lowering costs. That is the same plan that Dems have for education, welfare, etc. They do not want to fix anything, they want to spend more on programs that are run poorly. Many folks believe that the govt is a family that will support them. I am not so engrossed in a political party that Iwrite off things that need to be supported and kept. That is the old Lib tactic that the opposing party wants dirty air, poor schools etc. It does not fly anymore.

Rabbit, this is not the a case where the Dem vs. Rep is the root of the problem. There is plenty of blame to go around. A fix in this instance can be seen in the success of the Community College System and the in roads being made by the Associates Degree programs. Basically an education minus the ritual drinking, and professor's not being paid to write research papers. As to State departmental waste, the stories I could tell. Having lived it in Mass. I'm sure NH is not as bad but, there is are some stories that would make even a liberal like me cringe.

These are precisely the "hard choices" that have to be made thanks to The Pledge. Legitimate social goods - things that benefit everybody - get cut while those people who have gained the most thanks to the state's irrational tax structure continue to get a relatively free ride.

Possibly those college students screaming for lower costs could apply their “spring break” vacation trip money to their education costs, economics 101?...... I see on the news the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) will conduct the first sanctioned event in the sport of bass fishing on May 9, 2013 for high schools. The schools can enter 2 teams but they have to supply the boats. Now I actually enjoy fishing more than most people but buying boats for bass fishing, is that what school money should be spent on?..... Wouldn’t it be nice to see the invoice on a $200,000 new evidence van. I mean they are using an old ice cream van now but complain the van will not pass inspection, does that mean all the equipment inside is no good also? $200K for a van.

Great post! The issue is that when it is your hard earned money you think twice but when it is handed to you freely from the government it is 'easy come, easy go'.

looks like the predictions by the J.Bartlett Center have come true

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