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GOP-led Senate passes budget, heads to showdown with Hassan and House

  • Sen. Sylvia Larsen, of Concord, talks with other Democratic senators during a recess between discussions on the state budget at the State House on June 6, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

    Sen. Sylvia Larsen, of Concord, talks with other Democratic senators during a recess between discussions on the state budget at the State House on June 6, 2013.

    ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

  • Sen. Peter Bragdon, of Milford, stepped down from behind the podium to discuss HB2 and the medicare expansion question at the State House on June 6, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

    Sen. Peter Bragdon, of Milford, stepped down from behind the podium to discuss HB2 and the medicare expansion question at the State House on June 6, 2013.

    ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

  • Sen. Lou D'Alessandro, of Manchester, discusses one of the floor amendments to HB1 and the state budget during the Senate session on June 6, 2013 at the State House. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

    Sen. Lou D'Alessandro, of Manchester, discusses one of the floor amendments to HB1 and the state budget during the Senate session on June 6, 2013 at the State House.

    ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

  • The Senate voted on its version of the state budget, June 6, 2013 at the State House. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

    The Senate voted on its version of the state budget, June 6, 2013 at the State House.

    ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

  • Sen. Sylvia Larsen, of Concord, talks with other Democratic senators during a recess between discussions on the state budget at the State House on June 6, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
  • Sen. Peter Bragdon, of Milford, stepped down from behind the podium to discuss HB2 and the medicare expansion question at the State House on June 6, 2013. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
  • Sen. Lou D'Alessandro, of Manchester, discusses one of the floor amendments to HB1 and the state budget during the Senate session on June 6, 2013 at the State House. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff
  • The Senate voted on its version of the state budget, June 6, 2013 at the State House. <br/><br/>ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff

Senate Republicans yesterday fended off criticism from Democrats and passed a two-year, $10.7 billion state budget that blocks Medicaid expansion, doesn’t raise taxes or fees and potentially eliminates hundreds of state jobs.

“All of us are the guardians of the New Hampshire Advantage. All of us are caretakers of our taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “So it is incumbent upon us to create a budget that is both compassionate and based on honest revenues, and I am proud to say we accomplished both.”

On a pair of 13-11 votes that split along party lines, the Senate’s GOP majority approved the two budget bills and set up a high-stakes showdown with House Democrats and Gov. Maggie Hassan as they race to finalize a budget before the new biennium begins July 1.

Medicaid expansion is a particularly contentious issue. Senate President Peter Bragdon and other GOP leaders say the state should study the issue and be wary of the federal government’s promise to cover most of the expansion’s cost in perpetuity. But Hassan, a Democrat, and the Democratic-led House support adding an estimated 58,000 residents to the Medicaid rolls under President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law.

Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat, said she has “serious concerns” about the Senate’s budget. Hassan said it “falls short in a number of areas that are imperative to moving our state forward,” and she called on House and Senate budget negotiators to improve the plan in the coming weeks.

“As the process moves forward, legislators will need to take a bipartisan approach, set ideology aside and listen to the people of New Hampshire in order to reach a final balanced budget that reinvests in the priorities needed to build a more innovative economic future,” Hassan said in a statement.

Senate vs. House

The budget next heads to a committee of conference, where House and Senate negotiators will try to hammer out a final version before the end of the month.

The committee must resolve differences beyond the dispute over Medicaid expansion. They include the Senate’s proposed $50 million across-the-board cut to personnel costs, including $20 million in general fund savings and increases in several state fees and taxes that were supported by the House but rejected by the Senate.

Funding for the Department of Health and Human Services is also expected to be an issue. Commissioner Nick Toumpas has said the Senate’s budget leaves a $40 million hole in the agency’s budget (a figure disputed by Republicans) that could lead to service cuts.

The Senate budget includes funding for four new public charter schools, while the House budget had a moratorium on new charter schools. And unlike the House’s plan, the Senate budget links uncompensated care payments to hospitals with participation by those hospitals in the state’s stalled managed care system for Medicaid, in an attempt to get that program off the ground sooner rather than later.

But in many respects, the House and Senate budgets are similar. Both increase spending from the current biennium by hundreds of millions of dollars, and both increase state aid to community colleges and the University System of New Hampshire.

In all, the Senate’s budget spends $10.7 billion over the two fiscal years that begin July 1, including about $2.67 billion in general fund spending. The budget passed by the House in April spent $11 billion over two years, including roughly $2.63 billion in general fund spending.

The Senate’s budget eschews tax or fee hikes, and the Senate’s proposal for a single casino that would bring in $80 million in license revenue appears dead after the House killed that bill last month by a 35-vote margin.

Instead, to help balance the books for the next two years, the Senate’s budget uses $40.6 million in estimated surplus money from the current fiscal year and takes $16.1 million from the state’s renewable energy fund, among other things.

Medicaid debated

Yesterday’s nearly four-hour debate saw senators spar over a number of issues related to the two budget bills, House Bill 1 and House Bill 2. In all, there were 13 votes on various amendments and the bills themselves, with eight falling along party lines.

The biggest debate, clocking in at an hour and 40 minutes, came over Medicaid expansion, which was included in the House’s budget but removed by the Senate Finance Committee in favor of a study commission.

Democrats pointed to the fact that the federal government has pledged to cover nearly all the costs associated with the expansion, bringing an estimated $2.5 billion to New Hampshire over the next seven years to extend critical health coverage to tens of thousands of residents.

“Remember, we get back only about 70 cents for each tax dollar we send to Washington. We should get these tax dollars back, take care of our New Hampshire people – not ship our dollars to other states, charitable as that might be,” said Sen. Peggy Gilmour, a Hollis Democrat.

But Bragdon, a Milford Republican, said Medicaid expansion may not bring all the benefits its supporters claim, and the federal government hasn’t always kept its promises when it comes to funding for non-Medicaid programs. (Expansion supporters argue the federal government has always kept its promises when it comes to Medicaid.)

“This is a complex issue with ramifications for the state of New Hampshire, because if the federal government does the same thing they’ve done with special education, does the same thing they’ve done with congregate housing, and refuses to live up to the obligation, that’s $250 million to $350 million per year that the taxpayers of New Hampshire are going to have to pay,” Bragdon said. “I think it’s well worth the time to study it, to get it right for the long term.”

The Democratic amendment to restore Medicaid expansion was rejected, 13-11, along party lines – though the issue can be discussed in the conference committee, and Bragdon indicated he’d be open to “a New Hampshire solution.”

Other fights yesterday centered on funding for HHS, proposed hikes in fees for a marriage license and saltwater fishing and personnel cuts. All nine amendments offered yesterday by Democrats were rejected.

Dozens of protesters filled the hallway outside the Senate chamber before yesterday’s session began, many holding signs supporting Medicaid expansion or opposing the Senate’s proposed $50 million cut to personnel costs. The State Employees’ Association estimates it could mean as many as 700 jobs eliminated; Hassan’s office has said that, if the entire cut came through layoffs, 400 to 700 jobs would be eliminated.

Capital budget okayed

Also approved yesterday, on a voice vote, was a state capital budget that spends $245.1 million over the next two years, including about $125 million in general fund bonding.

The capital budget typically attracts less controversy than the operating budget, and the Senate’s capital budget is largely similar to the House’s version.

It includes $38 million for a new women’s prison, $10.4 million for a new headquarters for the state Marine Patrol, money to repair the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, and funding for new state liquor stores in Epping, Salem and Warner.

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

It is called---kick the can down the road!

Responsible Republicans continue the heritage of frugal, common sense budgeting that make other states admire & praise NH

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