Sununu seeks temporary funds amid budget impasse

  • Gov. Chris Sununu AP

Monitor staff
Published: 7/22/2019 5:26:01 PM

Three weeks after vetoing New Hampshire’s budget – and weeks away from a likely breakthrough – Gov. Chris Sununu is asking lawmakers for temporary funding to support the state’s developmental disability waitlist.

In a letter sent Monday to the chairwoman of the state Fiscal Committee, Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord, Sununu asked that the committee approve nearly $8 million for services for those on the waitlist.

“We all share the same goal of ensuring that the State is providing services to some of our most vulnerable citizens, and this item ensures that,” the governor said in a letter.

Sununu’s request is a late item to Friday’s meeting of the Joint Fiscal Committee, the powerful body overseeing all major monetary transfers by departments.

It is unclear whether the Democratically-controlled panel will vote for it. But some used the request as an opportunity to chastise Sununu for his veto.

The money would be carved out amid an ongoing impasse that’s put state government on a three-month budget freeze. Since the governor’s veto in late June, New Hampshire agencies have been funded via a “continuing resolution,” passed by the Legislature to allow more time for negotiations on a compromise budget.

In his letter, the governor said that the money being requested reflects a shared priority. The state’s developmental disability list swelled over the past decade after deep budget cuts in 2011 and 2012.

The services are intended to help those with disabilities find and hold jobs, maintain home routines, navigate technology and receive transportation – among other aims – and are obligated by law. But the state has fallen far behind. At certain points the wait list has surpassed 200 people at once.

Recently has allowed the state’s Bureau of Developmental Services to drop the waitlist down to zero. But last month’s vetoed budget included another fix: allowing the funds to be non-lapsing, meaning they could carry over from budget to budget without needing immediate approval.

That proposal, a bipartisan idea, would have cleared away uncertainty facing people in the developmental disabilities program through the budget, the governor argued.

Sununu said the $8 million – which would be matched at the federal level by another $8 million – would allow BDS to move ahead regardless of the present impasse. That number represents the amount that lapsed last year and would have been included in the new budget, the governor argued.

“We should not play politics with this funding – it is funding that implements a policy change that we have all previously agreed upon,” Sununu said.

Rep. Wallner was not available to comment Monday. In a statement, Senate President Donna Soucy called fully funding the developmental disability waitlist a “top priority,” but also called the situation “a direct, predictable consequence of Governor Sununu’s budget veto.”

Monday’s $8 million request represents the second time Sununu has asked the Fiscal Committee to take special action in light of the budget impasse.

On June 14 – two weeks before vetoing the budget – Sununu requested that the Fiscal Committee pre-approve $35.2 million in federal funding to support the hub-and-spoke program to fight the opioid crisis. That move would have guaranteed the federal money with or without the budget passing.

But lawmakers in both parties rebuffed that attempt, choosing instead to approve the funding for an additional few weeks. On Friday, the committee will take a vote on whether to extend those funds through the end of September, as lawmakers continue to negotiate the budget.

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