Capital Beat: Facing federal cuts, Planned Parenthood turns to N.H. Democrats for help

  • Kat Dillon (right) leads a group of Planned Parenthood supporters in a rally next to designated Executive Council parking spots outside the State House on Wednesday morning, June 29, 2016, ahead of an Executive Council vote on restoring family planning funding to the state's Planned Parenthood clinics. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 3/30/2019 8:40:45 PM

From the moment the change was proposed, Planned Parenthood has braced for funding cuts.

Last May, the Trump administration released the proposed Title X “gag rule,” a change that would require the reproductive health organization to physically separate abortion and non-abortion services in order to continue receiving federal funds.

That rule set unattainable conditions, Planned Parenthood has said. New Hampshire’s center could lose $1.6 million in two years if it takes effect as planned in May, a spokeswoman has said.

This week, legislators in some states, including New Hampshire, pushed to take matters into their own hands. A budget proposal in the House and set to be voted on in committee next week includes $2 million to help Planned Parenthood and two other abortion providers to make up the difference.

Now comes the political battle.

Those advocating for the spending, who include Democrats and some Republicans, say the funds are key to maintaining critical services for sexually transmitted infection testing, contraceptive care, and cancer screenings, which could be hit if the rule takes effect.

By law, none of the lost federal funds may go to abortion services to begin with, and under the proposal the remainder of the $2 million would return to the general fund if the rule were ever restored and the federal money revived, supporters point out.

But if there are two things potentially controversial in the New Hampshire Legislature, allocating money to Planned Parenthood and sending state money to cover for federal shortfalls top the list.

Longtime abortion opponents in the House are gearing up for a fight.

“Not only do we still support no state funds going to abortion services, we vehemently oppose the state picking up the federal government’s share in funds,” Rep. Dick Hinch, House Republican Leader, said in a statement.

“It’s up to agencies and groups to live within their means with the funds allotted to them, both federally and on the state level.”

Planned Parenthood’s director of advocacy and organizing, Kayla Montgomery, pushed back, arguing that the loss of funds would not be easily absorbed and that the pending cut “erodes the state’s historic bipartisan support for family planning services.”

Still, Hinch made his position clear. “We know that Democrats will be packing their budget full of things Republicans will disapprove of,” he said. “This is just another item to add to the list.”

How many in his caucus share that view will become more apparent next week, when the proposed $2 million will be presented to the full Finance committee.

As for Gov. Chris Sununu? His position is somewhat less sure. In a press conference Wednesday, the governor, a pro-choice Republican who as an executive councilor voted to continue funding the organization, did not rule out taking action. But he suggested that the rule, expected to take effect May 3, carried uncertainty over its implementation.

“Even if something is approved or has been approved, there’s going to be lawsuits and injunctions all over that one too, so I think it’s just premature,” he said.

Right now there is a lawsuit pending, filed March 4 by 21 states who argued that the law change would unlawfully limit health care for women. And for now, the rule is expected to move ahead.

But Sununu signaled the extra expenditure might not be needed.

“It’s a small amount of money,” the governor said. “If for some reason that were to hit us – and it would have an effect on us to be sure – if it goes through as has been proposed, then we feel that there’s flexibility to respond.”

It’s a day that may come sooner than later.

Swept away

With gusto, the governor revealed a series of one-off expenditures to towns and cities at a press conference earlier this month. But a week after they headed over to the budget writers in the House Finance Committee, few of the items have survived, according to governor’s office, including a $1.5 million grant to the city of Franklin to renovate the Mill City Park whitewater rafting park.

It was a somewhat predictable outcome. In scathing statements over the past few weeks, Democrats have expressed their displeasure with the governor’s expenditures, which they called earmarks at the expense of broader state spending.

But the result may leave a sting. And as the full committee gathers to convene next week, exactly how much traction the governor holds among his Republican colleagues is an open question.

New focus

One thing that is likely to be featured in the House Democratic proposed budget: a capital gains tax. A proposal from Rep. Dick Ames of Jaffrey to expand the interest and dividends tax to capital gains moved ahead last week after a positive vote on House Bill. House Democrats are emboldened, pointing to new revenue estimates from the Department of Revenue Administration that aides say equal around $150 million.

House Republicans, meanwhile, were aghast, saying the tax could hurt farmers, real estate developers and small businesses. Sununu was unequivocal.

“That’s a terrible idea,” he said. “To impose another income tax onto the state – and that’s exactly what a capital gains tax is, it’s an income tax – is a terrible idea given that we’re putting a lot money into education.”

Add it to the pile of insurmountable issues come budget negotiations in May. House and Senate dealmakers may be working overtime.

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