N.H. Democrats propose amendment to fully pay into alcohol fund

Monitor staff
Published: 1/30/2018 7:09:31 PM

Two sweeping proposals introduced Tuesday seek a boost in state funding to fight substance abuse – including a constitutional amendment – but Republican resistance likely makes their passage a long shot.

Senate Democrats pitched the legislation that includes the amendment, CACR 21, which would mandate the state devote 5 percent of profits from liquor sales to an alcohol and drug abuse prevention program, often known as the “alcohol fund.”

That fund, originally conceived as receiving 5 percent of profits, has never been given the full amount; last year, the Legislature doubled the amount from 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent. The amendment would make the 5 percent designation permanent.

“The alcohol fund has become a political football,” said Sen. Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, who sponsored the proposed amendment. “We’ve been playing games, and now it’s time to take it out of the political realm and put it in the constitution.”

A second bill, Senate Bill 542, would create a public health emergency fund, paid for with 10 percent of the state’s revenue stabilization reserve account, or “rainy day fund.” That fund would be available to spend after public health emergency declaration of the governor, or a similar declaration by joint resolution of the House and Senate.

Democrats have presented it as a powerful tool against the state’s opioid epidemic.

“It’s a rainy day right now,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, alluding to the drug crisis.

Both bills were presented in hearings to the Senate Finance Committee. But Senate Republicans have voiced skepticism.

In a press release, Republican leadership accused Democrats of “raiding (the) Rainy Day Fund” and argued that not enough stipulations were added in the bill over how the money would be spent.

“We have a responsibility to our citizens to protect the Rainy Day Fund,” said Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, chairman of the Finance Committee. “The lack of work and research on writing this bill shows that it is nothing more than a thinly veiled and poorly executed attempt at ‘gotcha’ legislation, rather than a strategic solution to the opioid crisis.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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