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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

House budget writers expect to spend less than Hassan would

CONCORD – House budget writers are expected to endorse cutting about $62 million in state spending from Gov. Maggie Hassan’s spending plan for the next two years starting July 1.

The total is short of the estimated reduction of $115 million in revenue this group has to spend compared to the largess that Hassan had in presenting her two-year $11 billion budget to the Legislature on Feb. 15. ...

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CONCORD – House budget writers are expected to endorse cutting about $62 million in state spending from Gov. Maggie Hassan’s spending plan for the next two years starting July 1.

The total is short of the estimated reduction of $115 million in revenue this group has to spend compared to the largess that Hassan had in presenting her two-year $11 billion budget to the Legislature on Feb. 15.

House budget leaders have decided they won’t be counting on $80 million from the licensing of a single casino since the House has yet to endorse that legal expansion of gambling. Also, the House’s tax-writing committee’s forecast for existing taxes was $35 million less than Hassan’s.

But House budget writers have more revenue to work with to close this gap by the time they complete their proposal at the end of this week.

They are relying on a settlement from tobacco companies expected to bring a $17 million payment to the state by June 30.

House budget leaders also are expected to seek an increase in the state tax on cigarettes of 30 cents a pack even though the House Ways and Means Committee had only recommended a 20-cent-a-pack increase.

In her budget, Hassan sought a 30-cent hike.

The three chairmen of working groups for the House Finance Committee made presentations to the panel and public Monday.

The biggest cuts to Hassan’s spending plan from the House proposal come in state aid to the University System of New Hampshire
($12 million), spending on debt service ($8 million) and in public assistance programs that House leaders believe will experience smaller caseloads ($12 million).

The House budget would continue for the next two years a moratorium on new school construction projects; Hassan proposed to restart this program in 2015 with $7.2 million in bond payments.

The House also eliminated $2.5 million in spending to add new charter schools over the next two years.

Hassan would give the Land Community and Heritage Investment Program $4 million in 2015; the House would cut that amount in half though there will be a move later to restore that money.

The House budget also calls for unspecified spending cuts of $2.5 million from the Legislature, $1.5 million from the Veterans Home, and $1.2 million from the Sununu Youth Center.

The current two-year budget adopted by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011 cut state aid in half or by $100 million to the four-year colleges and universities.

Hassan asked for a $55 million increase over the next two years, and the House plan would make for a $41 million jump over existing aid.

Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, said House leaders are confident that a sharp increase in caseloads due to the recession from 2009-12 has come to a close.

“We looked to see where the caseloads actually were for the current year and thought they probably would not get a lot higher,” said Rosenwald, who chairs the group that works on the Department of Health and Human Services that consumes nearly half the budget.

The Rosenwald-led group proposed $31 million less in state spending than Hassan had proposed.

In the economic downturn, the state saw record numbers on taxpayer rolls for food stamps and Medicaid, the health insurance for the poor and disabled.

The federal Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid will give a $29 million increase in rates paid to primary care doctors over the next two years.

The House plan does reduce by $36 million payments to acute-care hospitals to help cover their cost of providing free or reduced cost care.

This budget would increase some spending over what Hassan wanted including $4.9 million for clean water and landfill closure projects that have been stalled for lack of state support over the past four years.

Hassan’s budget earmarked some money for those local projects but only those to improve treatment of wastewater.

The House Finance Committee will hold an informational meeting for House members on April 1; the House is expected to take a final vote on the proposal April 3.

As for the current budget, Finance Chairwoman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, proposed to give Hassan full authority to sweep up dedicated fund money that isn’t spent to help eliminate a deficit that could run as high as $40 million.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, said the Legislature has traditionally kept this authority to decide what funds get raided.

“That’s a major transfer of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch,” Kurk declared. “Are you comfortable with that?”

Wallner answered, “I am very comfortable with it, and I am sure we will have that debate tomorrow.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).