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May 07. 2013 8:02PM

Senate Finance Committee chairman says NH House-approved budget has $300 million hole

CONCORD - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said Tuesday he believes the budget the House approved has a $300 million hole.

Previously, Morse said he believed the potential deficit due to House estimates of the revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax paid by hospitals is too high and results in a $250 million problem when federal matching dollars are included.

"After hearing from 60 state agencies regarding their budget requests and considering the indications regarding revenue estimates we're getting from Ways and Means, I can tell you flat out the budget is going to look a whole lot different when it leaves the Senate than it does now," said Morse.

He has repeatedly criticized the House and Gov. Maggie Hassan for using what he called unrealistic projections for the MET that taxes net patient services provided by hospitals.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will decide its revenue estimates for the proposed two-year budget Tuesday. The committee will tell Morse and other members of the Finance Committee what they have to spend over the next two years.

Morse said the Senate wants to continue funding critical access hospitals and restore money to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program and the Unique Plan for low-income students to attend college, but noted after listening to key state revenue agencies, the funds are not available to do that. "The Senate is not accepting tax increases," he added.

The House budget includes a 20-cent increase in the tobacco tax, and the House has passed a 12-cent increase in the gas tax.

Morse also noted the state recently received $21 million from a settlement with tobacco companies over its compliance with the original tobacco settlement. He said the House counted the money to help balance the next biennium budget, but it will be used in the current fiscal year.

"You can't balance a budget with money that's already been spent," he said.

Democrats said Morse and the Republicans want to continue the cuts included in the current two-year budget that ends June 30.

"(Republicans are) doubling down on the same failed budget policies from 2011 that killed hundreds of New Hampshire jobs, made the largest cut to public higher education funding in American history and devastated essential services for thousands of Granite Staters," said New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director Harrell Kirstein. "Are they going to make deeper cuts to the university and community college systems, forcing another round of costly tuition increases? Will they slash domestic violence prevention funding again? What about funding for snow plows for next winter?"

The budget hearings are Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. in Representatives Hall.

grayno@unionleader.com


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