Senate committee awaits casino vote
CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee on Monday began staking out its position on several spending items in anticipation of a vote in the House Wednesday on casino gambling and future negotiations with the House over a final budget for fiscal 2014 and 2015.
Beginning to hammer out a proposed spending plan, the Senate budget writers tentatively returned to its original form the "UNIQUE" scholarship program for needy students, which had been, in effect, raided in recent budgets for use for general university purposes.
The committee did that by first removing $13 million in "UNIQUE" funds from the university system budget and then adding back to the university system the same amount in general funds.
The committee made the same move with respect to the Community College System of New Hampshire, first removing $5.6 million in "UNIQUE" funding that had been used for operating costs and then restoring $5.6 million in general funds.
The panel also removed $4 million in "UNIQUE" funds that had been used for Department of Education operating costs.
As a result, the panel voted to take a first step in restoring nearly $24 million in scholarship funds, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem.
The committee also proposed restoring full funding for the Land Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), at $2 million for fiscal 2014 and $1 million for fiscal 2015.
These and other moves can be revisited after the House decides on Wednesday whether to pass casino gambling legislation, which Gov. Maggie Hassan says would add $80 million in state revenue over the next two fiscal years through casino licensing fees.
At the same time, the committee proposed eliminating one of Hassan's pet projects: the Governor's Office on Innovation and Efficiency. Four positions for that office, proposed by Hassan and supported by the House, were proposed to be abolished by the Senate Finance Committee. The savings from this move was estimated at $532,0000 over the next two fiscal years.
The finance committee proposed cutting $250,000 in funding for the Public Utilities Commission's Green Launching Pad energy efficiency program and proposed cutting $250,000 a year from the Police Standards and Training Council. These funds come from penalty assessments and not the general fund.
It also eliminated an investigator position added by the House to the state Human Rights Commission for a savings of about $50,000 per year in each of the two years of the fiscal 2014-2015 biennium.
Also on Monday, the committee deleted the House's move that allowed Hassan to "raid" any dedicated account for any amount of money to help close a fiscal 2013 budget shortfall. That moves comes after state revenues for the current fiscal year have been reported running ahead of the what had been expected.
Today, the finance panel is expected to address spending issues surrounding the Department of Health and Human Services, which committee chairman Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, requires $250 million in "adjustments."
It is also expected to consider using $5.3 million in federal funds to help educate the public on President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The funds include $3.14 million for consultants and $2.1 million for contractual services.
Also up for discussion is an amendment that would limit the number of judicial positions for the biennium to 20 full-time Superior Court judges and 31 full-time circuit court judges.
The proposal would allow judges to fill marital master positions as needed beyond circuit judge limit.