Capital budget negotiators narrow disagreement
CONCORD — House and Senate negotiators slimmed down their areas of disagreement Thursday over the $125 million capital budget for the next two years, but the single largest item — $38 million for a new women’s prison in Concord — was not mentioned.
A new women’s prison has been the Department of Correction’s top priority for some time, but lawmakers have failed to agree on a new facility until this year. The state faces a lawsuit claiming women prisoners do not receive the same level of services as men.
The House and Senate have similar capital budget plans but differ over the funding for several projects.
The Senate proposed $10 million for a new software system for the Liquor Commission to process credit cards. The software would be paid for by liquor revenues, not state general funds.
The House’s chief negotiator, Public Works and Highways Committee Chair David Campbell, D-Nashua, questioned if the commission had sufficient funds to cover the bonds for the software as well as the three new liquor stores in Salem, Epping and Warner, and major renovations to the I-95 stores in Hampton.
But Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, said the current system is technically in violation of security laws. The state has to remove computer boards and ship them to verify information, he noted, so it would be easy to have a breach that could expose card holder information.
The new software program would guarantee the security of the system, Rausch noted.
He said the Senate Ways and Means Committee was assured the commission could cover the costs without lowering projected state revenues.
The conference committee, which meets again Monday at 12:30 p.m., will discuss the issue with the state treasurer and the liquor commission’s financial representative.
Similar concerns were raised over the Senate’s plan for paying for repairs to the North Hampton seawall, which is projected to cost $5 million. The House approved $1 million for the repair but the Senate increased it to $5 million with half the money coming from the Hampton Beach parking meter fund.
The two sides also disagreed about University System of New Hampshire capital projects. The House approved $7.5 million without designating projects, while the Senate approved a $6 million lump sum, $1.5 million for lights at Cowell Stadium and $500,000 for renovations to the state veterinary lab at Hewitt Annex on the Durham campus, bringing the total to $8 million.
Campbell noted the House would agree to the $8 million figure but did not want to see certain projects designated, while Senate Capital Budget Chair David Boutin, R-Hooksett, said the Senate wants assurance those two projects will be completed.
Negotiators made no mention of the state providing $5 million in state match bonding for a $25 million federal TIGER Grant application for repairs to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Portsmouth or to $10.4 million for a new Marine Patrol headquarters on Lake Winnipesauke.
The two sides did disagree over purchasing a new generator for the State House and fixing the elevators in the Legislative Office Building, but not over $1 million for a new voting system for the House and communications software for the House and Senate.