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June 18. 2013 9:10PM

State, employee unions have tentative agreements

CONCORD — The administration and four state employee unions have reached collective bargaining agreements that will provide state workers a 6 percent raise over the next two years.

The raise would be the first for state workers in five years, but the agreement calls for employees to pay a deductible for the first time, although insurance premiums would remain the same.

The contract is projected to cost $35 million over the two-year biennium of which $17 million would come from general funds.

The money for the new contract will have to be included in the budget House and Senate budget writers are currently negotiating.

Under the contract agreements an individual would have a $500 deductible in 2014 and $750 in 2015, while the family deductible would be $750 in 2014 and $1,000 in 2015. Workers would also receive incentives for choosing lower cost providers.

And state workers will contribute to the cost of dental insurance for the first time under the agreements that have yet to be ratified by state employees.

“After the elimination of 1,100 positions, five straight years without a cost-of-living increase, and numerous other sacrifices made by state employees, the tentative agreement is a fair deal for employees and taxpayers that will help working families make ends meet and provide important health care savings to the state,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan’s communications director Marc Goldberg.

House and Senate budget writers did agree to about $20 million in new revenues but not enough to cover all of the items the two sides want in the budget.

House Finance Committee Chair Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, presented a plan that would eliminate a $50 million across-the-board reduction in personnel costs resulting in an estimated 700 layoffs and a $7 million reduction for the Health and Human Services Department.

The House is proposing about $50 million in new revenue, much of which the Senate has refused to accept. Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the most important thing in crafting a state budget is realistic revenues. “The reality is the revenues will not be there,” he said.

Under Wallner’s proposal, the House would fund $47.3 million of its priorities and the Senate $72 million of its priorities including $20 million for uncompensated care for hospitals, $18 million to restore the UNIQUE college scholarship program, $17 million for nursing homes, $3.4 million for new charter schools and $3.6 million to change the education adequacy formula.

The House and Senate agreed on additional funding for the Veterans Home, as well as reducing a $2 million cut in the Department of Revenue Administration’s budget, and eliminating the $7 million cut for HHS.

But Morse said he could not accept Wallner’s package because it depends on $49 million in revenues the Senate does not believe is realistic.

He said the Senate would have its own proposal Wednesday morning. The House did agree Tuesday morning to an additional $430,000 reduction to the Judicial Branch budget the Senate proposed.

Budget negotiators are trying to reach a compromise on the state’s next biennial budget that goes into effect July 1.

The Senate approved a budget of $10.7 billion, while the House’s budget is $11 billion. Both the House’s and Senate’s plans spend approximately $2.8 billion general fund money.

Negotiators will return to the bargaining table at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Negotiators’ deadline is Thursday at noon for the Senate and 4 p.m. for the House.

grayno@unionleader.com


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