NH budget vote set for today
CONCORD — The House and Senate will vote today on a new two-year, $10.7 billion budget that spends about $400 million more than the current biennial budget.
Gov. Maggie Hassan has said she will sign the budget package — House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 — if lawmakers approve it, which is likely with the leadership of both parties in the House and Senate supporting the compromise plan.
The biggest point of contention between the House and Senate during negotiations last week was Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would add about 58,000 people to the rolls of the state and federal health insurance program for the poor, disabled, children and elderly.
After several proposals were exchanged, budget negotiators agreed on a commission to study Medicaid expansion with an Oct. 15 deadline. Hassan has said she will ask the Executive Council to call lawmakers back into session to address the commission’s recommendation if House and Senate leaders do not.
The budget lawmakers will vote on includes a $25 million reduction in personnel costs, but appropriates $17 million for new state employee labor contracts with a 6 percent raise over two years. (See Charles Arlinghaus column on state employee pay, Page A6.)One of the four state employee unions has ratified the contract, but the Bargaining Senate of the largest union, the State Employees Association, has rejected the agreement. However, lawmakers are not planning to change the contract funding.
The proposed budget includes $100 million more for higher education, $28 million more for the mental health system, eliminates the developmentally disabled wait list for services and reinstates the school building aid program.
The compromise budget includes $3.4 million for four new charter schools and reinstates the UNIQUE scholarship program and another program helping nursing homes.
The budget does not include a 20-cent-per-pack tobacco tax increase, but allows an automatic 10–cent increase to go forward. The budget also does not include a 12-cent gasoline tax increase approved by the House, but does include $13.5 million in business tax credits passed last year that Hassan and the House wanted delayed for two years.
The budget plan also eliminates the tips tax and foregoes a $5 increase in the salt water fishing tax.
The proposed 2014-2015 budget spends about $2.8 billion in general funds over the next years beginning July 1.
Lawmakers will also vote on a $125 million capital budget, House Bill 25, which includes $38 million for a new women’s prison in Concord.
With the approval of lawmakers, New Hampshire will join the other five New England states with a medical marijuana program for the terminally and chronically ill. The program is contained in House Bill 573.
Fifty-seven inches will be the gold standard for child passenger restraint seat use if lawmakers approve House Bill 242.
A compromise was reached on a controversial bill that aligns New Hampshire insurance laws, regulations and rules with the federal requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers will decide the fate of the compromise when they vote on Senate Bill 148.