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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: The 'numbers' say it's an election year

August 16. 2014 10:08PM

MORE THAN ANY other issue, the battle over releasing preliminary figures on department spending for the recently concluded 2014 fiscal year says this is an election year.

Republican leaders have been hammering Gov. Maggie Hassan for not releasing preliminary spending totals for state agencies, while the governor has said the figures will be released when they always have been on Sept. 30 when the unaudited Comprehensive Annual Financial Report is given to the Legislative Budget Office and state auditors.

Last week, Senate Finance Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, and House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, continued to beat the drum saying budget writers cannot afford to wait another month before addressing the deficit due to overspending, particularly in the Health and Human Services Department, that could reach $100 million by the end of the biennium.

"It may take time to count every penny, but when we're in a potential crisis situation, we owe it to the people of New Hampshire to have an open and frank discussion on what appears to be a significant budget problem," said Chandler. "We are, after all, elected to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and our citizens expect some level of transparency and accountability within our state government."

The $100 million figure was based on a "dashboard" HHS publishes monthly but used out-of-date figures. Figures about to be published on the "dashboard" will indicate there could be a greater general fund problem for 2014, but that is before the thousands of budget adjustments are made to true-up the spending for the past fiscal year.

Long-time Senate Finance Committee member Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, checked in on the calls for preliminary figures calling it "election-year budget stunts."

"It's no big surprise that in an election year, political parties would try to manufacture an issue, but the recent press releases making wild claims about the budget are coming out of thin air, and amount to nothing more than a stunt," D'Allessadro said. "There is no indication that agencies are exceeding their spending authority and HHS has not issued any report suggesting that they are exceeding their budget by $100 million, as some have stated as if it were a point of fact."

He and Hassan's office said the preliminary figures indicate the state is likely to have a balanced budget for fiscal 2014.

Let's be honest, Senate and House budget writers on the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee are not scheduled to met until two days before the comprehensive report is released Sept. 30, so just how much work could be done on the budget is questionable particularly with primary elections approaching Sept. 9.

While it is obvious the calls for releasing the budget information are an attempt to drive up the negatives on Hassan, you have to wonder how effective that is in the dog days of August when few people are watching.

Wouldn't it have been more effective politically to wait until Sept. 30 when a heated general election is on, rather than posture in the middle of the summer?

After two years of wrangling, about 10,500 low-income adults began receiving health care insurance Friday under the state's expanded Medicaid program or the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

State officials believe eventually about 50,000 will have health insurance under the program, that uses the current Medicaid managed care and Health Insurance Premium Payment programs to cover the newly eligible until next year when private insurers through the state's health exchange will provide the coverage.

The federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the next two-and-a-half years, if federal officials approve the program, which they have yet to do.

"With the coverage beginning today, thousands of hard-working people and families now have the security and peace of mind that they deserve," said Gov. Hassan. "I am proud that we were able to work across party lines and meet aggressive timelines so that thousands have access to health care coverage starting today, and we anticipate thousands more applying in the coming months."

While the feds are picking up the cost of the newly eligible, the state is going to be paying more for the 11,000 or so who were eligible for Medicaid without expanding eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The woodwork effect, meaning people will come out of the woodwork to participate, will increase state Medicaid obligations as it is responsible for 50 percent of the cost.

Budget writers did not anticipate that so many people would be added to Medicaid and that is one of the problems facing the department in trying to live within its budget this fiscal year.

The House is coming back Sept. 17 to act on at least three of the four bills Hassan vetoed this session.

The Senate is tentatively scheduled to come back Sept. 15, although several Senators may not be able to attend.

Lawmakers are focusing on two bills. Senate Bill 391 would have changed the structure of the juvenile justice system and juvenile services.

Hassan claims lawmakers reversed course after initiating a policy to combine juvenile services and justice into a single division while cutting the budget for the John E. Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester.

The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, believes she has the votes in the Senate to override the veto, and key lawmakers believe the House also has the votes to override.

House Bill 591 would prohibit "bullying" of state employees.

The bill was a priority of the State Employees Association.

The House is close to having the votes to override that veto, but if the Senate comes in the 15th and then goes home, it may be dead anyway.

The historic Exeter Town Hall will be the site of debates between Republican gubernatorial, U.S. Senate and US Representatives candidates Aug. 23.

The gubernatorial debate kicks off at 5 p.m. with retired businessman Walt Havenstein and entrepreneur and political operative Andrew Hemingway.

The Congressional debate among college professor and business owner Dan Innis, former U.S. Rep and Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, and Seabrook selectman Brendan Kelly begins at 6:15 p.m.

The evening concludes at 7:30 p.m. with U.S. Senate candidates former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith and former state Sen. Jim Rubens.

Jeff Chidester, host of the radio show "New Hampshire Perspectives," will moderate the debates.

The debates are sponsored by the Exeter Republican Town Committee, the Rockingham County Republican Committee and the Seacoast Republican Women.

New Hampshire Politics Political columns State House Dome Meredith Wolfeboro

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