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Senate Dems want $10m from Rainy Day Fund for opioid crisis

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

December 14. 2017 12:54AM
 (Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times/TNS)



CONCORD — Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Chris Sununu and the Republican-led Legislature to declare an in-state public health emergency and allocate 10 percent of the state’s $100 million Rainy Day Fund to combat the opioid crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, says Republicans would be willing to discuss the idea, but pointed out that the state has already invested heavily in both addiction recovery and law enforcement efforts.

A $10 million investment from the Rainy Day Fund would more than triple the current alcohol fund investment of $4.7 million in the opioid crisis,” said Sen.Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, who announced the legislative initiative at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building on Wednesday, surrounded by other Democratic state senators.

“If ever there was a rainy day in New Hampshire, this opioid crisis is it,” he said.

The Office of Medical Examiner is predicting that 466 New Hampshire residents will die of drug overdoses in 2017, compared to 485 in 2016.

The Democrats released a copy of a proposed bill, which they are calling the RESCUE Act (Responding Effectively to a Severe Crisis Using Emergency Funds).

The bill would create a new authority for the governor or the Legislature to declare a public health emergency by executive order or concurrent resolution.

Once an emergency is declared, the fiscal committee of the Legislature would be authorized to appropriate money to address the emergency from the Rainy Day Fund, not to exceed 10 percent of the balance.

“This bill requires no new taxes or revenue, reallocates no money away from other much-needed state services, and provides more than triple our current alcohol fund investment to tackle this crisis,” said Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester.

When the fund was created in 2000, the law required that a portion of the gross profits from liquor sales in a given year — but “not more than 5 percent” — be deposited into a special fund for alcohol and drug education and treatment programs.

It was only fully funded at 5 percent once — in 2003.

During the last budget process, lawmakers amended the law to specify that 1.7 percent of the previous year’s gross liquor profits would go to the fund. Sununu doubled that to 3.4 percent in his budget.

“We doubled the amount of money in the drug and alcohol fund, added $2 million for a drug treatment facility at the Sununu Center, and funded mental health initiatives to the tune of $20 million,” said Bradley. “So I think the Legislature has recognized the severity of the drug problem and dedicated appropriate resources, as well we should.”

Bradley noted that Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan declined to declare a state of emergency over the opioid crisis when asked to do so in 2015 and 2016 by Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.

“The reason, as I recall, was that there was no money attached to that,” said Woodburn. “An emergency declaration without any resources to tackle the problem is really nothing but flimflam. We need deeds not words. If there was a bill to just declare an emergency but not try to solve the emergency I would be opposed to it as well.”

Current state law allows for expenditures from the Rainy Day Fund, officially known as the Revenue Stabilization Reserve Account, only when the state is experiencing an operating budget deficit and revenues are less than the budget forecast.

Otherwise, a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate, along with approval of the governor, are required.

“I’m certainly willing to have a discussion about what may be necessary to build upon the work we’ve done,” said Bradley. “Whether the amount of money our Democratic colleagues are calling for is going to be helpful ... I think that’s a good discussion.”

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said the governor “is happy to hear any additional concerns regarding the state’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, and would assess the final language of the bill if it were to reach his desk.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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