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Sununu full-day kindergarten plan revived in NH Senate

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader

March 30. 2017 9:28PM


CONCORD — The Republican-led state Senate embraced Gov. Chris Sununu's targeted, full-day public kindergarten initiative Thursday, replacing a Democratic alternative that offered assistance to all school districts that adopted it.

The Senate also endorsed a bill to significantly cut business taxes, but would put off those tax breaks until July 1, 2020.

The move on kindergarten came in response to House budget writers who last week struck Sununu's entire proposal from the proposed two-year spending plan, saying it would give more state aid to communities that have more low-income residents.

Sununu urged the full House to "embrace" this separate bill containing the $18 million in targeted aid for school districts that adopt full-day kindergarten.

"As I have traveled throughout our state, I've heard from many citizens that this is a priority of theirs — in both considering the quality of a community's public education and in their decision-making process when choosing a place to raise their children," Sununu said.

"This legislation is good for children, families and a critical tool in retaining our workforce."

The Senate's top Republican, Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, offered Sununu's package over the Senate Democrats' bill, which would annually cost $14.5 million more.

"This legislation outlines a smart solution for establishing full-day kindergarten in New Hampshire. It is designed specifically to target our state's neediest families and children, providing resources that would allow for greater educational opportunities for children across the state," Bradley said.

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, praised Sununu and Senate Republicans for advancing this targeted plan.

"The great thing about this bill is that it also maintains local control. Communities who choose to maintain solely half-day programs have the option to do so while those wishing to expand are also able to do so," Watters said.

Business tax cuts

The Senate was divided on the business tax cuts, endorsing them (SB 2) on a 13-8 vote with only Republican support.

As amended, the 8.2 percent tax on corporate profits would be cut to 7.5 percent.

The current Business Enterprise Tax at .72 percent would drop to .5 percent.

The Department of Revenue Administration estimates this cut would lower business tax collections $112 million a year — from $641 million currently to $529 million.

"This will incentivize businesses to move to our state," said Sen. Robert Giuda, R-Warren.

Food stamps cut endorsed

The Senate also adopted along party lines a change to the state's Food Stamp guidelines (SB 7) that critics maintain could deny assistance to 17,000 children.

Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, offered an amendment which brings New Hampshire's eligibility requirements in line with the federal standard while offering to remove barriers for able-bodied residents to return to work.

The Granite State Workforce Plan would use excess money in the federal Transitional Aid to Needy Families Program to spend on incentives such as transportation, childcare and education or skills training.

"This bill aims to help people return to the workforce through work requirements as well as a basic asset test in order to receive food stamps," Avard said.

"Establishing a work requirement will enable able-bodied, childless adults who are currently on food stamps to become increasingly self-reliant rather than being dependent on the government while helping to fill thousands of open jobs in New Hampshire."

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, called the change "unconscionable" as it would mean many low-income families just over the federal poverty level would no longer get taxpayer-financed food assistance.

"But here's the thing — you don't get credit for helping financially insecure people in our state find work while simultaneously vilifying those same people for needing help with their basic needs in the meantime," Feltes said. "That effort rings hollow and disingenuous."

Full-body scanning

The Senate also endorsed reducing a 2016 state law that required full-body scanning of everyone entering state prison property.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, said the law as written was unworkable as it subjected these tests to children and pregnant women.

The change would give correction officials flexibility in the use of these scanners, but not change the mandate that all inmates must pass through full-body scanners.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said the change (SB 133) was too extreme and would increase the risk of visitors, prison guards or others bringing drugs into the prison.

The Senate passed this change over to the House on a 21-2 vote.

Loan, tax credit

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, championed a bill winning bipartisan support to create a $5 million loan program available to private businesses to connect households with contaminated drinking wells to a clean public water supply.

And the Senate, over the opposition of GOP leaders, endorsed and sent to the House a bill permitting cities and towns to double from $500 to $1,000 the property tax credit available to homeowners who were veterans (SB 168).

klandrigan@unionleader.com


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