Nashua Telegraph: GOP, Democrats battle over $28 million NH Senate budget writers seek to cut from human services
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – A list of $28 million in potential human services cuts from state Senate budget writers touched off partisan fighting words Tuesday.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, released the list of possible reductions to House-approved spending in programs for the disabled ($4.9 million) troubled juveniles ($1.8 million), tobacco prevention ($250,000), family planning ($400,000), mental health ($3.6 million) and staff with community resources needed to expand Medicaid to nearly 70,000 low-income adults ($5.8 million).
In all these cases, the proposal would approve spending above the current state budget but less than what the House approved and what Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed with her own 2014-15 budget last February. Final decisions on these have yet to be made, but Morse said he wanted the list of possible reductions to be out there.
Morse stressed these cuts, if they come to pass, would only pay for a spending increase the Senate prefers – $20 million in payments to hospitals and $8 million to nursing homes.
“These would be just to fund the Senate’s spending priorities,” Morse told his colleagues Tuesday.
Morse released analysis of how the Senate and House views receipts from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax paid by hospitals.
The Senate’s forecast is $107 million lower, which would require spending cuts of twice that number because, for the past 21 years, the state has levied the MET tax to receive the same amount of increased federal grants.
“The number we are dealing with is in the $300 million range,” Morse said of the spread between House and Senate assumptions.
Even before Senate budget writers acted, however, Gov. Maggie Hassan expressed disappointment with the cuts.
“The cuts outlined today by Senate Republicans are nothing short of devastating for the health and well-being of the people of New Hampshire,” Hassan said in a statement. “From cuts to our plan to strengthen our mental health system, to cuts in funds for the developmentally disabled, to cuts for CHINS, critical access hospitals, community health centers, local communities and more, Senate Republicans have decided to ignore the calls of Granite Staters to restore our priorities and meet our fundamental responsibilities, opting instead to continue the irresponsible actions of the last Legislature.”
Kevin Smith, of Litchfield and a 2012 GOP candidate for governor, praised Morse’s determination to pay for any spending upgrades with reductions.
“When it comes to budgets, given the track records of the Republican-led Senate and then-state Sen. Maggie Hassan, I think we can all breath a sigh of relief that the Senate is once again doing right by the taxpayers by crafting a responsible budget that restores services only to the level of funding that is available for them,” Smith said in a statement. “Just as they did with the current budget, Republicans in the Senate are using realistic, not the House-inflated revenue numbers, to fund the state’s priorities.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committee took several actions to break with the House on revenue needed to finance the next two-year $11 billion state budget.
Senate Republicans prevailed in rejecting a 20-cents-per-pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes, refused to save $11 million by delaying business tax credits lawmakers adopted in 2011 and proposed a ban on making restaurant owners pay the Business Enterprise Tax on tips.
Senate budget writers also struck from its proposed House budget trailer bill (HB 2) the House-passed increase in the state gasoline tax of 12 cents per gallon.
The state director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity, said Senate Republicans were taking the right action to spur business growth as New Hampshire recovers from the recession.
“New Hampshire must become more competitive in terms of keeping our business taxes down, not less competitive by continuing to raise what already are among the highest taxes on employers in the country,” Gregory Moore said. “Today’s vote by the Senate Finance Committee was a very positive first step to making the Granite State an economic engine for the region. Hopefully, we will continue to see more steps toward making our business tax environment as friendly as our low tax advantage in other areas.”
Sen. Robert Odell, R-Lempster, charged that the Department of Revenue ignored its own guidelines that don’t treat tips as compensation.
“Creating new taxes on employers based on dollars their businesses do not count as income is the wrong approach to take towards the state’s hospitality industry, particularly as we near the summer tourism season,” Odell said. “Today’s vote establishes a clear statutory guideline against this sort of taxatio,n and I look forward to a strong, bipartisan vote in support of the bill on the floor next week.”
Leaders in the state’s two political parties pulled no punches and revealed plenty of white-hot, partisan rhetoric before legislative leaders and Hassan hope a compromise budget deal is reached next month.
“Governor Hassan has submitted a reckless budget proposal that raises taxes on working families, increases state spending by $1 billion dollars and relies on phony and illegal revenue sources,” GOP Chairman Jennifer Horn said. “Her administration is already trying to cover her bloated government spending increases by secretly implementing a new hospitality income tax that will kill jobs and force New Hampshire restaurants out of business.”