Nashua Telegraph: Hassan signs $10.8 billion NH budget compromise
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a compromise two-year state budget on Friday, just before the state’s financial year ends Sunday.
The $10.8 billion budget will cover the period through June 2015.
The move comes three days after the New Hampshire Legislature had adopted the spending blueprint nearly unanimously.
Without any public ceremony, Hassan signed the budget (HB 1) and the trailer bill (HB 2) that made more than 200 changes in state law needed to implement the plan.
“With the bipartisan, fiscally responsible balanced budget that I have now signed into law, we have begun to reverse many of the deep cuts made in the last biennium and set the foundation for a more innovative economic future,” Hassan said in a statement.
Hassan said she was pleased that the final document reversed spending cuts over the last two years, with overall spending going up less than 5 percent, and only about 3 percent from state tax and fee sources.
“The budget invests in higher education, improves technical assistance to businesses and strengthens economic development efforts in order to support the business community’s work to create good jobs that can sustain a strong middle class,” Hassan said.
“And it makes significant progress on the priorities that are critical for improving the health and well-being of our people and communities, helping to keep New Hampshire one of the safest, healthiest and most livable states in the nation.”
The budget signing doesn’t end the financial work of the Legislature, however.
It creates a nine-person commission that will spend the summer and early fall studying whether the state should expand coverage under Medicaid for 58,000 lower-income adults.
The panel must complete its work by Oct. 15.
Hassan has already said she would seek a special session if need be for lawmakers to vote on the expansion in late October or early November.
More than likely, the leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate will opt to call back their own members, because doing so would allow House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, and Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, to control the agenda.
Special sessions give lawmakers great latitude to take up any subjects they wish.
Any issue that was dealt with in the 2013 session, for example, could return anew during a special session, but it would need the support of Norelli, Bragdon or House and Senate rules committees to be admitted for discussion and debate.
Norelli and Bragdon ended the session this week to the “call of the chair,” which gives each of them the freedom to call lawmakers back at any time this year.
“Like all budgets, this plan required compromise and difficult decisions,” Hassan said. “But the overwhelming, bipartisan support for the priorities in this budget – job creation, public safety, education, caring for our most vulnerable citizens and preserving our natural resources – demonstrates that our shared values as Granite Staters are far more significant than our differences.
“Both the House and Senate repeatedly showed a willingness to rise above ideology and listen to the people they represent in order to reach constructive compromises, and I thank legislators for their hard work.
The budget increases spending over the current spending plan by about $400 million, restoring cuts made in state aid to higher education, along with $24 million in improvements to the mental health care system.
The plan doesn’t raise any significant taxes or fees. The House-passed budget had included increases in state tobacco and gasoline taxes.
Under current law, the tobacco tax will go up 10 cents because a 2011 cut by the GOP-led Legislature failed to increase receipts, and instead cost the state $11 million a year.
Greg Moore, director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity, said legislative leaders have forced Hassan to make some tough calls with this budget.
“Both by participating in the budget negotiation process and now by signing the budget, Governor Hassan has taken ownership of the over $100 million in lapse estimates, the $25 million personnel reduction and the $7 million in back of the budget reductions for the Department of Health and Human Services,” Moore said.
“This is going to take a significant management focus of her time and energies to ensure that every state agency is meeting its share of savings required to make this budget work. Clearly, she has her work cut out for her to make sure that she won’t be asking the Legislature to come back next year to find new taxes to cover holes in her budget.”