Union Leader: Hassan lauds $800M bipartisan budget hike as investment in state's economic future
By GARRY RAYNO
CONCORD – A $10.8 billion, two-year operating budget with wide bipartisan support was signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan Friday and will go into effect Monday.
“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 after signing the budget. “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.”
The compromise budget had overwhelming support in the House and Senate Wednesday after several contentious days of negotiations between House and Senate budget writers last week.
The budget spends a total of $10.8 billion over the next two years, including $2.8 million in state general funds. Over the biennium the state would spend $800 million more than in the current biennial which ends Sunday.
“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.”
The biggest point of contention between the House and Senate was Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would add about 58,000 people to the rolls of the state and federal health insurance program. The Senate wants more time to study expansion, while Hassan and the House want expansion to begin Jan. 1.
A commission will study Medicaid expansion with an Oct. 15 deadline for recommendations. Hassan said she will ask the Executive Council to call lawmakers back into session to address the commission’s recommendation if House and Senate leaders do not.
The budget includes a $25 million reduction in personnel costs, but appropriates $17 million for new state employee labor contracts with a 6 percent raise over two years, paid for through changes to health insurance plans including deductibles for the first time.
The budget includes $100 million more for higher education in return for the university and community college systems freezing tuition for the next two years, $28 million more for the mental health system, eliminates the developmentally disabled wait list for services and reinstates the school building aid program.
There is $3.4 million for four new charter schools. The UNIQUE scholarship program is reinstated as is another program helping nursing homes.
“With our budget now in place, we have been able to make true and meaningful progress on the priorities that matter to the people of New Hampshire,” Hassan said. “We must continue working together in the spirit of bipartisanship to keep our state moving forward toward a stronger, more innovative economic future.”
The compromise budget has drawn praise from Republicans and Democrats and across the political spectrum.
“With the Governor’s signature, New Hampshire now has a state budget that doesn’t increase taxes and doesn’t include the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion,” said Greg Moore, Americans for Prosperity-NH State Director. “This fiscally responsible budget is now law, and our citizens can rest easy that they will not feel the sting of the many tax and fee hikes that were proposed throughout this year. That’s a win for our economy and for the New Hampshire Advantage.”
The new fiscal year begins July 1.