CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers passed a two-year, nearly $13 billion compromise state budget Wednesday, ending three months of impasse after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed their first effort.
The House and Senate votes to pass the budget came just five days before a temporary spending plan was set to expire and were overwhelming in both chambers. The main spending bill passed the House 327-29, while the companion bill to make policy changes passed 316-40. In the Senate, the spending bill passed 24-0, with one senator, Republican Bob Giuda, voting against the trailer bill over funding for family planning services.
Sununu acknowledged the challenge of negotiating a deal with the opposing party, but said all sides kept the focus on the best interests of the people.
“Today’s vote is obviously a huge win for New Hampshire families, New Hampshire businesses, everyone across the state,” Sununu told reporters. “This budget returns a lot of funding back to cities and towns, something I think we all wanted to see, and provides historic investments in our education system.”
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the compromise wasn’t perfect, but will help taxpayers while protecting the state’s growing economy.
“We always focus on the glass being half empty, you see it on TV every night — people at each other’s throats. But what this represents to all of us is a glass that is quite a bit more than half full,” he said. “Nobody got everything what they wanted, but it’s reasonable, and New Hampshire will benefit.”
Democrats had argued their original plan provided property tax relief and a boost to education funding while addressing the state’s most pressing problems. But Republicans argued it relied on one-time surplus funds for ongoing expenses and would drive the state toward a broad-based tax.
The last governor to veto a budget was Democrat Maggie Hassan in 2015. That year, Republicans controlled the Legislature and included in their budget a series of business tax cuts to take effect over several years. Now, Democrats are in control of both the House and Senate, and they originally sought to halt the last phases of the cuts.
Under the compromise, the tax rates will fall, rise or stay the same depending on how much revenue they bring in. In fiscal year 2021, the rates will go down if revenues in the previous year exceed projections by 6%. They’ll go up if revenue is 6% below projections, and will remain the same if revenues are in between.
The compromise maintains the $40 million in unrestricted money for cities and towns in the form of revenue sharing included in the original budget, as well as the $138 million increase in education funding. But the education money would be allocated in a different manner than Democrats wanted, and $62 million of the total would be one-time funds.
Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said the compromise preserved most of the key provisions of the original, including increases in Medicaid provider rates, and makes significant investments in mental health care and other areas.
“It’s a bill that’s going to deliver real results beginning Oct. 1 across all of the state of New Hampshire,” he said.
Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, agreed.
“The compromise accomplishes a great deal and will bring meaningful relief to our cities, our towns, our departments, and most of all, the New Hampshire citizens,” she said.
Among opponents, Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, said he was disturbed that lawmakers had only a little over 24 hours to process the budget. He also objected to the tax rate revenue triggers.
“Businesses will go, ‘Huh? What should we do?” he said. “They aren’t going to invest if they don’t know.”
Early in the debate, Speaker Steve Shurtleff banged the gavel to interrupt Burt’s criticism of reporters in the room as “fake news.”
“You will not attack anyone in this House,” Shurtleff said sternly.