House passes 2-year $12.9 billion state budget
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Democratic-led House passed a $12.9 billion, two-year state budget Thursday that Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said will destroy New Hampshire’s status as a tax-shunning state.
The budget passed 225-159 along party lines, with no Republicans voting for it and only one Democrat, Rep. Harrison Kanzler of North Conway, voting against. It now goes to the Senate, which also has a Democratic majority.
Democrats praised the plan for providing property tax relief to towns and cities, boosting education aid and “frontloading” the state’s child protection and mental health systems to avoid more serious problems in the future.
“This budget begins addressing longstanding problems that we’ve avoided for years, kicking the proverbial can down the road,” said House Majority Leader Doug Ley of Jaffrey. “Join me in moving this state forward and join me in supporting this budget. Let today be the dawn of a new day for the great state of New Hampshire.”
Republicans criticized the plan for including a new capital gains tax and 157 new state employees, and for spending one-time surplus funds on new programs that will have ongoing costs.
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, of Merrimack, called it a “deeply flawed budget that taxes and spends at record levels.”
“When the one-time revenue doesn’t come back, taxpayers will be on the hook to fill that deficit,” he said. “This budget spends $9,500 for every person in New Hampshire, a whopping $1,100 per person increase over our last budget, and that is just unsustainable even in good times.”
The House budget includes about $500 million more in state spending that Sununu proposed in February. It eliminates most of the infrastructure projects he wanted to fund using surplus money, and replaces a two-state voluntary family and medical leave program he created with the governor of Vermont with a mandatory program that opponents say amounts to an income tax.
“From astronomical tax increases to unsustainable spending, House Democrats created a budget that will destroy the New Hampshire Advantage,” Sununu said in a statement. “Their budget slashes local investments and creates $400 million in new taxes. I call on the Senate Finance Committee to get to work and fix this mess.”
The House made two changes to an earlier version of the budget recommended by its Finance Committee. It added $500,000 for the state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force that Sununu had included in his plan. And it added $1.2 million to design a forensic psychiatric facility to serve patients who are deemed too dangerous to treat at the state mental hospital. Currently, such patients are held at the state prison even if they haven’t been accused of crimes. Sununu, whose budget included $24 million to build a 60-bed facility, called that amendment “window-dressing.”
The Senate, meanwhile, passed a bill Thursday to build the facility, but tabled it as a way to preserve the issue for future budget negotiations.
Two years ago, the Republican-led Legislature ultimately approved an $11.7 billion plan after the House initially failed to pass a budget for the first time in years.