Senate Democrats ready to present their version of budget

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s Senate Democrats said Friday they’ve crafted a $13 billion, two-year state budget that responsibly addresses the public’s most pressing concerns, while Republicans called the plan reckless and irresponsible.

The proposal endorsed Friday by a majority of the Senate Finance Committee spends about the same amount in state general funds — $5.5 billion — as the budget passed by the House in April, but differs in several key areas. While both significantly increase education funding, in part by restoring so-called “stabilization grants,” the House budget would spend about $60 million more, paid for by extending the tax on capital gains. The Senate meanwhile, eliminated that tax and wants to send more unrestricted money back to towns and cities in the form of revenue sharing, $40 million compared to the House’s $12.5 million.

“The plans — they’re close, but I think we did more,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. He said the Senate had the benefit of working with updated revenue estimates and is counting on additional revenue from increasing taxes on out-of-state corporations doing business in the state.

“When you look at the thing in totality, I think we both tried to get to the same place, but we just used a different source, because we had better information than they did.”

The Senate plan also would increase Medicaid reimbursement rate for health care providers. Unlike the House budget, the Senate plan would move the secure psychiatric unit out of the state prison. In his budget, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu had proposed a new 60-bed facility for mental health patients who haven’t committed crimes but are held in prison because they are deemed too dangerous for treatment at the state psychiatric hospital. The House version eliminated that, while the Senate Finance Committee is proposing a 25-bed facility. Both the House and Senate address the problem of psychiatric patients waiting in emergency departments for inpatient beds by funding transitional housing beds for people leaving the state mental hospital, early intervention programs and a mobile crisis team for children.

In addition to mental health, the Senate plan combats other crises such as the state’s opioid epidemic, its lack of affordable housing and its shortage of skilled workers, said Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord.

“This is a balanced budget with no new taxes, no new fees. It addresses crises facing the state and expands opportunity for everyone, not just those at the top,” Feltes said.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said while the Senate Finance Committee made some improvements, its plan still includes items he would veto. The proposal includes a paid family leave program he considers an income tax. He and other Republicans also objected to the $76 million deficit it includes, saying that leaves the budget unbalanced. Democrats countered that the budget is balanced when surplus funds are taken into account.

“I am determined to pass a budget that does not raise taxes and is fiscally solvent, and look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature so that we can come together on a commonsense compromise that balances the needs of the state with the concerns of our taxpayers,” he said in a statement.