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$13.5 Billion State Budget Approved

Published Tuesday Jun 15, 2021


$13.5 Billion State Budget Approved

House budget writers agreed to the Senate’s $13.5 billion two-year operating budget for the next biennium in a short conference committee on House Bill 1.

“The work becomes a little more simpler when you have a little more money,” said House Finance Committee chair Ken Weyler, R-Kingston.

The Senate budget spends a little less total money than the House’s proposed budget which was $13.67 million, but uses surplus money from the current 2021 fiscal year budget to add money for things like greater revenue sharing with cities and towns, reinstating clean water grants to municipalities, and a 5 percent rate increase for some health care workers in critical fields.

The lone Democrat on the House and Senate budget conference committee, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, said the budget fails hardworking state residents.

“With this budget approved by my Republican colleagues,” Rosenwald said after the committee vote, “NH fails our residents seeking important cancer screenings, our students, our taxpayers, and our employers.” 

While agreement was quick on the “numbers,” other House and Senate negotiators will meet Monday to begin work on House Bill 2, or the trailer bill, that contains the changes in law to correspond to the numbers in House Bill 1.

HB 2 also contains a number of controversial provisions that may not be quite so easy to resolve as the numbers in HB 1 including requiring family planning providers that also offer abortion services to physically and financially separate abortion from other services, the “divisive concepts” teaching prohibition, and what authority future governors will have under declared states of emergencies.

HB 2 also contains a paid family and medical leave voluntary program, what is described as one of the broadest school voucher programs in the country, and a ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

During Friday’s discussions on HB 1, several House members noted the differences in the two budgets if the Senate had the money to do what the House had wanted, but could not afford under the revenue estimates at the time.

One of the major differences in the two budgets concerned liquor enforcement officers.

The House agreed to the Senate adding back 20 liquor commission enforcement officers the House had removed after an audit revealed problems within the division.

Weyler noted the House removed the positions after a 300-page audit and asked Senate members if they were convinced the agency would pay proper attention to the recommendations in the audit report.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said his committee received a great deal of feedback from businesses that felt those positions are beneficial.

The committee members understand the audit was not satisfactory, he said, and notice has been given.

Daniels said if in two years the needed changes are not made, he would agree to eliminate the 20 positions.

Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, who chairs Finance Division 3, asked the Senate why it had extended the operations of the Sununu Youth Services Center for eight months.

The House budget closed the facility at the end of the 2022 fiscal year June 30, 2022, while the Senate extended the closing date for eight months and included more money for operations and to transition youths to other service areas.

Daniels said they are all in agreement the youth detention center should be closed, but the Senate believes it will take a little longer to make the transition.

Edwards wanted to know if there are provisions to monitor the closure progress, and Senate committee member Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, said a committee is established to oversee the closing in HB 2.

She said the additional money the Senate added for the center reflects its actual operating costs based on the 2020 fiscal year.

Edwards also sought to remove $50,000 from the budget the House included to “incentivize” new family planning vendors to provide services.

But he eventually withdrew his motion to remove the money.

Rosenwald said the Senate budget will leave about 15,000 low-income families without health care and family planning services for about nine months until federal funds can be reinstated to vendors who will need to re-qualify under the federal program.

Hennessey said the money is available from the federal government to directly fund the health centers as happened before when the state delayed a Planned Parenthood contract.

She urged everyone to contact their federal delegation, but Rosenwald said the problem is centers have to re-qualify and that takes time.

Another significant change is the Senate eliminated back-of-the-budget cuts the House inserted totaling about $72 million for the Department of Health and Human Services.

The figure includes about $22 million from eliminating over 200 positions and $50 million in across-the-board cuts, with some exceptions like direct care.

Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee last month Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the exemptions made it nearly impossible to accomplish without significant impacts to critical services.

The Senate instead targeted specific positions and activities to achieve about $60 million in state general fund agency reductions, often replacing the state money with federal funds to avoid major reductions.

The Senate budget does not address the merger of the University System of NH and the Community College System of NH proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The House budget slowed down the process and established a commission to study the merger with $1.5 million to help fund the work.

The Senate removed both the commission and the funding from its budget.

The budget approved Friday accounts for revenue loss from Senate Bill 3, which would exempt Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness loans, or grants, from business profits tax liability, reducing revenues by an estimated $56 million during the biennium and $99 million over the next four years.

The budget plan also transfers $50 million in general fund money into the Highway Fund, which chronically produces less money than needed to pay operating and construction expenses.

The budget also increases state and federal funding for county nursing homes to avoid more county obligations which are funded through local property taxes. The budget also cuts the rates for the business, rooms and meals and interest and dividends taxes, and begins phasing out the interest and dividends taxes in the second year of the biennium.

The reductions lower revenues an estimated $65.5 million over the biennium.

The Senate plan spends less money on public education than the previous budget, eliminating the disparity aid program to help property poor communities with larger numbers of lower-income families.

Rosenwald said the budget approved Friday by Republicans “slashed education aid to school districts, eliminated critical health care access for 15,000 Granite Staters, failed to provide funding to address the disastrous homelessness situation in NH, and failed to adequately fund programs to attract workers to our desperately needed health care workforce.”

The conference committee also adopted the Senate revenue estimates for general, education, highway, and fish and game funds.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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