By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee has proposed a budget that would spend $13.5 billion in total funds over the next biennium and $5.4 billion in general funds.
The committee’s proposed budget would supplement the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the total to $155.2 million at the end of the 2022-23 biennium, and restore revenue sharing for rooms and meals with towns and villages.
The two-bill budget passed Friday along party lines, 5-2, and will be presented to the full Senate on Thursday.
Under the Senate plan, $187 million, or about $50 million in new money, will go into a fund dedicated to municipal revenue sharing over the course of the biennium.
Revenue sharing was suspended during the Great Recession, and Democrats added $40 million for cities and towns in the current budget, but the program remains suspended.
The Senate budget also takes into account lost revenue from Senate Bill 3, which would exempt canceled Paycheck Protection Program loans or grants from business income tax, reducing business income. approximately $56 million over the biennium and $99 million over the next four years.
The Senate budget plan also transfers $50 million in general funds to the Road Fund, which chronically produces less money than needed to pay for the operating and construction expenses it supports.
The Senate budget also increases state and federal funding for county nursing homes to avoid more county obligations that are funded by local property taxes.
The budget also reduces rates for businesses, rooms and meals, and taxes on interest and dividends, and begins phasing out taxes on interest and dividends in the second year of the biennium.
The cuts reduce revenue by about $65.5 million in the biennium, said committee member Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, who will not be available for needed services now and at the future, while Senate Speaker Chuck Morse, R-Salem, noted tax cuts. were a Republican priority.
The Senate budget also restores the state’s share of water grants to communities that was eliminated by the House and eliminates a budget cut of $50 million in the biennium for the Department of Health. and Human Services, but does not restore all of the more than 200 positions cut from the House budget.
The Senate plan spends less money on public education than the previous budget, eliminating the Disparity Assistance Program to help asset-poor communities with more low-income families.
Rosenwald said one of his main concerns is the underfunding of public education in the budget, noting that the one-time $100 million statewide property tax cut will increase property taxes in the future.
She said tax cuts help successful businesses and individuals, not those who need help.
But Morse said the Senate budget will send millions more dollars to communities.
“Budgeting is never easy,” he said, noting that the committee had listened to department heads and the public when developing its plan.
“This budget is fiscally conservative, based on reliable revenue numbers,” Morse said, “and delivers on the promises made by Republicans when we introduced our platform in January.”
“This budget underfunds public education, underfunds homeless shelter services, and underfunds support services for our most vulnerable children and families while providing tax breaks to ultra-wealthy corporations. and large out-of-state corporations,” said Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. “House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 are not representative of the people of New Hampshire, and I am extremely disappointed that the welfare of most Granite Staters has been ignored in order to advance an extreme partisan agenda.”
At Friday’s finance committee meeting, Democrats raised concerns about policy issues included in the budget, including ‘education savings accounts’ or vouchers, which will match the aid state adequate education per student – between $5,000 and $8,000 – parents to spend on private, religious, homeschooling or alternative education programs for their child.
Rosenwald said the program could cost the state about $60 million, but Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the cost would be nominal over the course of the biennium.
“What is not nominal is the fact that people of modest means will have more choices to send their children to school,” he said. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that children need better opportunities to thrive.”
The program would be one of the largest in the country and critics say it would be one of the least accountable.
The House Education Committee held back an almost identical bill to further refine the curriculum.
Democrats were also concerned about a provision banning abortions after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy without exception for fetal health, rape or incest, while making it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion after the due date. limit, and the alternative version of the division concept provision that the House included in the budget.
Democrats have also raised concerns that homeless services are significantly underfunded when it’s a growing problem, especially for the state’s largest cities, and other public safety concerns.
The Senate budget does not address the merger of the New Hampshire university system and the New Hampshire community college system, as proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The House budget slowed the process and created a commission to study the merger with $1.5 million to help fund the work.
The Senate removed the commission and the funding from its budget.
The Senate plan spends less in total money than the House and Governor’s budget proposals, but more in general funds and uses the current biennium surplus to fund a number of items.
The finance committee will host a budget briefing for senators at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Representatives Room.
Garry Rayno can be reached at [email protected]