A leading conservative state rep calls the House GOP crafted budget 'dishonest'
CONCORD – With one day to go until a crucial showdown on the floor of the state House of Representatives, there’s a good chance that a group of conservative lawmakers could sink the Republican crafted budget.
Asked by NH1 News on Tuesday afternoon if he and his allies in the chamber could support the budget passed last week by the House Finance Committee, state Rep. J.R. Hoell answered “not right now.”
The conservative lawmaker from Dunbarton is one of the leaders of the House Freedom Caucus. If the group remains united in opposing the budget, it may go down in flames when the full state House of Representatives votes on the plan on Wednesday.
Republican Speaker Shawn Jasper told NH1 News on Monday that he had “no predictions” on whether the budget would pass.
Tuesday his top lieutenant, House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, told NH1 News “I’m not going to make any predictions at this time. We’re still working very hard to make sure that everyone understands that this budget is a well-crafted budget.”
With 222 members in the GOP caucus in the nearly 400 member body, the Republican leadership can afford to lose around two-dozen votes and still pass the budget. They know going into Wednesday’s votes that they shouldn’t expect any help from the Democrats. House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, the top Democrat in the chamber, told NH1 News his caucus is unified in opposition to the budget.
Gov. Chris Sununu, the first Republican in the Corner Office in a dozen years, proposed $12.1 billion two-year budget in February, a sizeable increase over the current $11.3 billion budget. The GOP controlled House Finance Committee chopped the budget down to $11.9 billion. Among the items dropped was Sununu’s plan to spend $18 million over the biennium to fund full-day kindergarten state-wide.
But Hoell said that he and his allies “cannot accept” the budget because it’s “dishonest.” He accused the Finance Committee budget writers of “hiding $219 million.”
Hoell said that he and his allies will introduce an amendment on Wednesday to “make it an honest budget coming out of finance in terms of not hiding money that should actually be there. This are federal revenues. This is Medicaid money. This is loan repayments. This is real money. And then we can have a discussion over whether this is a $12.1 billion budget or whether we should actually cut this down to the $11.9 million. And I believe that 11.9 is the place to go. But we should have honest tax cuts in there. Not just a gimmick.”
“At the end of the day, this is dishonest. I’m interested in an honest budget. So there will be a bipartisan amendment to put these back in,” he added.
But HInch told NH1 News that “I would disagree that it’s not a transparent budget.”
“There is federal funds that will come. Do we know the exact amount. No we don’t. Do we know anything that’s going on with certainty in Washington. No we don’t. So the wrong thing to do would be to add something into the budget that is basically a ‘we believe it’s going to come’ type of scenario,” the Republican from Merrimack added. “We don’t have it. Until you actually have it you can’t budget to spend it.”
“That’s what the debate will be about tomorrow. It’s all transparency,” Hinch declared.
Speaker calls push by conservatives ‘irresponsible’
As the House Finance Committee briefed members assembled in Representatives Hall on Monday regarding the budget, NH1 News observed Speaker Jasper and Hoell quietly having a lengthy private conversation.
Jasper defended the budget against conservative complaints, telling NH1 News “we have no new taxes, no new fees. We have approximately the same dollar increase as we had in the last biennium, which means the percentage is smaller.”
“They say ‘well we want to cut more’ and they don’t really have any solutions,” he added. “We have to pass a balanced budget. You can’t just say ‘well we’re going to cut taxes’ and let somebody else worry about the spending. That’s irresponsible.”
Jasper cautioned that “what this does if this were to go down on Wednesday is that we have no position on the budget. Any of the good things in here. Any of the new initiatives. Any of those things unless the Senate puts them in, they become non-germane.”
“If we kill our own version, we don’t have a House position. And that’s a stupid place to be,” Jasper bluntly added.
But Hoell said that the budget’s dishonest because “one, in terms of the actual revenue projections. And two, there’s no business tax cuts, there’s no individual tax cuts in this. And at time when we’re seeing increasing revenues from the state, we should be returning some of it back to the taxpayers.”
And he said he’ll be just fine if the House doesn’t approve a budget.
“I am OK personally and I believe people who want to see an transparent, honest, open budget, are willing to let us go into a committee of conference accepting the Senate position because it’s likely to be a better budget than anything the House is generating right now,” Hoell told NH1 News.
With a slew of amendments being offered, Wednesday’s debate and votes over the budget could bleed into Thursday.
Hinch cautioned against trying to re-write the budget, saying “it’s always been my thought as long as I’ve been here that trying to re-craft a budget with floor amendments on the day that we’re hearing the budget is a wrong path to take.”