Apr 10, 2017 5:13 PM
CONCORD – After last week’s chaos in the state House of Representatives, the state Senate Finance Committee tried to get the New Hampshire budget process back on track on Monday, as they kicked off hearings over the next two-year spending plan.
And Monday’s hearing included a ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ analogy by the governor’s budget director to defend his revenue estimates.
Gov. Chris Sununu proposed $12.1 billion two-year budget in February, an increase over the current $11.3 billion budget. The budget process then moved to the House, where the Finance Committee chopped the budget down to $11.9 billion. Among the items dropped was the governor’s plan to spend $18 million over the biennium to fund full-day kindergarten state-wide.
But last Thursday more than 30 of the most conservative state lawmakers joined the chamber’s Democrats in sinking the that budget, which was backed by House leadership. It was the first time in memory that that House failed to pass a Finance Committee approved spending plan. Many of those on the right said they were opposed to the budget because the price tag was too high and that the spending plan wasn’t transparent.
In putting their spending plan together, the House Finance Committee budget writers projected that the governor’s team had overstated projected revenues for the next budget by nearly $60 million.
“As far as House Finance was concerned, we did not have as much money to appropriate as there was with the governor’s budget,” House Finance Chair Neil Kurk said, as he testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee.
But Charlie Arlinghaus, Sununu’s budget director, disagree. Testifying before Kurk, he predicted that when actual revenue numbers for March and April come out later this month, they’ll support the governor’s revenue estimates for the biennium.
“There’s been obviously lot of talk about exactly where state revenues are going to be,” Arlinghaus told the committee.
“I spent about a month after the governor introduced his budget explaining to anyone who would listen why the governor’s revenue estimates were not ridiculously low-balled. Then the House Ways and Means Committee came out with its own estimates which were $58 million below the governor’s. People instantly decided that maybe we weren’t being purposely low and now they were wondering if we were being too high,” he added.
Then Arlinghaus used the ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ comparison.
“I would suggest that very much like baby bear in the classic three bears story, that we’re neither the momma bear or the papa bear. The governor’s estimates are just right. I think revenues are showing that,” he explained.
With the House failing to pass a budget, the four Republicans and two Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are using the governor’s blueprint as their starting point. But Monday they also heard from Kurk and other leaders of the House Finance Committee on the changes they made to the governor’s plan.
Whatever budget the Senate passes will serve as the foundation for a committee of conference between House and Senate negotiators. The final budget that emerges later this spring will have to be passed by both chambers before heading to the governor’s office.
A new two-year budget needs to be signed into law by the governor by the end of June, so it can take effect on July 1.
The New Hampshire Statehouse, on April 10, 2017
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