Close vote expected on NH budget, governor hopeful
CONCORD (AP) — Some conservative House Republicans who helped defeat a proposed budget earlier this year have come around, yet many Democrats remain opposed the proposal heading into Thursday's vote.
The House and Senate are voting on an $11.7 billion, two-year spending plan negotiated by a committee of conference earlier this month. The Senate, which had passed an $11.8 billion plan in May, is expected to approve the compromise, but its fate is less certain in the House, where conservative Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat an $11.9 billion plan in April.
A majority of the Republican resisters, known as the Freedom Caucus, said they will vote for the compromise bill even though they still think it spends too much.
"The committee of conference budget is moderately better than the reckless spending included in the House Finance budget, which failed spectacularly due to a lack of leadership and communication," said Rep. Lino Avellani, R-Wakefield, who praised the inclusion of business tax cuts in the proposal.
Those tax cuts were the chief reason cited by the budget's Democratic opponents, however. While Republicans say the deal addresses critical problems such as mental health care and the opioid drug crisis, Democrats complain that it cuts taxes for businesses while leaving too many others in need.
"The simple fact is this: The Republican budget provides mass tax cuts to the wealthy elite at the expense of hard-working Granite Staters, at the expense of child protection, at the expense of combatting our opioid epidemic," said Sen. Dan Feltes of Concord, who was joined by three dozen other Democrats at a news conference Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff, of Concord, said the tax cuts for businesses will end up being shouldered by local property taxpayers.
"To me, it is the height of hypocrisy for someone to go around the state to say 'I passed a tax cut bill,' or 'I signed a pledge,' when you know that the cost of that tax cut that you got passed is going to be absorbed by people in local communities who pay their property tax bill and wonder why it goes up 3 or 4 percent each year," he said. "What businesses need, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, is a well-qualified workforce, to maintain our quality of life in the Granite State and a sound infrastructure. It isn't a tax cut."
Republicans outnumber Democrats 221-170 in the House, and 14-9 in the state Senate. Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, chairman of the House Finance Committee, said he is increasingly confident that the budget will have Republican support.
"More and more Republicans who were undecided or were leaning no have changed their minds and are supporting the budget," he said.
But Freedom Caucus member Jim McConnell, R-Swanzey, said he is likely to vote no again. A week ago he said he was confident the budget would be killed, but he said he's no longer certain the votes are there. His main objection remains the overall level of spending.
"To my way of thinking, a 10 percent or thereabouts increase in general fund spending is unsustainable," he said. "Frankly, when we are running the government — and when I say 'we' I mean the Republican Party — it seems to me we should be able to do better than that."
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said the proposed budget is an improvement on what he initially submitted.
"We've been working very hard to try and make sure that people understand all the great things that are in this budget," Sununu told reporters after an Executive Council meeting Wednesday. "It's a great New Hampshire budget and I think it's been supported very strongly, but you've got to make sure that you take nothing for granted, and we're going to keep working all the way until the vote."
When asked about any items Sununu would like to have seen in the final budget proposal that didn't make the cut, Sununu said he was overall content with the proposal. He said as the proposal made it's way through the House there were multiple changes made that benefit New Hampshire.
"I proposed a budget that focused on priorities and didn't increase a single tax, and now we've taken it one step even better and we're actually eliminating a tax," Sununu said referring to the Electricity Consumption Tax.
Sununu said meeting with members of the House and Senate during the budget process is key to make sure that everyone understands the budget and has their concerns addressed.
"You never get anything by raising your voice and threatening and yelling," Sununu said. "Open, positive listening, that's how you get things done."
While Sununu is hopeful the budget will pass, he said he takes nothing for granted and anticipates a close vote Thursday.
NH1 News Producer Jesse Reynolds contributed to this report.