Gov. Maggie Hassan's $11.5 billion budget plan draws mixed reviews
"Given these challenges, this is a tight budget that reflects difficult choices," Gov. Maggie Hassan said in her state budget address.
Hassan is right about one thing. This two-year budget faces big challenges.
Settling a suit with hospitals cost the state $50 million, mental health care won an out-of-court settlement worth $30 million and adding thousands of adults and children to Medicaid comes to $40 million.
"It is a budget that is honest about how we use our limited resources, beginning to move away from misleading budget gimmicks," Hassan said.
This veteran governor knows selling a budget is making lawmakers fall in love with its spending, $5 million more in local aid, work force housing and a massive increase for substance abuse.
But Senate President Chuck Morse had two words for the $11.4 billion bottom line. Try again.
"The reality is this kind of number will never pass the Legislature," Morse said.
Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said using auditors to collect $16 million in taxable compensation won't work.
"She's implementing again a business-owner income tax and that's going to be very problematic especially, when we are such a competitive disadvantage to other states," Bradley declared.
And the Senate's chief budget writer Jeanie Forrester says this about raising car registration fees 35 percent.
"I think the registration fee is going to be a non-starter at least for me," Forrester said.
House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, had his own tough love for Hassan's speech.
"I don't think that an overall increase in spending of just under a billion dollars while increasing business taxes, the tobacco tax, auto registrations and others is what the people of this state expect from us," Jasper began.
"Adding Keno into the budget when it is not yet law is also inappropriate, as we learned two years ago when she included casino gambling in her budget.
"But today merely starts a long budget process. We have a lot of work ahead of us and the House will now look to present a budget that will be based on existing and realistic revenues without increasing taxes."
But longtime House Democratic leader Dan Eaton praised Hassan for daring Republican legislative leaders to find other ways to balance the plan.
"She put everybody in the gun sights of here's what it is and if you don't like it, find the alternative," Eaton said.
This is no one-act play, more like a six-month docudrama that comes down to seven legislative horse traders who cut the deals after Memorial Day.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of some of the highlights of Hassan's plan.
Total: $11.4 billion
- All Spending Nearly 6.5 percent increase.
- State spending increase 3.4 percent.
- Raise Tobacco Tax 21 cents per pack.
- Legalize Keno at bars and restaurants.
- 35% increase in car registration fees ($21 for passenger car).
- 85 net new jobs, mergers erase some.
- $13 million more for 4-yr colleges.
- $6 million for community colleges.
- New women's prison in Concord.
- Charter Schools, 3 new ones.
- Study, no $$ for full-day kindergarten.
- Triples spending substance abuse grants.
- Creates Chief Operating Officer job.
- Level fund 22 agencies to 2015 spending.
- $4 million final engineering Boston-Manchester Rail.
- Rebrand developmental wait list to "transition services."
- 100-250 units work force housing, veterans preferred.
- Medicaid Expansion: Costs $12.5 million in 2017.
- Cut ed grants 5% to districts with fewer poor children.
- Three road troopers/two detectives to battle opioid abuse.
- Adds one Superior Court judge.
- $5 million increase local aid from Room and Meals Tax.