House fails to pass budget as GOP spending plan shot down
CONCORD – For the first time in memory, the state House of Representatives failed to pass a budget produced by its Finance Committee.
More than 30 very conservative lawmakers joined the chamber’s Democrats in voting against the budget, which was backed by GOP leadership.
Republican Speaker Shawn Jasper blasted those from his own party who opposed the budget, saying “they were bankrupt in terms of ideas. There were really no ideas that they had other than to say ‘somebody else needs to figure this out’.”
The defeat of the spending plan means that the House is basically handing power to the state Senate to dictate the terms when the two chambers meet later this spring to hammer out a final budget.
The House adjourned Wednesday after the budget was voted down. Lawmakers reconvened on Thursday morning, but the spending plan suffered a second defeat and the House adjourned after just 45 minutes.
Speaking with reporters after the vote, Jasper said this was the first time since records were kept starting in 1969 that the House failed to adopt a budget.
Touting the Finance Committee’s $11.9 billion spending plan, the Speaker said “we have the revenues. This is a balanced budget. No new taxes or fees. Decreases built in and it wasn’t enough.”
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.
“The House made the decision that we would not pass a fiscally irresponsible budget that grows government at an unsustainable rate,” said state Rep. JR Hoell of Dunbarton, a leader of the recently formed New Hampshire House Freedom Caucus, one of the groups opposed to the spending plan.
Speaker: Opponents ‘didn’t want money going back to the cities and towns’
The proposed budget would have sent tens of millions of dollars from the surplus in the current two-year budget back to the cities and towns for property tax relief and increased spending in several areas.
Jasper said that of the three Republican factions opposed to the budget, ”really only one came and spoke with us. The others went off and did their things. They didn’t work with us at all. They didn’t talk to us.”
He added that the only consistent message that he heard from the 32 Republican representatives voting against the budget was that they didn’t want the surplus funds to go back to the cities and towns and school districts because they “do not trust our local officials to make the right decisions with that money.”
“They didn’t want money going back to the cities and towns. That is shocking to me,” Jasper added. “This is just a movement of people who I think are totally disconnected from their constituents and totally disconnected from the facts.”
The number two Republican in the House, Minority Leader Dick Hinch, added that “those 32 Republicans who chose to vote no will have to answer to the constituents and the leadership in their cities and towns for why they did not want to send tax relief back.”
Asked if he thought that his predecessor as House Speaker, former Rep. Bill O’Brien, helped bring down the budget by building opposition among those on the right, Jasper responded “I don’t want to talk about individuals.”
But then he added that “there were clearly outside influences who were ginning up members to vote no. There’s no question about that. And that’s unfortunate.”
O'Brien, who lost 2014 power struggle with Jasper for the speakership, held meetings in Manchester on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with large groups of those opposed to leadership's budget.
Jasper tells NH1 News ‘I’m not’ concerned about threat to leadership
State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, one of the leaders of the House Republican Alliance, another conservative group that opposed the budget, told NH1 News she was “pretty shocked and disappointed. Conservatives in the House have been working on meaningful amendments to try and get this passed over the past week or so….It didn’t seem like leadership was willing to come our way at all. It’s very unfortunate.”
The Republican lawmaker from Bedford came close to defeating Jasper in last November’s race for House Speaker. Asked what she thinks the defeat of the budget says about the House GOP leadership, Sanborn answered “I think what it says is the GOP leadership needs to listen a lot more to all of its caucus members.”
But Jasper said he’s not concerned about his status as Speaker, following the budget defeat as well as the failure of the Right to Work bill to pass through the House.
Asked by NH1 News if he’s concerned about threats to his leadership position, Jasper quickly said “No. I’m not.”
He explained that “there is no unified opposition. This is little groups of people, not even talking to each other. It’s splinter factions. You’ve now got the Freedom Caucus. You’ve got the House Republican Alliance. Other groups just working independently.”
Speaker on Sununu: Going to ‘keep my thoughts on that to myself’
Gov. Chris Sununu, the first Republican in the Corner Office in a dozen years, proposed $12.1 billion two-year budget in February, an increase over the current $11.3 billion budget. The 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.
Before the House adjourned on Wednesday, both parties met in separate private caucuses. Sununu spoke to House Republicans during their meeting. Later the governor told reporters he was "fairly confident" the House would pass a budget. But he also made a point to tout his own version of the budget.
Asked his feelings on whether Sununu did enough to help House GOP leadership in this week’s budget battle, Jasper said “with all due respect I’m just going to keep my thoughts on that to myself. I have enjoyed my working relationship with the governor. He did come into our caucus twice and I’m going to leave it with that.”
Nearly all of the Democrats in the House voted against the GOP leadership budget.
House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said he tried five different times to meet with the Speaker on Wednesday afternoon. The Democrat from Penacook told NH1 News that when he finally met with Jasper, “the Speaker said I want to continue working with my caucus and so basically the answer to us was no.”
But the Speaker painted a different picture, saying that “we didn’t have a proposal coming forward from the Democrats. Frankly the first time the leadership of the Democratic caucus approached us was after 4pm yesterday afternoon, and that was after the deadline to get amendments in.”
“There was nothing that the Democrats brought to the table to talk about,” Jasper charged.
The budget process now moves to the state Senate, which will begin hearings on Monday.
"We believe the Governor's budget is a strong foundation from which to start and we look forward to working both with the House and the Governor as the Senate's budget phase begins the regular process," Senate President Chuck Morse said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Minutes later, Sununu said in a statement "I am encouraged that the Senate has moved swiftly to take up my budget as a starting point for their deliberations."
Without their own spending plan, the House will be at a major disadvantage when the two chambers meet in a committee of conference later this spring.
“What we’ll be lacking is the House initiatives that we had in House Bill 2,” Jasper explained. “We’ll only be able to argue the points that they (the Senate) brought forward.”
“We can say no to anything we want to but we don’t have anything to add to it. And that is really unfortunate and extremely shortsighted,” Jasper added.
Asked if he’ll be able to put together enough votes to pass the final budget that comes out of the committee of conference, Jasper answered “stay tuned.”
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.