June 12. 2017 9:15PM

On state budget, Dems say abortion vote a 'deal-breaker'

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau


 

CONCORD — The likelihood of Democratic votes being used to pass a new state budget grew more remote on Monday, after House and Senate budget writers agreed to include a ban on the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion.

The policy, based on the federal Hyde Amendment, will now be included in the budget that goes back to the full House and Senate for a vote later this month.

House conferees agreed to the provision passed by the Senate after ranking Democrat Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, objected and was temporarily removed from the conference committee for the vote.

“House Republicans agreed this afternoon to Senate demands that attack women’s health by restricting contracts on family planning and codifying a version of the Hyde Amendment (which bars the use of tax dollars to pay for abortion), in the state budget proposal,” Wallner said in a statement after the vote.

The provision was hotly contested on the Senate floor by Democrats, who said federal law already prohibits the use of tax dollars on abortion services. Republicans said the additional protections are needed for taxpayers who oppose abortion.

“This amendment is a political statement, not a budget statement,” said Wallner, who also criticized the process by which the policy was adopted.

“These provisions never received a public hearing in either the House or Senate, in direct violation of the legislative process,” she said. “If Republican lawmakers are going to turn the budget process into a partisan debate over social issues, the least they can do is follow their own rules and be transparent about it.”

There was no debate on the House decision to acquiesce to the Senate position.

The move by Republicans suggests that leaders in both the House and Senate hope to reach a compromise with conservative House Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus, rather than attract Democratic votes to pass the state budget.

“We’ve been pretty clear with them that we didn’t want to see that anti-women’s health amendment in the final product,” said Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua. “And we’ve been telling them that for quite a while. It’s not something that will surprise them. So it looks like they don’t care.”

Democratic state Rep. Peter Leishman of Peterborough was among the Democrats who spoke in support of the budget passed earlier in the year by the Republican-dominated House Finance Committee. That budget failed in the House because of 32 Republicans in the Freedom Caucus who want to see more cuts, more tax breaks or both.

Leishman is among the Democrats that Republicans might have been eyeing for support, but he called Monday’s vote “a deal-breaker.”

“Numbers are the least of the worries of our caucus,” he said. “That issue, the so-called Hyde Amendment, it’s already in rule, and now they want to put it in statute. That’s a huge deal-breaker for the Democratic caucus.”

Budget writers spent most of the afternoon discussing numbers, setting aside anything that they couldn’t readily agree upon to debate on another day. Those days are running short, however, as the committee must produce some report for the two chambers to consider by the end of the day Thursday.

Among the many issues left unresolved was the fate of a workforce development program first proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan and supported by the Republican majority in the House, but not included in the Senate budget.

Called Granite Workforce in its latest incarnation, the program would use about $11 million in surplus welfare money from the federal government to train workers for critical vacancies and temporarily subsidize the wages at their new jobs.

“The House would ask that the Senate take another look at this program,” said Conference Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare. “One of the reasons for doing this, and one of the reasons the governor put it in his budget, is that the state is suffering from a shortage in the workforce, and this program is designed to bring 6,000 to 8,000 people back into the workforce. It’s not expensive on a per-person basis, and we do have the funds.”

The majority Senate position has been that the state has enough job training programs in place already, and the matter, like most other contentious issue, was put on hold, at least for the time being.

dsolomon@unionleader.com