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March 26. 2013 7:29PM

House panel pares Gov. Hassan's proposed budget

CONCORD - The University System of New Hampshire, charter schools, school building aid and hospitals would all receive less money than proposed by Gov. Maggie Hassan under the budget adopted by the House Finance Committee Tuesday.

The committee will take a final vote on its proposed budget today after the House votes on a proposed 12-cent increase in the gasoline tax. If the increase passes, money will be added to budget for road and bridge work.

The House's proposed budget does not use $80 million from licensing fees for a casino or $30 million in other revenues Hassan included in her budget.

The House makes up the difference by projecting lower health and human service caseloads in several programs saving tens of millions of dollars, cutting $12 million from USNH and $7 million from school building aid, but the committee leaves in intact tens of millions of dollars in additional money for the mental health system and the developmentally disabled.

The budget also includes a provision allowing the governor to use unspent dedicated funds such as fish and game and the renewable portfolio fund to close the projected budget shortfall at the end of this biennium on June 30 projected to be about $40 million.

Some Republicans argued lawmakers should not give the governor such sweeping powers and they instead should be making the decisions on how to close the gap. But the vote was 16-7 to authorize the governor to use the dedicated funds.

Tuesday morning, non-partisan Legislative Budget Assistant Jeff Patterson told the committee the proposed budget would have an $8.6 million surplus at the end of the biennium, but the committee spent much of that money by increasing funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program and money for hospitals in an attempt to entice them to join the managed care program for the state's Medicaid, the state and federal health insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.

The budget includes a 30-cent increase in the tobacco tax, 10 cents more than the House approved last week, and assumes the state will expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal Affordable Care Act, although it approved an amendment 23-0 that allows the state to opt out at any time.

The two parties also disagreed on charter school funding which the committee voted to reduce by $2.5 million from what Hassan proposed.

The vote continues a moratorium on new charter schools.

Supporters of the cut said they agree charter schools are important, but at this point they do not believe the state should go forward with any new projects.

Budget writers turned down an attempt to block wind farms and high voltage transmission lines on an 18-6 vote.

Ford said burying the transmission lines along state-owned interstate highways or railroad lines could produce between $40 million to $60 million in lease money for the state. "We need time to look at this and study this," she said.

Some suggest the Northern Pass project should bury the transmission lines instead of its proposed surface towers to carry the Hydro-Quebec electricity through New Hampshire to the New England grid.

The committee restored money for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program to bring funding to the same level as Hassan, but allocated the money differently over the two years of the biennium.

The last budget included only administrative funds for the program, about $120,000 a year. Hassan proposed $5.3 million for the program, but the subcommittee working on that section of the budget reduced the funding by $2 million over the biennium.

Tuesday the committee voted to restore the $2 million.

The committee also restored $4 million in money for the uncompensated care program for hospitals which when matched with federal money is $8 million. Two years ago, lawmakers ended the program for the state's largest hospitals but retained for the smaller critical assess facilities. Lawmakers are proposing about $33 million less than Hassan.

The governor's proposed general fund budget is an increase of $184.2 million over the last biennium or a 7.1 percent increase. The state's general fund budget would be $2.8 billion over the 2014-15 biennium compared to $2.6 billion for the current biennium.

The House's proposed budget has about $50 million less spending than the governor's proposal.

The House is scheduled to vote on the budget proposal April 3. The Finance Committee will explain its budget to House members April 1.

grayno@unionleader.com

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