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Garry Rayno's State House Dome: Budget plan creates winners and losers
This is the first budget plan in some time that received bipartisan support, as both political leaders in the House and Senate have said they will be voting for the compromise budget on Wednesday.
A good example is the Department of Health and Human Services. The beleaguered mental health system will receive a $28 million boost if the plan gets final approval; the developmentally disabled wait-list for services will be eliminated; and much of the Children in Need of Services (CHINS) program will be reinstated.
For state employees, the news is a little better than it might have been, but 200 to 350 layoffs are not pretty.
But budget writers included $17 million in state general funds and $34 million in total funds to give state employees their first pay raise in five years. Yet the state's largest union voted last week to turn down the contract because of health insurance deductibles and changes in sick leave policy.
There are some clear winners in this budget plan, and perhaps the biggest are the New Hampshire Community College System and the University System of New Hampshire, which combined would receive $100 million more state aid than they did last biennium.
And state college students will be able to reapply to the UNIQUE scholarship program, which was suspended for the last two budgets when the money was used in other places.
The New Hampshire State Police agency will grow with 10 new officers in the compromise budget. Also there will be money to hire civilians to free up five troopers who now do indirect law enforcement work. The increases will allow for more coverage in spotty areas, including the North Country, and a bigger presence in the southern half of the state.
Schools districts - about 58 including Dover - whose growth in enrollment tops 5 percent, are also winners in the new budget. The current formula for education aid allows additional money for schools whose enrollments grow up to 5 percent, but the budget raises that to 8 percent, which will provide the growing districts with about $3 million more in state aid.
Also, conservationists will be pleased to know the new budget fully funds the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program at $8 million.
And new Attorney General Joe Foster will not have to find $250,000 in his budget to send to towns in the Merrimack River and Connecticut River watersheds in lieu of Massachusetts' payment for lost property due to flood control areas.
Another loser in the budget is the Interstate 93 expansion project, which will run out of money early next year unless lawmakers take quick action. The 12 cent gas tax hike the House approved but the Senate killed did not rear its head during budget negotiations.
Money for renewable energy projects was the incredible shrinking kid in the compromise budget, as lawmakers raided the renewable energy fund for $16 million to help balance the budget.
The needy high school robotics teams that compete in the FIRST competition will not receive any state help the next two years. Budget writers could not find the $200,000 needed to fund the program.
The best they could do with the reluctant Senate was a study commission that has to report its findings by Oct. 15.
So for the next four-and-a-half months, everyone, including the senators who claimed they needed more time to study the issue, will hear more than they ever wanted to know about Medicaid expansion.
The agreement on committee membership allows the Senate president to appoint three member and the House speaker to appoint three members. The governor, House speaker and Senate president each name one person from the general public.
Is there any question how that vote is going to go?
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