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August 13. 2014 9:59PM

NH Republicans push for 2014 fiscal budget figures

CONCORD — The Republican Senate leadership wants spending figures for all state departments from the recently concluded 2014 fiscal year.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, contends the Department of Health and Human Services spent $31 million more than budgeted and could spend $71 million more this fiscal year than authorized.

But the governor’s office said the information senators want has never been available before Sept. 30, when the books are closed and the unaudited information is given to the Legislative Budget Assistant’s Office.

Senate Finance Chair Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, formally requested an update on department spending on July 7 in a letter to Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee chair Rep. May Jane Wallner, D-Concord, who wrote Forrester saying the request was premature and would result in incomplete information.

But Republican senators have continued to press for the budget information.

“The potential budget deficit from HHS alone tops $100 million, but New Hampshire is operating in the dark. Revenues came in on target last year, but spending is over budget. We don’t know how much, and that’s irresponsible,” Bradley said. “Governor Hassan needs to open the state’s books and provide the Legislature and the public with the complete picture. Every day she stalls makes it harder to address the potential budget deficit created by overspending.”

Bradley said he will introduce a bill next session that would require the same monthly reports that Administrative Services prepares on state revenues, to be prepared on spending.

“The point is transparency will start to answer some of these questions like how big the hole is,” he said. “Everyone knows there is a hole, but not how big and how to deal with it.”

But Gov. Hassan’s office said the lapses, money agencies are directed to save from their appropriations, will be largely on target for the 2014 fiscal year.

“Senate Republicans are doing a disservice to the people of New Hampshire by using incomplete information before state agencies have completed the process of closing the fiscal year's books,” said Hassan spokesman William Hinkle.

Hassan let the legislature know in May agencies worked hard to meet their lapses and to meet the priorities established in the two-year budget Hinkle said. “As has been tradition, and is the law, that information will be delivered to the Fiscal Committee once we finish preparing the unaudited financial statements.”

He said the governor is working with state agencies to address the challenges of tax law changes that may drop revenues below forecasts for fiscal year 2015, as well as caseload growth at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Hassan will convene the Consensus Revenue Estimating Panel to review the state's revenue projections for fiscal year 2015 and has told agencies they may need to make budget cuts, he said. She has also directed agencies to curtail spending on large expenditures, and issued an executive order to freeze hiring, out-of-state travel and equipment purchases, Hinkle said.

“Last year, Governor Hassan worked with legislators from both parties to focus on our shared purpose and priorities and enacted the most bipartisan budget in over a decade, and she will continue to work across party lines to responsibly manage the state's budget while protecting our bipartisan priorities,” Hinkle said.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 26, just before the reporting deadline.

grayno@unionleader.com


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