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State budget writers closer than thought on revenue estimates

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 09. 2015 8:17PM

CONCORD — House and Senate budget writers are much closer than expected on their estimates of how much money the state will take in over the next two years, setting the stage for smoother negotiations than initially expected and reducing the likelihood of a gubernatorial budget veto.

Even though Republicans are in control of both the House and Senate, agreement on projected revenues has been elusive. All that changed Tuesday, when the House Ways and Means Committee wrapped up its deliberations on revenue projections and came within $1.1 million of the Senate’s figure.

That’s a very narrow difference in a revenue plan that adds up to slightly more than $6.85 billion for fiscal years 2015-17.

“That’s as close to unanimous as you can get,” said Rep. David Hess, R-Merrimack, as House Ways and Means wrapped up a series of votes — mostly along party lines — on expected revenues for the state treasury.

Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, cheered the news.

“The House’s updated estimates are remarkably close to Senate estimates that were agreed to late last month and are reflective of the steady, positive growth the state has seen and that we expect will continue,” he said. “Closing the gap between the Senate and House revenue estimates sets a firm baseline for spending as the legislature prepares for the Committee of Conference on the budget bills.”

Senate revenue estimates were initially $118 million higher than the House for the next two years, and $45 million higher for the current fiscal year. That gap was based on the House’s first swipe at revenue projections in February, when it only had actual receipts as of Dec. 31 to work with.

The Senate developed its estimates later in the budget process, in May, and had the actual receipts from the first quarter of this year to work with, as did department heads, who submitted revised estimates for June.

Given the improvement in the economy and other factors, the actual revenues in the first part of the year gave Senate budget writers solid ground to stand on in proposing rosier numbers moving forward. The more conservative House largely agreed, but not entirely.

“There’s still work to be done,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Norman Major, R-Plaistow.

House and Senate budget writers will meet in conference on Friday in the hope of ironing out their remaining differences. That will largely be a Republican-to-Republican debate, as Democrats were out-voted in a series of 11-8 votes in House Ways and Means on Tuesday.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Susan Almy of Lebanon, argued that the Republican majority was opting for the most conservative estimates in a range of numbers provided by department heads and the Department of Revenue Administration.

“I think you are just trying to create a surplus at the end of the term, which is fine,” she said. “But we have budget needs that you are going to have to be cutting back on.”

Almy said House Republicans were ignoring strong numbers in May as unimportant. “We are taking the lowest possible numbers,” she said.

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