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Bargaining over spending bill yields compromise, higher price tag

State House Bureau

May 17. 2018 9:19PM

CONCORD — State senators didn’t get everything they wanted in negotiations with the House over a late-session spending bill that sought to dole out nearly $95 million in state budget surplus, but they came away with a lot more than half a loaf.

The compromise agreed to on Thursday spends about $5 million more, but in a different way.

The House added $10 million to the fund for repair of bridges, but declined to support a series of smaller expenditures.

In the first negotiating session on Tuesday, House members agreed only to four on a list of 12 spending items that cleared the Senate as amendments to HB 1817, which started out as a bill creating the position of state demographer.

Negotiators quickly agreed to recommend that the full House and Senate approve pay raises for state employees worth nearly $13 million; a $44 million settlement with hospitals for uncompensated care; a $10 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and $20 million to fix red listed bridges.

After that, chief House negotiator Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge, said representatives were “not really excited” about the other spending proposals, which included more money for the state Housing Finance Authority to promote affordable housing, congregate housing for the elderly, business technology incubators and volunteer “foster grandparents” for at-risk children.

A tax credit for recovery friendly workplaces and a one-time tax break for first-time homebuyers were also not well-received by House members.

After another two days of negotiating, however, the House compromised on the funding for Recovery Friendly Workplaces and the affordable housing fund, and added money for bridges.

A reduction in the real estate transfer tax for first-time homebuyers proposed by Gov. Chris Sununu, along with funding for business incubators, senior housing and foster grandparent programs were left on the cutting room floor.

The surplus spending package that will now be voted on by House and Senate on Wednesday includes, over this year and next:

• $44.7 million to settle with hospitals over uncompensated care;

• $30 million for bridges;

• $12.7 million for state employee pay raises;

• $10 million for the Rainy Day Fund;

• $1 million for Recovery Friendly Workplace funding, and;

• $2.5 million for the Affordable Housing Fund for those leaving mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

That adds up to more than $100 million.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, one of the Senate negotiators, said taking the money from some of the smaller items to add funding for bridge repair made sense.

“It’s one-time money for one-time expense,” he said. “The rationale behind the red-listed bridges is there has been a lot of pressure from people for a toll increase and a gas tax increase. This uses one-time money for these expenses so we can avoid both, which I think is a good way to treat the taxpayers of New Hampshire.”

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Thank you, Sununu