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House balks at five Senate spending proposals, OKs four

By Dave Solomon
State House Bureau

May 15. 2018 8:54PM

CONCORD — For the first time, House and Senate negotiators met in an attempt to hammer out an agreement on a late-session spending bill from the Senate that doles out nearly $100 million in budget surplus.

During the Tuesday meeting, they agreed on pay raises for state employees, worth nearly $13 million, and on a $44 million settlement with hospitals for uncompensated care, but they deadlocked on a variety of other spending proposals.

In addition to the employee pay raise and hospital settlement, House negotiators agreed to a $10 million deposit into the state’s Rainy Day Fund and $20 million to fix red-listed bridges.

That left unresolved the Senate’s desire to appropriate more money for the state Housing Finance Authority to promote affordable housing, in-home services for the elderly, a student loan repayment program, business technology incubators and volunteer “foster grandparents” for at-risk children.

A tax credit for recovery-friendly workplaces, a one-time tax break for first-time homebuyers and more money for full-day kindergarten were also not well received by House members on the conference committee for HB 1817, which Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk, R-Weare, dubbed the “Christmas tree” bill.

Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge, chief negotiator for the House delegation, said the House had little appetite for the additional spending proposals beyond the pay raise, hospital deal, bridges and Rainy Day Fund.

“At this point in time, we are not really excited about any of them,” she said of the other proposals.

Two of the additional proposals in HB 1817 — the recovery-friendly workplace tax credit, and tax breaks for first-time homebuyers — were already defeated as separate bills in the House.

“As the sponsor of both pieces of legislation at the request of the governor, I want to stress their importance,” said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “The governor to his credit is really pushing these initiatives hard.”

House members seemed more inclined to consider the proposals through the development of the state’s next two-year budget, when they would be subject to public hearings and a more transparent legislative process.

“It’s our feeling that if we want to try to implement these programs, we should consider them as part of the budget and let the governor and Legislature decide if they make the best sense for the state,” said Rep. Frank Byron, R-Litchfield.

The negotiations continue today, although it appears unlikely that the House will concur with any Senate amendments other than the four it agreed to as the talks got under way.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, part of the Senate contingent, pressed hard for agreement on the elderly housing and foster grandparent programs, pointing out that both were included in past budgets but have been suspended since 2012.

“There are times when the Legislature does things their own way,” he said. “It’s part and parcel of the program. We’re an equal branch.”

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