CONCORD — If their goal is to develop a budget that Gov. Chris Sununu can sign, House-Senate budget writers did not get off to a good start on Monday, agreeing to revocation of business tax cuts previously approved for 2019 and 2021.
Sununu calls that a tax increase, and promises a veto.
According to existing law, the Business Profits Tax (BPT) went from 7.9% to 7.7% on Jan. 1, 2019, while the Business Enterprise Tax (BET) — essentially a payroll tax — went from 0.675% to 0.6%.
On Jan. 1, 2021, the BPT is scheduled to go down to 7.5% and the BET to 0.5% — cuts that will now not take place if Democrats in the state Legislature have their way.
That was one of several matters settled as House and Senate conferees met in the first of three sessions to merge their dueling versions of the state budget into a single revenue and spending plan for the next two years that they can send to Sununu.
On their first day of negotiations, they also agreed on revenue projections for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, approved all the budget items upon which there was immediate agreement, and identified the contentious issues that will have to be resolved on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The goal is to have a budget ready for House and Senate votes on June 27, the last regularly scheduled session day.
“The House and Senate are working hard to address the needs of the people of New Hampshire, and I’m certain we will produce a budget at the end of the Committee of Conference that we will be proud of and able to support,” said state Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord. “Will we be able to please everyone? Probably not. But we will make every effort to find compromise and do what is best for New Hampshire.”
In her capacity as chairman of the House Finance Committee, Wallner presides over the joint House-Senate budget deliberations with help from Senate Finance Chairman Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. There are five House members and four Senators on the negotiating committee, with one Republican, Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield.
“We have to come to a consensus on a document that does good things for all of the people,” said D’Allesandro. “That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re trying to do, and hopefully that will happen.”
The conference committee quickly agreed to revenue numbers that are not that far off from Sununu’s budget. The Senate conceded to the House revenue estimates, which were $15 million higher, for a total of $5.2 billion from state sources.
Most of the balance will come from federal programs, particularly in the areas of health and human services, education and transportation.
Agreement was quickly reached on allowing sports gambling, funding the Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund and the Safe Stations programs in Manchester and Nashua; and appropriations for new child protective service workers and supervisors in the Division for Children, Youth and Families.
House and Senate conferees also agreed to repeal a law prohibiting reproductive health facilities from using state funds to provide abortion services.
Still to be resolved are conflicting House-Senate positions on plans for education funding, mental health beds, a new forensic psychiatric hospital, imposition of the tobacco tax on e-cigarettes, college tuition assistance, Medicaid rate increases and the income and dividends tax proposed by the House.
The current two-year budget expires on June 30, and unless a new budget is signed into law by July 1, state agencies will continue to operate on existing spending levels. None of the new programs to fight opioid abuse, invest in mental health treatment or enhance educational funding would be funded until the new budget takes effect.