CONCORD — Democratic House and Senate budget writers launched a public relations offensive late Tuesday afternoon offering a new proposal to end the stalemate over a two-year state budget. It attracted the immediate opposition of Gov. Chris Sununu and Republican leaders.
Legislative leaders won’t even get a chance Thursday to debate their newest proposals unless Republicans acquiesce to it because the new budget (HB 3) and its trailer bill making necessary changes in state law (HB 4) will need a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules to take them up.
The latest plan would keep in place the Sununu-insisted tax cut of the two main taxes businesses pay that took effect last January.
A second round of business tax cuts for 2021 already in state law would happen only if total state revenues next year came in at least the same level they came in for the year that ended June 30.
Sununu kept an optimistic tone while rejecting out of hand this new offer.
“I remain committed to working with legislative leaders to get a budget done that represents the best interest of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, this budget proposal is not sustainable and raises taxes when we already have a $200 million surplus,” Sununu began in a statement.
“As I’ve continuously stated since June, this is nothing that I, nor the people of New Hampshire, would ever support.”
The Senate and House Democratic plan would cut state spending by a net $94 million from the two-year spending plan Sununu vetoed in June.
Under the plan, the single-biggest cut in state spending from the vetoed state budget would delay — until Jan. 1 — a 3.1% increase in provider rates for those offering Medicaid services.
This proposal would also trim tourism spending by $1 million, trim $2.5 million for transportation and eliminate start-up financing for a paid family and medical leave benefit that Sununu vetoed in a separate bill.
The compromise would raise spending by $19 million in certain areas, including a $9 million nursing program for the University System of New Hampshire that Sununu has championed.
The plan also has $6 million set aside for a collective bargaining agreement for state workers that negotiators have not yet approved.
“House Bill 3 and 4 make meaningful budget concessions to accommodate Governor Sununu’s concerns, including further reductions in spending while preserving critical programs Granite Staters depend on. Additionally, HB 3 and HB 4 include the governor’s tax breaks for this year,” said House Finance Chairman Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord.
Wallner pointed out a similar trigger was used in 2015 after then-Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan had vetoed the budget.
“This compromise is the only fiscally responsible course of action to take and it works similarly to the compromise made by then-Governor Hassan and Republicans in the Legislature four years ago. For the good of the state, we hope our Republican colleagues allow this budget compromise to come to the floor for thorough and thoughtful consideration,” Wallner said.
The current 90-day continuing resolution to keep state government operating, which the Legislature approved and Sununu signed, runs out at the end of this month.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said it’s pivotal for lawmakers to come up with a compromise as many city and town officials have built their own budgets.
“HB 3 and HB 4 make concessions in an effort to reach a deal,” D’Allesandro said in a statement. “If Governor Sununu and House and Senate Republicans fail to agree on yet another budget compromise proposal, property taxes will go up on October 1. That’s not good for anyone.”
Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse of Salem and Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, slammed the move.
“This political stunt completely undercuts the good faith negotiations and is only intended to embarrass Governor Sununu who has tried all summer to reach bipartisan agreement,” Morse and Bradley said in a statement.
“Senate Republicans will continue to oppose a budget that undermines job growth by raising taxes on New Hampshire business owners, overspends and is unsustainable. Our Democratic colleagues know full well that their grandstanding is not only hurting the state’s economy but will also lead to higher property taxes if the budget is not resolved by Oct. 1 when the Department of Revenue will be forced to set higher local tax rates for schools and towns.”
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack said Democrats appear bent on raising taxes in this final plan, which he said Sununu will not accept.
“This is a transparent attempt to do an end run around negotiations with the governor, and pull a Washington-style political stunt. They know their proposal has zero Republican buy-in, and we know we’ve already voted to reject most of what it contains in June,” Hinch said.
“This process accomplishes nothing but demonstrating bad faith on the part of Democrats for continuing to propose a unilateral, unsustainable budget. They want to raise taxes so badly, they are willing to abandon professional protocol, and put forward this last minute, go-nowhere budget for political purposes. New Hampshire deserves better.”