CONCORD — The potential for a state government shutdown ended Wednesday with the Executive Council voting unanimously to approve a $1.4 billion, catchall spending request.
Gov. Chris Sununu said he was “relieved” the Democratic-led council approved the spending warrant the state treasurer requires each month.
The vote is typically a routine item that receives no debate, but earlier this month the council delayed voting on it after saying Sununu didn’t give members enough information about pandemic-related spending.
On Tuesday, Sununu provided 250 pages of documents about the spending items, though some councilors were still critical of the process.
“It is unfortunate we have had just one day to review over 250 pages and try to understand them. I did the best that I could,” said Councilor Debora Pignatelli, D-Nashua.
Also Wednesday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette revealed for the first time that executives with Convenient MD had said they would furlough workers before the state granted the company a $1.6 million no-interest loan and then followed up with two no-bid state contracts totaling $1.4 million.
Convenient MD has been hired to boost the state’s contract tracing program and to do testing of staff and residents for COVID-19 at long-term care centers.
“They were going to furlough their staff prior to the contract,” Shibinette said, adding the company’s staffers had “unique skills” the state needed.
Lakes Region Health Care and Convenient MD were the only firms that told the state they planned to furlough workers, Shibinette said.
Both received no-interest loans. Lakes Region got a $5.25 million contract.
Executives with Convenient MD gave at least $11,500 to Sununu’s campaigns for governor. He’s seeking a third term this fallOfficial: Contract kosher
Shibinette also defended a $455,000 contract to open a satellite office in the banquet hall of a Concord hotel owned by past Republican State Chairman Steve Duprey, who has given Sununu’s campaigns $9,000 in the past.
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord and a 2020 candidate for governor, questioned why the for-profit hotel got taxpayer dollars.
“Why not go to any public school that has the technology and space for this office?” Volinsky said.
Shibinette said no school had the space requirements that Duprey’s Grappone Conference Center offered and the location was near where other HHS staff are working on the pandemic.
The HHS director stressed she and her team made these contract decisions, and Sununu had no involvement other than to forward the contracts to the council as “informational items” that did not require a final vote.
Democratic legislative leaders last month sued Sununu, maintaining the Legislative Fiscal Committee has to give approval to any of Sununu’s spending decisions. A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge dismissed the suit, but legislative lawyers have asked that jurist to reconsider that ruling.
In recent weeks, Volinsky and fellow Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord have criticized or second-guessed Sununu’s response to the pandemic.