CONCORD — After months of acrimony and a bitter veto fight, Gov. Chris Sununu and the Democratically-led Legislature on Wednesday embraced in overwhelming fashion a two-year state budget that ends an uncomfortable holding pattern for state government and communities.
The 327-29 vote in the House and a voice vote in the Senate sent the near-$13 billion spending plan (HB 3) on to Sununu who said he would sign it as soon as it reached his desk.
A companion budget trailer bill (HB 4) that makes all the necessary changes in state law did nearly as well, passing 316-40 in the House and 23-1 in the Senate.
Sununu, a two-term Newfields Republican, said state policymakers need to keep forging bipartisan consensus as there’s political dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and because partisan politics blocks progress in many other state houses.
“We are going to keep taking advantage of that. We work together; we get something together as a team,” Sununu said.
“This was not easy.”
Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the agreement came together because both sides agreed to do without all that they wanted.
“This was a big victory, not for us but for the people of New Hampshire,” Soucy said. “From the start we were all very close but we have come up with something we can all be proud of.”
House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Penacook, gave credit to GOP leaders in his body that produced the super-majority needed to suspend rules and take up this late-breaking budget package.
“This speaks volumes for the bipartisan support for this agreement,” Shurtleff said.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, is opposing Sununu’s bid for a third term in 2020 but there were no discouraging words from him on this day.
“This is a reasonable compromise. It is a bill that is going to deliver real results beginning Oct. 1st all over New Hampshire,” Feltes said.
Despite all the warm talk about consensus, there were a few dissident voices Wednesday.
Sen. Robert Giuda, R-Warren, was the lone opponent in the Senate and said it was over doubling state spending for family planning.
“The funding that is claimed to not go to abortions is going to the infrastructure that supports abortions. I am pro-life,” Giuda said.
In the House, Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown, led that opposition charge.
“There is money in here for Planned Parenthood. With that said, Planned Parenthood does abortions. I am against abortions; God is against abortions. He is not going to look favorable on us when the time comes and He comes down to us,” Burt said.
Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, was one of the few who tossed out the bipartisan script and attacked Sununu for vetoing the state budget that would have permanently ended a ban on state money supporting abortion services.
“I have to say I have been astounded that for three months our governor has put women’s health care at risk by not funding women’s needs,” Hennessey said.
“I believe there was a movement to move us backwards and I am not sure anybody in this room wanted to move backwards. His priorities seemed to be for corporate tax cuts instead of taking care of our citizens in general. Thank heavens we stood strong and rejected the assault on women’s health.”
Sununu supports legal abortion rights.
Another source of opposition for some were the small tax increases that were part of the final agreement. The plan makes calls on a prepaid telephone subject to the 7 percent communications tax and contains a new tax and regulations on e-cigarettes.
The final budget also makes a second business tax cut in January 2021 occur only if state taxes and fees come in 6 percent over forecast. If those taxes and fees come in 6 percent below that forecast, the state’s two business taxes would be raised.
Sununu has said these business tax cuts created more than a $200 million surplus in the budget year that ended last June 30.
Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, said it was the federal income tax cut of 2017 and not “three minor” state tax cuts that caused our surplus to swell.
“Let us not confuse ourselves by thinking that (a state business tax cut) is what has brought about our prosperity,” she declared.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said the final spending plan will deliver to her city $23 million of increased state aid.
“Our community is stronger when we work together and the state budget compromise demonstrates the positive impact we can have when we put our differences aside to do what’s in the best interest of Granite Staters,” Craig said in a statement.
“Through smart investments in education, mental health, and substance use disorder treatment, this budget will have a tremendous impact on the lives of Manchester residents.”
Many advocacy groups from Planned Parenthood to long-term care providers also praised the deal.
A pair of organizations disappointed in the outcome was the American Heart Association (AHA) chapter of New Hampshire and Vermont and the American Cancer Society Action Network.
The group had gotten behind the provision in the vetoed state budget that raised the age to buy all tobacco product from 18 to 21.
AHA Communications Director Rosie Kelly said the compromise to raise the age to 19 left their groups “deeply disappointed.”
“There is no evidence that raising the age to 19 would get tobacco products out of high schools,” Kelly said.
“A sale age of 21 also helps prevent 18-20-year-olds from establishing regular tobacco use habits as an adult.”
Last June, Sununu vetoed a two-year budget bill lawmakers had sent him declaring that it used one-time money to support too many permanent programs and threatened to create a future budget deficit of nearly $100 million.
Just before that veto, lawmakers approved a continuing resolution to keep state agencies running on last year’s spending levels; that authority runs out Monday.
This state budget deal when signed will permanently replace the continuing resolution for the period that runs through June 30, 2021.