Gov. Chris Sununu seeks to deal with Developmental Disability wait list

Gov. Chris Sununu asked legislative budget writers to endorse $15.9 million in emergency spending to serve more than 500 people with disabilities who could be on a wait list for assistance.

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu is asking a legislative budget oversight group to take off the state budget firing line a popular program that provides services to adults with developmental disabilities.

The two-term Newfields Republican is likely to get his wish from Democrats that dominate the Legislative Fiscal Committee but its leaders don’t agree with Sununu’s description of this dilemma as an “unintended consequence.”

Sununu wrote the chairman of the Legislative Fiscal Committee Monday lobbing for support of an emergency spending item totaling $15.9 million for the so-called DD Wait List program.

“We should not play politics with this funding — it is funding that implements a policy change that we have all previously agreed upon,” Sununu said.

“We all share the goal of ensuring that the state is providing services to some of our most vulnerable citizens and this item ensures that. Those relying on these services deserve nothing less.”

In this request, half the money comes from state taxes and fees, the other half from federal grants, Sununu said.

As the end of May there was no one on the wait list as the previous budget made clearing up the backlog a top priority.

But once the last budget year ended on June 30, $15.9 million of unspent money in that budget went to the general treasury towards the surplus.

Sununu said there had been agreement between the Democratically-controlled Legislature and his office that those unspent monies should remain in the program.

After Sununu vetoed the state budget lawmakers sent him, a three-month Continuing Resolution to keep spending at current levels did not address the wait list.

“During my conversations with Commissioner Meyers, I made it clear that we needed to correct an unintended consequence of the current Continuing Resolution (CR) that was passed by the Legislature,” Sununu wrote to House Finance Committee Chairman Mary Jane Wallner who also leads the fiscal panel.

The committee meets monthly including this Friday.

Health and Human Service Department officials advised lawmakers and Sununu on July 9 that an estimated 517 people in the program may not get services under the CR.

“If this request is denied, the CR funding...will not be sufficient to continue serving the needs of the program participants,” Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers wrote to the fiscal group.

Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said lawmakers would agree to address this issue but said it’s not unintended.

“Senate Democrats agree that fully funding the Developmental Disability Wait List is a top priority. However, the growing wait list was not an “unintended consequence” – the current inability to provide services to Granite Staters with developmental disabilities is a direct, predictable consequence of Governor Sununu’s budget veto,” Soucy said in a statement.

“Every day without a budget is another day New Hampshire citizens are forced to wait for developmental disability services, mental health care, and substance use disorder treatment. It’s time for all of us to put the people of New Hampshire first.”

Sununu has been meeting privately with lawmakers to try and come to a compromise on the state budget.

The governor vetoed the budget he received because it raised the rates of the state’s two main business taxes and made nearly $100 million in additional spending with one-time budget surplus that he said could lead to future deficits.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, met with municipal and education officials in Berlin, the North Country city where its mayor may have to impose layoffs if they don’t receive a $4.2 million increase in state aid.

This campaign for education spending in the vetoed budget continues with a forum in the Con Val school district Tuesday and an event in Concord Wednesday.

“A known consequence of Governor Sununu’s budget veto, simply to try to get more of his corporate tax breaks, was hundreds of Granite Staters with disabilities would either lose or have to wait for needed service,” said Feltes who is considering his own run for governor in 2020.

“He vetoed the budget anyway.”