After NH House punts on budget, what’s the next step?
Business organizations now focus attention on Senate
The NH House’s stunning failure this week to pass any version of a state budget or its accompanying trailer bill has business advocates scratching their heads about what it all means.
“I’ve been doing this for 28 years and never seen a situation like this,” said David Juvet, vice president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire. “But somehow I think they will manage to pass a budget by the fiscal year.”
Although all fiscal bills must start in the House, there is nothing to prevent the Senate from attaching its version of the budget to another House appropriation bill, said Phil Sletten, an analyst at the NH Fiscal Policy Institute.
Indeed, later on Thursday, it would be doing just that, attaching the governors budget proposal – House Bill 1, and the trailer bill, HB 2, to HB 144, having to do with the budget of Rockingham County, and HB 517, a bill dealing with the Department of Administrative Services’ Risk Management Unit and Division of Personnel.
The House must then agree to the Senate change in the bills, which means that both sides will be hashing it out in a committee of conference, just as they always do. But there is one major difference: The House doesn’t have its own version of the budget to negotiate from.
“There are a lot of things that we deemed important in this budget,” said House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, when speaking on the floor in favor of House Bill 2, the budget trailer bill. HB 2 was defeated by eight votes, even after some Democratic leaders threw their support behind it. That followed a much larger defeat of the budget itself on Wednesday, due to the united opposition of Democrats combined with conservative Republicans.
With the stalemate, there are a number of provisions that were in the House version that now won’t have as much of a chance at becoming law, including:
• Keno: The House version would have allowed keno machines in restaurants and taverns with a liquor license. The NH Lodging and Restaurant Association, which has opposed casino gambling for both moral and economic reasons, has been split on keno. The Senate has favored casino gambling but not keno.
• Online lottery: This would have allowed smartphone scratch tickets. With a projected drop in foot traffic into convenience stores and other retail outlets, the NH Grocers Association vigorously opposed the proposal.
• Infrastructure: A total of $40 million, including $10 million for school building aid and $30 million for roads and bridges, would have been a nice boost for the construction industry.
• Medicaid: The failed House budget proposal would have given $14 million less toward a Medicaid shortfall appropriation than the governor’s proposal – a major issue of the NH Hospital Association, which is suing the state over underpayment, as well as to the BIA, which fears cost shifting for private insurers.
• Workforce training: HB 2 would have instituted Granite Workforce, which would appropriate $11.5 million in federal funds to train welfare recipients, help them overcome barriers of employment and pay companies in certain fields, like health, advance manufacturing and construction, to hire them. The Senate, however, also voted to support the program, tacking it on to a food stamp bill, so it might still be funded.
There were some items in the governor’s budget proposal that were stripped out by the House but now may have a better chance at passage. The most well known is full-day kindergarten, which was already approved by the Senate. The Senate also included a college scholarship program and a high school/college dual/concurrent enrollment program, backed by business groups as a way to help alleviate the workforce shortage.
And finally there are things that were in both the governor’s and the House budget proposals that might find their way into the Senate version:
• Reorganization of the Department of Resources and Economic Development and the Department of Cultural Affairs into the Department of Business and Economic Affairs and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
• Increasing the Community College System of New Hampshire’s budget and flat-funding of the University System of New Hampshire’s budget. The BIA, is among those calling for more money for both.
• Rebate of a fifth of the state’s Renewable Energy Fund to ratepayers. The Senate may not go along with this idea, however, since it passed a bill that would target 15 percent of the fund for solar projects that benefit lower-income people.