Legislative Update – February 15, 2019
Wednesday’s snow and ice storm did little to disrupt the legislature’s busy week of committee hearings and work sessions. The next day, representatives and senators heard the Governor’s Budget Address, after which both chambers went into session to vote on pending legislation.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with…the Budget Address
The sun will be high in the early summer sky before we learn the fate of the proposals that make up Governor Chris Sununu’s $13 billion 2020-2021 budget. The long process began Thursday, when the Governor wished legislators a Happy Valentine’s Day and then submitted his plan to the joint session. Two highlights of Governor Sununu’s Inaugural Address will be considered in the budget. He put $40 million towards moving severely mentally ill patients out of the state prison facility and into a new secure unit, and he added $2 million for more psychiatric beds. He also included enabling legislation for his version of a paid family and medical leave plan, which partners New Hampshire with Vermont.
The Governor pledged a 31% increase in services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, a 20% increase in special education funding and $64 million in one-time targeted school building aid. He promised money for lead paint remediation and pediatric cancer initiatives, and full funding for the Developmental Disabilities Waitlist for the biennium.
Governor Sununu’s address was not all candy and roses, however. He expressed deep concern about pending tax increase bills and outside-the-budget spending proposals that he said would require billions of taxpayer dollars. Without openly stating a veto threat, the Governor appeared to issue a stern warning when he said the state cannot be allowed to be put in a position of having to make deep budget cuts down the road.
Democrats offered their response shortly after the speech was delivered. Party leaders said the address was long on partisan rhetoric but short on details. While praising the move of psychiatric patients out of the state prison and the increased funding for domestic violence, they had criticism for issues they said were left unmentioned. Among the areas they listed as unaddressed were property tax relief, Medicaid reimbursement rates and transportation infrastructure. They also said many issues the budget did address were not sufficiently detailed.
Not the only bone of budget contention
Along with the operating budget, there’s also the approximately $120 million Capital Budget, which includes larger, often longer-term projects. It contains spending provisions that are also subject to partisan debate. Among the items that may appear is the Capitol Corridor passenger rail proposal. It has been in the Capital Budget in the past but has not survived the process.
It’s a family affair
The Senate version of a paid family and medical leave program passed the body on a 13-10 party line vote. Republican senators objected to what they said was a mandate in the Senate’s version. They lean toward the Governor’s plan, which begins with state employees, allows private sector employees to join on a voluntary basis and calls for up to six weeks of leave. The Senate version provides for up to twelve weeks of leave, and Democrats said their approach is insurance, not a mandate. Meanwhile, the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitation Services Committee voted to recommend passage of its own paid family and medical leave program. The bill was amended before the committee vote to bring it closer to the Senate version, but there some differences that would need to be reconciled.
The Senate will meet in session next Thursday, February 21. The House will meet again on Wednesday, February 27.