Troopers get boost in N.H. budget

Committee votes to reduce funding of prison system

By Norma Love
Associated Press / May 14, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s Senate budget committee voted yesterday to make deeper cuts to the corrections budget and to use the savings to restore funding for state troopers that the House had proposed to eliminate.

Chuck Morse, the Finance Committee chairman, said he could not see another way to fund 38 trooper positions that would be cut other than to trim budgets, especially the corrections budget.

The committee voted to cut the corrections budget $7 million below the spending level set by the House and $13 million below Governor John Lynch’s recommended spending level. Morse, Republican of Salem, noted the $102 million annual budget the committee adopted in the preliminary vote is a 2 percent increase above this year’s spending level and corrections is the only state agency to get an increase in the $10.2 billion budget for the two years beginning July 1.

“I don’t think we’re strangling them,’’ he said. “The only way I can fund safety and add back all those troopers is to go someplace else.’’

Morse said the committee plans to give corrections the tools it needs to achieve the savings. That could include privatizing some prison functions, such as pharmacy operations or nursing, he said.

Morse had proposed sending 600 inmates from the Concord prison to private facilities but prison officials said that would not save money. Morse said lawmakers need to work with Lynch, who is also exploring privatizing aspects of the prison’s operation. Lynch has not outlined what functions he hopes to privatize, but his office has said nothing could be accomplished in time to count the savings in the budget Morse’s committee is writing.

Morse also wants lawmakers to study the correction system and report their findings by November so the Legislature can make changes to the department.

“The reality is, that department can’t continue to grow and grow and grow in costs,’’ he said.

The Senate has a June 2 deadline to vote on its version of the budget. That would give the Senate and House two weeks to negotiate a compromise under legislative rules.

The Senate Finance Committee hopes to wrap up most of its work in about 10 days. Morse said yesterday’s decisions on agency budgets are open to revision.

In other preliminary decisions made yesterday, the committee voted to restore $1.2 million to the attorney general’s office to fund eight attorneys. The action also would restore the consumer protection bureau and ensure no criminal and environmental prosecutions are eliminated.

The committee voted to eliminate funding for the state’s Cannon Mountain ski area in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2012, assuming the state will privatize its operations. Morse said the state cannot afford the capital investments needed to keep the area competitive.

The committee also voted to restore money for several small programs in the Department of Environmental Services, including the pool inspection and shellfish inspection programs.

Without the shellfish program to test the waters, New Hampshire’s aquaculture farmers, recreational clam diggers, and others would no longer be allowed to harvest oysters, clams, and mussels because the state would not meet federal sanitation guidelines.

The state’s lone public pool inspector works with local pool operators to avoid outbreaks of water-related illnesses.