NH committee only restores some budget cuts

By Norma Love
Associated Press / May 26, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire's Senate budget committee wrapped up work Thursday on a two-year, $10.3 billion budget that dashes the hopes of many who wanted senators to restore most if not all the millions of dollars in spending the House cut from Gov. John Lynch's recommended budget.

The Senate Finance Committee's budget would add back $75 million in spending. The House cut $319 million in general fund spending over two years; the Senate's proposal cuts $244 million.

Much of the money restored under the Senate's proposal supports those who are mentally ill and disabled. The committee also added money not in the governor's budget for services for disabled residents on a waiting list.

College students at schools in the University System of New Hampshire face almost certain tuition hikes after the committee not only left in place deep cuts made by the House but took another $3 million in aid designated for the system.

Hospitals also went begging after the committee failed to restore deep cuts to their payments, especially reimbursement for caring for the poor. Cuts in state funding mean hospitals would lose matching federal funding.

"Cutting over $250 million in payments to hospitals is unprecedented and simply too great a burden to bear for hospitals and the patients and communities who depend on them," said Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, the only Democrat on the committee, argued unsuccessfully for restoration of funding for several small programs, including $1.5 million to help about 240 elderly people with housing services such as meals and light housekeeping. D'Allesandro said many need the help to remain independent. Without the help, some might wind up in nursing homes costing the state more money, he said.

"The facts of the matter should be on the table," said D'Allesandro of Manchester.

Some challenged Republicans' claims they were not passing state spending to local property taxpayers.

Judy Silva, government affairs director for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said proposed cuts in the state's contribution toward local employees' retirement and other aid programs will be felt by property taxpayers.

"They will see either increased property taxes, or they will see further reductions in services and local jobs. It could be police and fire, could be public works, could be library staffing," she said.

The committee will present the plan to the Senate next week for a vote.

Finance Chairman Chuck Morse said he knew some would try to amend the budget on the floor to restore spending for some programs.

"There's nothing left to squeeze out of anything," said Morse, R-Salem.

But Democrats are sure to question why social service cuts couldn't be restored when the plan ends the two-year budget cycle with a projected $33 million surplus. The plan puts the money into a state savings account to boost it to nearly $42 million.

"I find it outrageous that the Senate Republican budget writers chose to put $41.8 million into the state's rainy day fund by 2013, rather than meet the most serious needs of the people of this state," said Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen of Concord.

Morse said any accumulated savings from revenues coming in better than expected would go into the state's rainy day savings fund, not to spending. He said the budget is the first step toward reforming government and holding the line on spending.

"This is our new operating model," Morse said.

Senate President Peter Bragdon said the Senate had promised to produce a budget without raising taxes and fees and it had done that.

House Speaker William O'Brien said the House will seek to negotiate a compromise with the Senate and expects a compromise to be reached before the fiscal year begins July 1.