A broadly altered version of New Hampshire’s two state budget bills cleared a key Senate committee Friday, setting the stage for a partisan floor fight when the whole chamber votes on June 3.
In a 5-2, party-line vote, members of the Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend passage of a budget that would transform multiple areas of New Hampshire society, from abortion care to school funding to the state’s tax scheme.
Lawmakers on the committee voted to reduce New Hampshire’s business taxes and its meals and rooms tax, and gradually eliminate entirely its interest and dividends tax. They voted in favor of a program allowing parents to remove their children from public schools and apply the state funding to private tuition. They voted to introduce a state ban on abortion after 24 weeks of gestation – a rare move in a state with few reproductive health restrictions.
And they voted to restrict schools and public agencies from teaching students or employees that implicit bias or structural racism definitively exist. That legislation would also allow public employees to opt out of trainings they feel targeted a certain race, gender, or other identity.
The budget passed by the committee would also fund a $30 million, 24-bed psychiatric hospital in the state, create a voluntary paid family leave program at the request of Gov. Chris Sununu, reverse a $50 million “back-of-the-budget” cut that House lawmakers imposed on the Department of Health and Human Services, and add a dental benefit to the state’s Medicaid plan for the first time ever.
To Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, the business tax cuts are key to the existence of the other programs.
“Over the last several years we have made New Hampshire one of the most competitive states in the country to bring a business to and to grow in New Hampshire,” Bradley said in remarks ahead of the vote.
The two budget bills – House Bill 1, the state’s two-year appropriations bill, and House Bill 2, the policy trailer bill – have spent over a month in the Senate Finance Committee as senators heard testimony from residents, advocacy organizations, lobbyists, and government agency heads advocating for spending priorities.
But many of the most controversial items, from abortion restrictions to regulation of implicit bias training, did not have monetary implications. In remarks ahead of the vote, Democrats criticized the inclusion of those items in the spending package.
“I will have to vote against House Bill 2 … in particular because of the injection of policy decisions,” said Manchester Democrat Donna Soucy, the Senate minority leader, who was filling in on the committee for Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat recovering from a surgery.
The budget bills will come before a vote in the Republican-dominated Senate next Thursday, after which they will head to “committee of conference” deliberations with the House through June. Those discussions will determine the final makeup of the bills that will head to Sununu’s desk.