8 items in Sununu’s budget that didn’t make his address
Wednesday’s release of House Bill 2 and Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed two-year $14.9 billion spending proposal marks the start of budget season for lawmakers. (Hadley Barndollar | New Hampshire Bulletin)
Gov. Chris Sununu wants to do much more than give state employees a big pay raise, put millions into housing, build a new men’s prison, and double funding for “education freedom accounts” in the next two years.
The so-called “budget trailer bill” released Wednesday evening runs more than 220 pages and gives a clearer picture of Sununu’s priorities for his fourth term in office, from one-time investments like millions for a hockey rink, to articulating support for offshore wind power in state statute and a new tax credit to support housing in historic buildings.
Wednesday’s release of House Bill 2 and Sununu’s proposed two-year $14.9 billion spending proposal marks the start of budget season for lawmakers. Both head next to the House, which must pass a budget and hand it off to the Senate by April 6. The Senate has until June 8 to pass its own budget, at which point both chambers will race to negotiate differences and get a package to the governor’s desk by June 30.
Here are eight items in the governor’s budget that didn’t make it into his speech last month.
$8 million to upgrade the UNH hockey arena
The governor’s budget would set aside $8 million in the next year to allow the University of New Hampshire to renovate and expand its hockey arena, the Whittemore Center Arena.
“Look, that’s a D1 team but they don’t have a D1 facility,” Sununu told the House Finance Committee last month. He said that New Hampshire is not known for its sports teams, but argued that the UNH hockey program could be a draw for students.
“UNH hockey has been phenomenal over the years (but it’s) waning a little bit and it’s hard to recruit new players and all that,” he said. “And the facility probably needs some major upgrade in the near future anyways. So we have the money. Now’s the time.”
The $8 million in state funds would pay for about 25 percent of the total cost of the project, Sununu said; the rest of the $32 million would come from private funding and the university’s endowment itself.
In 2020, the university spent $4.1 million to fix the hockey rink’s refrigeration system and shrink it from an Olympic size to a smaller size that is in line with modern college standards.
Increasing funding, staffing for Department of Energy
Sununu wants to beef up the state’s newest agency, the Department of Energy. Established in July 2021, the DOE was created by the Legislature to promote and coordinate energy policies and programs having to do with ratepayers, utilities, renewable energy, and long-term energy strategy.
In his budget, Sununu proposes to increase spending and staff at the DOE. He would allow the commissioner to appoint general counsel, and the Office of the Consumer Advocate, which is administratively attached to the DOE, would get an additional staff member while seeing an increase of more than $360,000 in funding. The department’s Office of the Commissioner, Division of Policy and Programs, Division of Enforcement, Division of Regulatory Support, and the Site Evaluation Committee would also see financial boosts.
A new student debt relief program
The governor is pushing for a new program to provide student debt relief for certain professions in the state. And he’s proposing to find the money to do so from an existing fund that currently pays for scholarships.
The governor’s program would set aside debt relief funding for people in New Hampshire who work in the biotechnology industry; as a nurse in the New Hampshire’s State Hospital, Glencliff nursing home, or veterans home; or in any position that requires a medical license to provide care to patients. It would also allow the commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs to designate other professions to be eligible for the debt relief as long as it is consistent with the state’s 10-year economic development plan.
Eligible recipients must have worked in the state for a minimum of three years.
The idea is an expansion of an existing student debt relief program that specifically applies to people working for regenerative manufacturing companies, such as the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) in Manchester. But the governor would take 50 percent of the state’s existing fund for college scholarships to fund it.
Historic housing tax credit
In addition to a proposal to repeal the communications services tax, Sununu’s budget also includes a tax credit to encourage investment in historic buildings for housing.
The tax credit, which would be run by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, would allow businesses to receive a credit on the business profits and business enterprise taxes for 65 percent of the amount they donate toward building preservations – up to $1 million a year.
Eligible projects include “any historical structure that is intended for residential use and is intended to be income-generating.”
Support for offshore wind initiatives
Sununu is directing the Department of Energy to support offshore wind initiatives by adding wind power, and the Office of Offshore Wind Industry Development, to the list of possible avenues for funding from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund.
The state is exploring opportunities to build wind power in the Gulf of Maine, along with Maine and Massachusetts, via a federal taskforce.
$6 million to address PCB contamination
The proposed budget would establish a new $6 million fund for polychlorinated biphenyl contamination (PCB), which is “widespread in New Hampshire and impacts both land and water” as a result of PCB laden products used both as intended and inappropriately dumped between 1929-1977.
More than 100 waterways have become impaired for fish consumption, Sununu’s proposal says, and waterfowl have been found to have high levels of PCBs in their blood and eggs. Under the Department of Environmental Services, a new chapter and corresponding fund would be dedicated to studies, investigations, and remediation of PCB contamination.
Last February, the state reached a $25 million settlement with agrochemical giant Monsanto for the PCB contamination of state waters and other state-owned property.
An expansion of community college dual enrollment
Since 2017, New Hampshire high school juniors and seniors have had the opportunity to earn college credit by taking community college classes while still enrolled in high school.
But the program to do so currently limits the instruction to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes. Sununu’s budget proposes expanding that ability to all courses “that are fundamental and necessary for success in postsecondary education, career path opportunities, and to meet New Hampshire’s emerging workforce needs.”
The governor’s budget would also devote an additional $2 million a year to the state’s community college system to help accommodate more of those classes.
A fund for the Bridges House
Sununu is advocating to create a state fund that could accept outside donations to help preserve the Bridges House, New Hampshire’s official governor’s residence in Concord.
The governor is proposing the creation of a nonlapsing special account fund within the state treasury that can be filled with “public funds, gifts, grants or donations or any other source of funds.” The money could be spent toward care, maintenance, repair, and additions to the Bridges House, or any other purpose deemed necessary by the advisory board that oversees the house.
The governor’s budget does not set aside any state money to fill the proposed fund.
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