The Bulletin Board

Dems oppose budget headed to the House. Will that risk state pay raises?

By: - March 29, 2023 4:28 pm

Michael Kane, legislative budget assistant, briefed House Finance Committee members on the state budget Wednesday. They passed it, 14-11. (Ethan DeWitt | New Hampshire Bulletin)

This story was updated on March 29, 2023 at 8 p.m. to correct the name of the Democratic House member who voted for the budget. 

A 10 percent pay raise for the state’s 10,000-plus workers cleared an early hurdle Wednesday. The House Finance Committee voted, 14-11, for a budget that includes $100 million for a 10 percent pay raise in July and a 2 percent raise the following July. Gov. Chris Sununu first proposed the increase in his budget in February.

The budget heads next to the full House, where it could face a challenge from Democrats, who cited several concerns, including what they say are insufficient Medicaid rate increases and significant changes to education funding. From there, it will go to the Senate.

Rep. Peter Leishman, of Peterborough, was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans for the budget.

Rep. Mary Heath, a Manchester Democrat and House Finance Committee member, voiced her concerns at Wednesday’s meeting, citing increased spending for school vouchers and decreased support for school building aid. She said those concerns outweighed her support for other items in the budget, including the pay raises for state employees.

“There are lots of good things in this budget. The raises for our state workers are critical,” Heath said. “And it is intensely painful for me not to step forward and vote for that.”

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, another Democrat on the committee, said she hoped the parties could continue negotiating before the budget goes to House members.

The House’s near-even party divide makes it especially difficult this year to gauge the budget’s chances once it reaches the floor. Last week, a significant abortion bill failed in a 192-192 vote, while others passed by just a handful of votes, with Republicans crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats.

The House must pass a budget by April 6. 

Rep. Joe Sweeney, a Salem Republican on the committee, gave a preview of how his party will likely sell the budget to fellow House members.

“There’s always going to be part of a budget we don’t like. That is just the basic bare-minimum fact of reality,” Sweeney said. “What we’ve been hearing is we aren’t spending enough. We are spending roughly a billion over the last biennium without increasing taxes, without increasing fees. We should be proud of that. It is a strong bipartisan budget today that delivers for the people of New Hampshire.”

In a statement following the vote, Rich Gulla, president of the State Employees Association, said the raise is desperately needed as the state faces a serious workforce shortage 

“Wages for state employees are behind by 14 percent,” he said. He said a 12 percent increase over the next two years is a modest adjustment given the inflation rate. “It’s crucial when we look at the overall picture,” he said.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.