Without remote access, many people will not be able to participate in the legislative process. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)
After hours of negotiations during sessions throughout the week, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have agreed on House Bill 2 – the budget policy trailer bill – just an hour before the deadline for its completion. Both chambers will vote on the legislation next week before it makes its way to the governor’s desk.
Negotiators hammered out last-minute changes to the bill, with Republican leadership chalking it up as a win for their party. Meanwhile, key Democrats have urged the full Legislature not to support the bill in its current form when it comes up for a vote next Thursday.
“The budget we passed today reflects the strong Republican agenda we put forward last January,” said Senate President Chuck Morse, in a written statement released after the negotiations concluded.
HB 1, the $13.5 billion, two-year spending plan, makes appropriations for the fiscal years ending on June 30, 2022, and June 30, 2023, but HB 2 was packed with policy measures that could have broader implications.
Republican leadership celebrated the “fiscally conservative” bill, but Democrats slammed tax cuts that were included for big businesses.
“Property taxes will jump as a result,” said Mary Jane Wallner, a Democrat and former chairwoman of the House Finance Committee.
“The most concerning part of this budget is the unprecedented hijacking of the process to force right-wing ideology on the people of New Hampshire,” she said.
The final version of the policy bill passed on Thursday included hotly debated language limiting how teachers and state employees can discuss racism and oppression. It also requires state-run inspections of family planning centers to ensure that no public funding is used toward abortions.
The bill would also create a new Department of Energy, consolidating the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Strategic Initiatives. And it allocates $15.6 million in state aid grants for clean water.
One hundred million dollars is earmarked to address substance abuse, as well as $8 million that would go toward community mental health programs.
Twenty-five million dollars is allocated to the Affordable Housing Fund.
Gov. Chris Sununu called it a “really good budget” during his final weekly press briefing on Thursday. “There’s a lot of things in there I don’t love,” he said. “That’s the process.”
Another policy that Sununu has championed, paid family leave, remained intact in the budget. Sununu’s version of the program is voluntary, allowing private employers to opt-in to participate; a Democratic version proposed in past years would have been universal and mandatory.
The budget reduces the Meals and Rooms Tax, in addition to allocating 30 percent of revenues to a trust fund that would be distributed to cities and towns.
Greg Moore, the state director of Americans for Prosperity, praised lawmakers for passing the “pro-growth” budget.
“This budget brings fiscal responsibility back to New Hampshire and builds on our state’s strengths of prioritizing low taxes, limited government, and greater opportunity,” Moore said in a written statement.
“Doubling down on pro-growth policies that helped spur our current economic boom before the pandemic will cement our state as the economic envy of the Northeast for years to come,” he said.
Among the more contentious pieces of the compromise budget bill is a provision putting limits on the governor’s emergency powers. With an hour left to go until the deadline, House and Senate negotiators passed a provision that would allow the Legislature to terminate a state of emergency declared by the governor at any time – as long as a majority of both chambers voted yes.
The compromise provision also requires the governor to give a written or oral address to the Legislature after 90 days of an emergency order, and mandates that the Legislature take a vote every 90 days on whether to approve the continuation of the order.
Speaking Thursday, Sununu said he didn’t love every aspect of the new check on his authority. But he said he could support it.
“The Legislature has that checks-and-balances power to basically undo the state of emergency,” Sununu said of the budget language.
“We’ve been working with them on that quite a bit. I didn’t like a lot of the concepts, but again, we worked it out, we understood some of those balances and tried to find real solutions. And I think the Legislature has done a very good job.”
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