‘We made history’: Lawmakers send Sununu a budget nearly all support
In what’s being called a historic moment, lawmakers have passed a $15.2 billion state budget and a policy bill with priorities of both parties without the often divisive, last-minute negotiations seen most years.
“It would be fair to say we haven’t seen this type of bipartisan, bicameral cooperation on the budget in two decades,” said Anna Brown, director of research and analysis at Citizens Count.
The Senate’s near unanimous approval of the legislation Wednesday followed by passage in the House Thursday sends the budget and trailer bill to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. His office did not respond when asked if he would sign the bills. But Sununu issued a statement after the votes congratulating lawmakers, suggesting he will.
The budget bill passed the House on a voice vote. The policy bill passed 326-53, with 33 Republicans, 19 Democrats, and one independent voting against it.
“I believe we kind of just made history,” House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Londonderry Republican, said following the votes. “This chamber deserves some congratulations.”
If Sununu signs the bills, state employees and people with disabilities who rely on services to live at home would be among the first affected.
The budget would give the state’s more than 10,000 workers a 10 percent pay raise in July with an additional 2 percent the following year. It would also increase Medicaid payments to health and in-home care providers by $134 million, with a federal match bringing that to at least $268 million.
Amy Moore, director of in-home care at Ascentria Care Alliance, told the Bulletin in March that without significantly higher Medicaid rates, her agency would leave the Medicaid-funded Choices for Independence program next month that allows nursing home candidates to live at home instead.
“We are teetering on the edge,” Moore said in March. Ascentria has nearly 400 clients in that program.
Democrats strongly objected to Sununu’s $1.4 million program to enhance patrols of the Canadian border. The House didn’t include it in its budget in April; the Senate reinstated it Wednesday. The budget does not have programs they wanted to make it easier for lower-income students to get free or reduced-price school meals.
Meanwhile, Republicans, including Sununu and House Majority Leader Jason Osborne, an Auburn Republican, lost their fight to repeal the state Communications Tax, which brings in about $30 million a year. That failed in the House, never reaching the Senate.
If he signs it, Sununu will give up one of his key proposals: eliminating 34 professional licenses, such as those for foresters, licensed nursing assistants, radiologists, and court reporters. That also died in the House.
One issue may have cost the budget’s backers some House votes Thursday.
The House had included $100 million in its budget to remedy a glitch that has cost approximately 1,860 first responders, including police and firefighters, millions in retirement pay.
Citing cost concerns, the Senate Finance Committee recommended removing that funding from the budget. Last-minute negotiations between party leaders in the Senate failed to produce a compromise in time for Thursday’s House vote.
Senate President Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said he believes ongoing negotiations over the summer will close the divide.
“I think we can get to yes,” he said from the Senate floor. “I am committed to doing everything that I can to get to yes on this important issue.”