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Debate continues after Senate approves $13 billion budget

CONCORD – One frustrated Republican member of the New Hampshire Senate said the $13 billion state budget Democrats passed during a Friday party-line vote will make it more expensive for Granite Staters to cool off in the summer.

“Any budget that creates an income tax, raises business taxes, increases motor vehicle fees and creates a tax on swimming pools is irresponsible with taxpayers’ money,” Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, said after the vote.

“Their $150 million property tax increase was not enough, so they created an income tax to pay for their bloated budget and still could not close their $76 million structural deficit,” Reagan added.

Very early Friday, senators voted 14-9 (with one Republican member absent) to approve a two-year $13 billion state budget. Democrats praised their work as responsible and responsive to pressing problems.

“Working together, we’ve passed a balanced budget that invests in mental health funding, addresses the opioid epidemic, protects the safety and well-being of children, prioritizes public education, supports law enforcement, and delivers much-needed meaningful property tax relief to New Hampshire cities and towns,” Senate President Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said. “I am grateful for the work of every legislator and advocate who has helped to build the budget we have today and look forward to continuing to collaborate with my colleagues in the House and (Gov. Chris Sununu) to guarantee that the final state budget provides every Granite Stater with the opportunity to build a good life.”

Sununu on Friday did not seem ready to embrace the Democrats’ budget,

however.

“I continue to have concerns with the Senate’s budget. Namely, the income tax, the increase to business taxes, and the $76 million structural deficit,” Sununu said. “I am hopeful the House and Senate can come together in a Committee of Conference to put forward a viable, balanced budget that does not raise taxes.”

During the Senate budget debate, Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, ticked off a list of concerns both sides have agreed must be addressed, such as the opioid crisis, child protective services and public safety.

“Bang! We’re on it!” he thundered after listing each issue.

“We have built a document that’s sustainable, and a document that takes care of the people of the state of New Hampshire,” D’Allesandro said. “This budget reflects your

values.”

Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua, emphasized the proposal’s investments in women’s health care, services to help struggling parents and programs that allow the elderly and people with disabilities live independently.

“If our first priority is funding programs to allow people to live decently and with dignity, this committee amendment does that,” she said.

But a provision Rosenwald championed about Medicaid expansion drew vehement objection from Republicans. The budget would allow state funds to be used, if necessary, to partially pay for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Democrats argued doing so is necessary to protect the health care of roughly 50,000 people, while Republicans argued it violates the original bipartisan agreement to extend coverage to more low-income adults.

“We built a document, we did it in good faith, and we said we weren’t going to use general funds,” Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said.

He angrily pushed back against the notion that Republicans were putting the program in jeopardy.

“To suggest that this senator doesn’t give a damn is absolutely wrong. What I give a damn about is building an honest budget that doesn’t change the deal we had and explains to the public exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

The Democrats’ plan also would do away with business tax cuts that were scheduled to take place and includes a paid family medical program funded via payroll

deductions.

“This is a balanced budget with no new taxes, no new fees, that finally addresses the many crises facing our families, our communities, and our state,” Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, said after the vote. “From the crisis of emergency room boarding of mental health patients, to the crisis of domestic violence against children and insufficient child protection, to the greatest increase in funding for public schools since Governor Jeanne Shaheen, this budget meets those challenges and helps to expand economic opportunity for everyone, not simply the entitled elite.”

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, disagrees.

“Senate Democrats have made promises they can’t keep, underfunded mental health care in New Hampshire, raised taxes and raided funds dedicated to solving water contamination issues. We cannot continue to downshift costs to municipalities which result in further property tax increases beyond the $150 million of property tax increases already passed by Senate Democrats.”

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