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New Hampshire Senate passes bipartisan budget back to House

By AP | Jun 8, 2023

Shawn Jones, left, and Ed Friedrich hold signs outside the Senate chamber of the New Hampshire Statehouse in Concord, N.H., on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. The New Hampshire Senate passed a $15.2 billion, two-year state budget with bipartisan support Wednesday, sending the pared-down proposal back to the House for further consideration. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate passed a $15.2 billion, two-year state budget with bipartisan support Wednesday, sending the pared-down proposal back to the House for further consideration.

The Republican-led Senate unanimously and quickly approved the operating budget recommended by its Finance Committee before spending hours debating and rejecting all but two proposed amendments to a companion policy bill. That bill also won unanimous support, except for a provision that would speed up the elimination of the state’s interest and dividends tax, which was approved in a separate 14-9 vote.

“We still have issues we need to resolve and we’re still going to work on those tomorrow, but I think we all know that budgets are about priorities, and it really and truly is about compromise,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, a Republican from Londonderry. “The people are watching to see what we do, and I think maybe they’re happy we can compromise, we can work together for their benefit, we can disagree but we can be agreeable as well.”

The House, where Republicans have an ultra-thin majority, had approved spending roughly $750 million more over the biennium. Though party leaders had bickered over the budget early in the session, they ultimately came together with a proposal jointly sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Jason Osborne and Democratic Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm.

“I was betting against the house even being able to send over a budget, with numbers that close, I didn’t think that was possible,” said Sen. Donna Soucy, a Democrat from Manchester. But the ability of both chambers to compromise bodes well, she said.

“We’re not all happy with everything that happened here, and each of us I’m sure going home will think of that one thing we wish we’d gotten funded,” she said. “But I think sometimes we all have to, for the collective good, come together.”

Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, said the proposal focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable residents while expanding opportunity, and sends $245 million back to cities and towns through rooms and meals tax revenue sharing.

“It prioritizes education, health care and the New Hampshire environment,” he said. “It does these things without increasing taxes and keeps our state’s economy growing.”

Both the House and Senate budgets include pay raises for state employees and increased spending on Medicaid provider payments and public education. In addition to other changes recommended by the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate on Wednesday also adopted amendments Wednesday to increase funding for transportation for students attending classes at regional Career and Technical Education Centers and for the state’s affordable housing fund.

This year’s budget process has been significantly smoother than the past few years. When Democrats controlled both chambers four years ago, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed the budget and forced the state to operate under a temporary spending plan until a compromise was signed into law three months later. And two years ago, divisions within the GOP nearly derail the process. Now, the House will decide whether to accept the Senate version, or more likely, request a committee of conference to negotiate a compromise.