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May 24, 2013

N.H. lawmakers brace for budget battle

After House kills casino, Senate pushes back

Disagreement between the New Hampshire House and Senate over how to pay for state services is setting up contentious budget deliberations and likely will yield painful program cuts next month, legislators and Statehouse watchers agree.

The Democratic-controlled House this week voted to kill a casino plan aimed both at bringing in new dollars and protecting lottery and hospitality tax revenues from emerging gaming competition with Massachusetts.

The Republican-controlled Senate yesterday rejected House-passed gas tax increase to pay for roads and bridges, as well as a cigarette tax increase.

The Senate also is rejecting a plan to accept $2.5 billion in federal dollars to expand Medicaid due to concerns about long-term costs.

The consequences of those decisions already are producing political conflict and fears over what will become of highway funding, social services and higher education.

“I don’t think anybody will be happy,” Granite State Taxpayers chairman Jim Adams said. “The finger pointing will start and they will make as many political points as they can. It will be a painful 18 months.”

Lawmakers acknowledged as much yesterday.

“There are going to be severe cuts in Health and Human Services,” House Finance Committee member Bob Elliott, R-Salem, predicted.

HHS makes up nearly 40 percent of the state budget, he said.

“The Senate already has made clear they are going to make severe cuts because there is not enough revenue,” Elliott said.

Rep. Charles McMahon, a member of the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, agreed with Elliott that program cuts are on the way.

“The state does not have the revenue growth to support the needs of its citizens,” McMahon said.

The state will not be able to live up to all it has promised those in need, he said.

“The prioritization is the debate now,” McMahon said. “This is no longer about the money.”

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