By John Toole
---- — House and Senate conferees have reached a deal on a $10.7 billion, two-year New Hampshire state budget.
The budget restores funding for colleges and universities cut by the last Legislature, puts more state troopers on the road, boosts aid to cities and towns, while supporting economic development, Gov. Maggie Hassan said.
“By restoring investments in priorities such as higher education, mental health, economic development, public safety and more, this bipartisan agreement will keep our state moving forward,” Hassan said.
Negotiators also reached agreement on a separate capital budget that will fund both a new technical school and a new state liquor store in Salem.
“As a whole, the capital budget helps New Hampshire meet the needs of our citizens and our growing economy,” House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said.
The state budget agreement leaves open whether to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid, something a special commission will now review.
The Legislature is expected to act on the budgets next Wednesday.
The conservative Americans for Prosperity group said the budget agreement avoided major tax increases.
“Not passing major tax increases on gas and tobacco will keep more money in the pockets of our citizens, while also ensuring that the state is protecting the New Hampshire Advantage and encouraging cross-border sales,” the group’s state director, Greg Moore, said.
The House wanted to expand Medicaid, but the Senate didn’t want to rush that decision.
Senate President Peter Bragdon earlier this week said it’s a $2.5 billion question and deserves vetting.
“If the House can take the time to hold 28 separate meetings to review the recently defeated gaming bill, then surely the decision regarding whether to accept Medicaid expansion rises to the same level of review, if not more,” Bragdon said.
“We continue to believe that expansion is without a doubt in the best interests of the state,” Speaker Terie Norelli said yesterday.
Rep. Mary Griffin, R-Windham, said she remained disappointed in the budget process.
“I’m disappointed because it is not establishing a casino,” Griffin said. “You have to have money to run the state.”
Rep. Brian Chirichiello, R-Derry, said the budget agreement is good news.
“The alternative would be a stalemate, and I don’t think anybody wants government to shut down,” he said.
Chirichiello was just getting word of the deal and wanted to take a closer look, but he said he was pleased the gas and cigarette tax increases were set aside.
Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee, said the agreement is one fiscal conservatives can support, representing a 6.5 percent increase in total spending.