By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan is getting early support from Southern New Hampshire lawmakers to use $76 million in budget surplus to help the needy and boost emergency fiscal reserves.
Lawmakers said they agree with Hassan those are priorities, though they want more specifics from the governor.
“Those two areas are extremely important,” said Rep. Debra DeSimone, R-Atkinson.
“A combination deal is probably best,” said Rep. Mary Allen, R-Newton.
In announcing the surplus, Hassan, a Democrat, said uncertainty over revenues led to compromising on budget cuts no one wanted.
“With this surplus, and strong revenues for this year, my hope is we can work in that same cooperative spirit to use a portion of the surplus to begin rebuilding our state’s Rainy Day Fund,” Hassan said.
But the governor also said she wants to put money back into the Department of Health and Human Services for programs ranging from child care to help for people with disabilities.
Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, said he agreed with Hassan and would split the surplus so half goes to the Rainy Day Fund and half to DHHS.
“I’d be in favor of that,” Elliott said. “That would be the fair thing to do.”
He will look to his constituents and he said he expects they will want to use some of the money to help the needy.
Rep. Betsy Burtis, D-Derry, said she fully supports the governor’s plan to put money in the Rainy Day Fund and into DHHS.
The reserve fund had been raided for all sorts of reasons, she said.
DHHS was especially hard hit in the last budget cycle, Burtis said.
“I would be happy to see more money go there,” she said.
Rep. Kevin St. James, R-Kingston, said at this point he agrees with the governor.
“I’d say we don’t want to spend it frivolously,” St. James said.
He would restore some funding for social services, but said he would put as much as 75 percent of the surplus into the Rainy Day Fund.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, supports the governor in rebuilding the Rainy Day Fund.
“She should be doing that,” Baldasaro said. “The Rainy Day Fund puts us in better position for bonding, interest rates and everything else.”
But Baldasaro is reluctant to put more into DHHS.
He maintains the agency still needs to stop welfare and Medicaid fraud.
“When they get a handle on that, they will have more money,” Baldasaro said.
He isn’t opposed to building the surplus.
“Let the budget work,” he said. “I wish there was a way we could give a break on the statewide property tax and give money back to the people. Give the people a break.”
Rep. John O’Connor, R-Derry, said he definitely agrees with Hassan about building up the Rainy Day Fund and wants to look at her numbers for social service programs.
“I want to see where she wants to divide it,” O’Connor said.
There are programs such as Children in Need of Services, which helps children caught up in the courts, that could use a boost, O’Connor said.
He also pointed to problems with the state’s roads and bridges.
“There are needs out there,” O’Connor said.
Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, said he supports building the Rainy Day Fund.
“I’d like to see at least $10 million to $20 million, or more, if we can afford it,” Azarian said.
But social services also matter, he said.
“We still need to fund the underprivileged, those in need,” Azarian said.
He also said he would like to fund more highway and bridge work.
Allen acknowledged there is a need to put more money in social services, but also said there are programs that weren’t fully funded in the budget.
She said the House Finance Committee on which she serves will be talking about some of those this week.
She expects more discussion about the surplus and what happens next.
“I want to wait and see what the real story is,” she said.