CONCORD — The New Hampshire Legislature passed a $10.7 billion bipartisan budget yesterday that eases the waiting time for services to the disabled and mentally ill, but puts off a decision on whether to expand Medicaid to 58,000 poor adults.
The Senate voted unanimously to pass the budget, followed by the House passing each bill in the two-bill package by more than 300 votes.
"The large, bipartisan support for the priorities in this budget — caring for our most vulnerable, public safety, education and preserving our natural resources — demonstrates that our shared values as Granite Staters are far more significant than our differences," Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement.
The package creates a nine-member commission to study expanding Medicaid and issue a report Oct. 15. Hassan has said a special legislative session may be needed in the fall to authorize expanding Medicaid under the new federal health care law.
Republicans praised the budget for containing no new tax increases, though it counts on money from a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax automatically due to take effect this summer. Democrats praised it for providing more aid to colleges and college scholarships and increasing funding for social services.
Sen. David Pierce, D-Etna, said the bipartisan budget contained many good things, but warned that it fails to deal with deteriorating highways, forces $10 million in cuts to state employees and $7 million in cuts at the Department of Health and Human Services and does not guarantee Medicaid expansion. He called on his colleagues to work next year to address the issues.
"We will undo much of the good if we go loudly (with praise of spending) with one hand and take away silently with the other," he said.
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said it will be up to Hassan to manage the spending in the budget.