The New Hampshire House of Representatives today approved its version of the state’s budget for the upcoming FY 2016-2017 biennium, but not before adopting a few last minute changes to the tax and spending plan recommended by the Finance Committee. In particular, the House passed amendments that would:
- undo a portion of proposed reductions in local education aid, but only by shifting funds away from a number of other critical priorities. More specifically, the amendment, sponsored by Representatives Stephen Stepanek, Neal Kurk, Carol McGuire, and Rick Ladd would reduce the so-called “stabilization” grants local school districts now receive by 10 percent, beginning in FY 2017. Thus, the amendment replaces provisions of the Finance Committee’s plan that would have reduced such grants by as much as 40 percent in some communities. To produce the additional $35 million in funds required to shrink the size of cuts to stabilization grants, the amendment also would:
- lower General Fund support for the Community College System of New Hampshire by $2.5 million during the biennium;
- reduce the so-called “catastrophic” aid local school districts receive for costs associated with serving children with greater needs by $7.5 million in FY17;
- cut $4 million from the Department of Corrections over the course of FY16-17;
- require the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate seven nursing positions at New Hampshire Hospital, thus yielding another $2 million in General Funds over the biennium;
- divert another $1.3 million from the Renewable Energy Fund to the General Fund (over and above the $50.8 million withdrawal found in the underlying bill);
- transfer the entire remaining balance — approximately $9.9 million — of the Rainy Day Fund to the General Fund at the close of the biennium.
- permit the institution of Keno games in New Hampshire. Governor Hassan had included similar provisions in the version of the budget she introduced in February, but such provisions were excluded from the plan backed by the House Finance Committee.
- delete sections of the Finance Committee’s recommendations that would have eliminated probable cause hearings by having felony charges filed directly with the superior court.
In short, while changes may have been made to the budget, what hasn’t changed is its fundamental failure to recognize the source of the state’s fiscal problems — its revenue system — and to respond in kind with reasonable, sustainable reforms that would generate additional revenues. As a result, the budget approved by the House would curtail investments in education and infrastructure, imperil public services for vulnerable Granite Staters, and leave sizable gaps for future policymakers to fill.