In a surprising display of cooperation and compromise, the narrowly divided New Hampshire House approved a two-year state budget Thursday, sending the $15.9 billion plan on to the Senate.
The total, which includes federal funds, would be more than 18% higher than the current budget. Republican Rep. Ken Weyler, chair of the House Finance Committee, said the increase reflects the high rate of inflation and that when federal money is taken into account, the actual increase is closer to 7 percent.
‘It’s more than I’d like to see as an increase. But the same thing happens when I fill up my gas tank or go to the grocery store,’ he said. ‘We have to face reality and adjust to it.’
Weyler also emphasized another key reality: With Republicans holding a miniscule 201-196 majority, bipartisanship was the smoothest path forward. Though party leaders were bickering over the budget as recently as last week, they ultimately came together with an amendment jointly sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Jason Osborne and Democratic Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm.
Wilhelm, who called Osborne ‘my good friend – no, my great friend’ in his floor remarks, said the proposal makes critical investments in housing, education and health care.
‘It’s also a testament to the fact that when we come together in good faith and we listen to one another, we disagree without being disagreeable and find common ground and compromise where we can, Republicans win, Democrats win, but most importantly Granite Staters win,’ he said.
Attendance for the votes was unusually high Thursday, with just a few lawmakers absent on both sides of the aisle. The Osborne-Wilhelm amendment was adopted on a vote of 326-63, with all 192 Democrats in favor. Republicans were split 134-63.
Compared with the version recommended by the Finance Committee, the proposed budget would spend an additional $40 million to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates, adds $15 million for the state’s affordable housing fund and maintains current eligibility guidelines for the Education Freedom Account program. Republicans had wanted to make higher-earning families eligible for the program, but Osborne said it wasn’t fair to include that in the budget. In exchange, Democrats agreed to go along with a provision that limits the governor’s power during a state of emergency.
The House also passed budget amendments to remove $1.4 million Gov. Chris Sununu had proposed to increase patrols of the Canadian border. State Rep. Alissandra Murray called the ‘Northern Border Alliance’ a ‘massive intrusion on local control.’
‘A program that allows our taxpayer money to pay police to run around unchecked on northern properties, stopping and racial profiling whomever they want is enough to keep families like mine from feeling welcome in this state,’ said Murray, a Democrat from Manchester. ‘This program is built on the wild assumption that northern New Hampshire has an extreme problem with illegal border crossings. Yet despite informal and formal requests, neither the governor nor any state agency has provided any data on unauthorized border entries into New Hampshire.’
The House rejected a budget amendment that would have legalized recreational marijuana, though it later passed a stand-alone bill. Though several marijuana bills have cleared the House in recent years, the Senate has blocked them, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu also has been an opponent. The amendment was offered by Republican Rep. Kevin Verville of Deerfield.
‘If we’re going to spend all these greenbacks today, shouldn’t we send some green back to our constituents?’ he said. ‘Isn’t it high time we put some common-sense cannabis reform laws into place?’