CONCORD, N.H — It took five hours to complete, but the Republican-dominated New Hampshire House of Representatives has achieved its most important milestone of 2011, passing an austere state budget that deeply cuts state spending and fails to raise any taxes.
House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said paring more than $700 million in spending compared to the current budget came with some pain but keeps the GOP promise to voters.
“Of course, no one is happy. We must tell someone who got state assistance before that we can’t afford it any more, but it simply must be done,” Bettencourt said in concluding remarks.
But House Deputy Democratic Leader Mary Jane Wallner of Concord disagreed.
“If this budget passes, it will be noted as a black stain on New Hampshire’s history,” Wallner said. “It will be remembered as the time when we turned our backs on our citizens when they needed us the most. If this devastating budget passes, it will kill the soul of New Hampshire.”
The House approved the $10.15 billion budget bill (HB 1), 243-124, after voting down more than a dozen amendments offered by House Democrats to restore spending. Only 26 Republicans voted against it.
On Wednesday night, the House had passed the so-called trailer bill (HB 2) that made hundreds of changes in state law needed to carry out the budget blueprint.
The only House Republican from the Nashua region to break ranks and oppose the budget bill (HB 1) was Hollis Rep. Carolyn Gargasz.
Manchester State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, one of 26 House Republicans to oppose the budget, said his primary dispute was the party’s decision to attach a bill move to take away collective bargaining protections for public sector workers once their contracts expire.
The budget goes to the state Senate. Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said the size of the Senate’s plan is likely to be similar but with different spending priorities. He predicted the Senate plan will also not raise any taxes.
“I think some of the biggest differences will be what we choose to reform. I think when all is said and done the numbers will be fairly close, I suspect,” Bragdon said.
Gov. John Lynch and Bragdon did agree on one thing. They oppose the change in collective bargaining, which House advocates claim is needed to convince the state workers union to accept $50 million in health care concessions in the next contract.
“I have not talked to a single state senator who would vote for that provision in it,” Bragdon said.
Hollis Republican Sen. Jim Luther said later he agreed with Bragdon’s view that the change in collective bargaining didn’t belong in the state budget.
Lynch sharply criticized the budget plan, which outdid his own cuts by $300 million.
Lynch said it will lead to double-digit tuition hikes, laying off too many state troopers, and bring an end to needed services for seniors and the disabled.
“I will continue working with the Senate on a budget that balances our fiscal realities with the real needs of the people of New Hampshire,” Lynch said.
Among the attempts to restore spending was one by Nashua Democratic State Rep. David Campbell, who tried to add $2 million more in spending for road repaving. Thanks to federal stimulus money, the state paved 750 miles in 2009. This budget would pay to pave only 151 miles.
“Do the math on that. It’s not a pretty picture for our infrastructure that our citizens rely upon,” Campbell said.
House Finance Committee Chairman Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, responded with the same answer given to every request for more spending: that it would “dismantle” another part of the budget. The House agreed, killing Campbell’s proposal, 234-105.
The House also reaffirmed its revenue forecast despite the claim of ex-House Ways and Means Chairwoman Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, that it was not optimistic enough. House Democrats could not convince the House to bump up their revenue numbers by $170 million.
Amherst Republican Rep. Stephen Stepanek said all economic indicators are that the state’s economic recovery will be steady but very slow.
“I ask you to stop looking to the sky, stop supporting unrealistic revenue estimates,” said Stepanek, the new chairman of the House tax bill writing committee.
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.