The main event occurring in Concord recently was the adoption of the operating and capital budgets in the House. The operating budget (the day-to-day operations of the State), HB 1 and HB 2, passed on a mostly partisan basis , 194 to 172 and 193 to 166.
The revenues used in this budget did not include the Governor's $80 million fee for a casino. The finance committee was forced to cut slightly less than $60 million from the Governor's budget to make up for it. The casino bill coming from the Senate, SB 152, will be under scrutiny by members of the House Ways and Means and Finance committees starting on Tuesday, April 16 at public hearings in Representatives Hall at the State House.
Some highlights of the operating budget (with emphasis on town aid):
- $5 million was added to help offset county costs. Unfortunately, we were unable to completely reverse the last two years of downshifting, and Merrimack County will have to come up with approximately $1 million. We hope that with revenues coming in stronger than expected recently, we will be able to completely arrest the downshifting and finally reverse it. We do have to stay within expected revenues and present a balanced budget, which this is.
- $5 million increase in the distribution of the Meals and Room Tax revenues to the towns. This does reverse the downshifting.
- Another $5 million to fully fund drinking water, waste water, and landfill projects for 60 towns across the state.
- HB 617, the road toll/gas tax, was reduced to 12 cents over three years and would bring a total of $183 million in direct block grants to the towns over 10 years for road and bridge repairs. Concerns over the raiding of dedicated funds for other purposes were alleviated by an amendment which strictly prohibited such action.
- In general, community colleges were fully funded. The University system got $47 million more than last year, LCHIP got $5.3 million, the Department of Safety got nine additional state troopers.
The capital budget (maintenance and construction) was the responsibility of my committee, Public Works and Highways. The State Treasurer sets the available amount to be used ($125 million), funded by the bonding of general and highway funds. We came in at $124 million. The members voted 19 to 0 (including minority leader Chandler) to accept the final product, and the House passed our budget in a bipartisan fashion by a vote of 285 to 68.
Some highlights of the capital budget:
- $38 million for a female state prison. Prompted by a lawsuit and the lack of adequate facilities , we decided that a location behind the Concord male prison, which would allow for the sharing of trained staff, made the most sense.
- The renovation of two CTE centers, one in Whitefield and one in Salem.
- The construction and renovation of five liquor stores. No one will be surprised to know that these investments pay for themselves within three years.
- The funding of the E-Court initiative, as well as video conferencing for the Judicial branch, to facilitate access to the court system.
- For $2.5 million of state funds, we were able to get approximately $10 million in matching federal funds for the National Guard.
Of course, this report cannot do justice to the scope of the state operational and capital budgets. The Senate side is in the process of weighing in with its priorities, which will surely alter the whole picture in yet unforeseen ways. But so far, the House has managed to provide a budget which is balanced and based on realistic revenues. I hope these revenues will increase as the economy rebounds.
My focus remains on halting and reversing the downshifting to the towns and providing relief to our school budgets through increased state aid. I have more information available and will be happy to share it.
My next constituent meeting will be in Andover on Monday, May 13, at 7 PM in the Town Hall. I can be reached at 735-5440 or at MarioRatzki@nullgmail.com.