Down in Concord

“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” — Calvin Coolidge

Down in Concord, the Senate Finance Committee has made its recommendation about the State budget. The full Senate no doubt will approve it next Thursday, June 6. Their version of the budget calls for spending $10.7 billion. The Governor initially proposed $11.1 billion, which the House reduced to $11 billion. The budget for the current two years is about $10 billion, so the new budget will be an increase of about 7%, perhaps more.

A piece of the budget that has received little press is downshifting of Medicaid costs to the county budgets. In Sullivan county, and I think in most counties, the single biggest expense is not the nursing home, not the jail, it is paying for Medicaid. Last I looked at the Sullivan county budget, we had to write a $4.5 million check to the state to pay for Medicaid. Our next largest expense was a net cost of $3 million for the county nursing home. The House-passed budget downshifts an additional $8 million Medicaid expense to the counties. The Senate budget still downshifts but not as badly – about $3.5 million.

One of the main reasons for the difference between House and Senate spending is a difference in revenue estimates. E.g., the House estimates $107 million more revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax than the Senate estimates. Given that the House revenue estimators have consistently overestimated revenue for more than four years, I trust the Senate estimates more than the House estimates.

Opponents of the Senate budget quickly demonstrated a lack of understanding of simple arithmetic or the English language. Gov. Hassan and other Democrat leaders complained about “devastating cuts” to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Try this quiz: Which is higher, $1296 or $1319? The Senate budget increases spending on HHS from the House-passed $1296 million to $1319 million. Is higher spending a “cut”? Is it “devastating”?

For Developmental Services, the Senate proposes spending the exact same amount as the Governor and as the House. All three budgets increase spending over the current budget by about $38 million, or about a 15% increase. What is Hassan’s definition of “devastating”? As the old saying puts it, “She is entitled to her own opinion but not to her own facts.”

In terms of the legislative process, the House has not officially received the Senate amendment to the budget. You and I have heard about it, but the full Senate has not yet voted on it and the House has not received written notification about it. In the meantime the House continues with routine business. Wednesday, June 5, it will vote on the last of its Senate bills. If it doesn’t finish them Wednesday, it will meet the next day because its deadline for all Senate bills is June 6. This week and for the next few weeks, committees will meet to work on retained bills. (If you have been reading my columns, you know all about retained bills.)

On Thursday, June 6, the Senate will meet to vote on the last of its House bills, including the Finance Committee’s recommendations on the budget bills. When the Senate has voted on the proposed budget, it will send an official message to the House declaring that it “has passed House Bill 2 with an amendment and requests the House concurrence thereon.”

When it meets on June 12, the House will officially receive the Senate message. It then has three options: 1) It can Concur with the Senate amendment, thereby sending the Senate budget to the Governor for signature. It won’t do that. 2) It can Non-concur, which would have the effect of killing the bill, leaving the state without a budget. It won’t do that. 3) What the House will do is Non-concur and request a committee of conference.

The Senate, meeting on June 13, will receive the House request for a conference and will “Accede” to that request. On occasion, and only on relatively unimportant bills, the Senate might refuse a request for conference. It won’t refuse a conference on a budget bill. So finally, more than two weeks after everybody knows what is in the Senate budget, finally the committee of conference will meet to discuss an agreement on the budget. Their deadline is just seven days later, June 20, so I expect they will be rather busy in those seven days.

The House and Senate conferees must reach a unanimous agreement on the compromise budget. On occasion the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate will replace a conferee with someone more willing to accept a compromise. Once a compromise has been reached, the bill will go to the House for a vote on June 26, and to the Senate for a vote on June 27. The votes will be up or down, no amendments will be allowed.

In the unlikely event the two sides cannot reach an agreement, they will vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running past the June 30 deadline. That CR would be based on the current budget, which is less than either the House or the Senate budget, so they and the Governor behind the scenes have some motivation to pass a normal budget.

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