CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A bill that started out as a modest proposal to create a state demographer job and ended up becoming an omnibus measure to burn through a surplus is on its way to the governor’s desk.
Both the House and Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to spend about $102 million produced by unexpectedly high business tax revenue this year. The total includes $12.7 million for state employee pay raises, $30.4 million for bridge repairs, $10 million for the state’s rainy day fund and $44 million to settle a dispute with hospitals over uncompensated care. It also includes funding for programs to help health care workers repay student loans, people who need affordable housing after leaving mental health and addiction treatment facilities and nonprofits that teach businesses how to support workers in recovery.
The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote. The House approved it 242-92 over the objection of opponents who argued lawmakers should return for a special session to consider each item individually instead of lumped together. Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell, of Dunbarton, urged his colleagues to be better than their peers in Congress.
“If you’re sick of the process of D.C. coupling everything into one bill and then voting on it, the sausage making we see down there that we don’t like and have come to despise, I would ask that you oppose this bill,” he said. “We don’t have to do this here and now. We can make this a better process.”
Supporters argued that lawmakers should reject in an opportunity to invest in infrastructure, improve the state’s financial security, provide budget certainty in regards to the hospital payments and fulfill the provisions of the contract negotiated with state workers.
“Do you think it’s a good idea for us to say, ‘Gee, state employees, you are wonderful but we’re not going to give you a raise effective in July?” said Rep. Karen Umberger, R-Kearsarge. “I think that is absolutely awful.”