New Hampshire budget passes after rare bipartisan, bicameral cooperation

CONCORD, N.H. — For the first time in decades, New Hampshire lawmakers have sent the governor a two-year budget without having House and Senate negotiators craft a compromise between the two chambers.

The House on Thursday quickly concurred with the $15.2 billion plan approved by the Senate a day earlier and sent it to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who plans to sign it. It was a remarkable display of bipartisan and bicameral cooperation during what often is a contentious process.

“We just passed a bipartisan budget with probably the highest numbers we’ve ever seen,” House Speaker Sherm Packard said. “This chamber deserves some congratulations.”

Typically, the House passes a budget to the Senate, which makes changes and sends it back. The House usually rejects it, and the two sides appoint a committee of conference to reconcile the two versions.

The last time the Legislature bypassed the conference committee process was 1999, when the House rejected a budget put forth by the Republican speaker and conservative leaders and instead passed a plan drafted by senators. The Senate then quickly concurred and sent it to Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who signed it without fanfare. In contrast, Sununu reacted to Thursday’s vote by tweeting a video of a man dancing to the 1978 disco hit “Le Freak.”

“What’s it feel like when a bipartisan budget with huge wins for NH passes on its first try in the legislature? A lot like this!” he wrote.

The 1999 legislative session was marked by bitterness, overshadowed by a state Supreme Court decision ordering the state to find a fairer way to pay for public schools. It took up so much time, lawmakers postponed action on nearly 200 bills.

This year, lawmakers were keenly aware that cooperation was the best path forward, particularly in the 400-member House, where Republicans hold such a slim majority that a given day’s attendance often has determined which party prevailed.

Lawmakers will continue working for priorities not included in the budget but have learned a valuable lesson, said Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat.

“Legislation we pass is much stronger when we work together, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate,” she said. “This budget is an example of policymakers putting forth their best efforts.”

The final budget allocates about $750 million less than what the House approved when it passed a plan jointly sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Jason Osborne and Democratic Minority Leader Matt Wilhelm. Lawmakers approved the new version Thursday on a vote of 351-25 and the companion policy bill on a vote of 326-53.

“We can nitpick this for hours, but let’s face it, the Senate based their budget based on the hard work of the House, and the majority of what is in the Senate budget is what we can all be supportive of,” said Rep. Laurie Sanborn, a Republican from Bedford. “Something that both parties can promote as a win for the state of New Hampshire.”

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Source: WT