CONCORD (AP) — House lawmakers on Wednesday approved a $13.5 billion budget package that Republicans portrayed as responsible “belt tightening” during a pandemic and Democrats criticized as harmful to those who’ve struggled most over the last year.
The two-year proposal that now goes to the Senate includes $5.4 billion in state general funds and education trust fund money, which is 1.4% less than allocated in the current budget.
Democrats objected to the elimination of 226 jobs in the Department of Health and Human Services and a $50 million cut to that agency’s funding. Rep. Sharon Nordgren, D-Hanover, said the cut could result in the loss of federal money.
“If we lose federal funds, do we cut services to the elderly? Do we cut services to children? Do we cut services to the poor?” she said. “Do we reduce public health services?”
Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester, pressed for more funding for schools.
“When our New Hampshire citizens can least afford it, property taxes will have to fill those gaps,” she said. “The pandemic has impacted those with the fewest resources most severely and the next state budget could help to build an equitable, inclusive and sustainable recovery.”
But Republicans countered that their proposal would aid in the recovery via tax cuts for businesses that struggled during the pandemic and that the 17% increase in the Health and Human Services budget in the last two years was unsustainable.
“Families across New Hampshire have had to tighten their belts over the last year during the pandemic, and state government must be able to do the same,” said Rep. Jason Osborne, R-Auburn.
The main spending bill passed 205-178, while the companion bill that contains the necessary policy language for enacting it was approved 200-181. The package includes several provisions that also are being pursued as bills separate from the budget, including limiting the governor’s power to renew a state of emergency and a prohibition on teaching about systemic racisms and sexism in public schools.
The latter provision echoes an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump in November that was rescinded by President Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
Rep. Sallie Fellows, D-Holderness, said the state needs more educational dialogue about racism, not less, and that banning such discussions protects racism. But Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Windham, said teachers shouldn’t be able to teach children that white people should feel inherently guilty or inferior just because of the color of their skin, or that things such as hard work are racist.
Democrats also unsuccessfully fought to remove another provision modeled after a Trump-administration requiring health clinics to maintain a physical and financial separation between abortion and other services to receive state funding.
Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.