CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The Republican-led New Hampshire Senate approved a $13.5 billion two-year state budget Thursday after rejecting attempts by Democrats to remove proposed business tax cuts, abortion restrictions and a thorny provision about race and education.
The Senate, where Republicans hold a 14-10 majority, voted along party lines on both the spending plan and the accompanying policy bill during a session that lasted more than 11 hours. The bills now must be reconciled with the versions passed by the House last month.
Both the House and Senate voted to lower the business profits tax, business enterprise tax and rooms and meals tax, and would begin to phase out the interest in dividends tax. Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford, said the changes would help small businesses bounce back after the coronavirus pandemic.
“The point of these tax cuts is not to cut taxes just for the sake of it, but to make it easier for New Hampshire businesses to hire and keep employed our fellow Granite Staters, and pay them higher wages,” he said. “For our smallest businesses, this budget makes it easier for them to start and grow.”
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, called the cuts a “reverse Robin Hood” that would help the wealthy.
“We’re coming out of pandemic, we’re coming out of it in better shape than almost every state in the country,” he said. “This is not a time to be reducing taxes. Let the taxes stay where they are.”
The Senate changed a House-passed “divisive concepts” provision that echoes an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump that was rescinded by President Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, insisted the revised language was in keeping with efforts to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and would not prohibit discussions about history or current events.
“This is consistent with making sure that we do not train, do not instruct, do not teach — especially our kids — that they’re somehow inferior or superior, that they’re inherently racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of the characteristics they’re born with,” he said. “We make it very clear that there is no prohibition whatsoever — none — on the kind of discussions our state and nation should have on anti-bias training and discussions so we’re all better human beings.”
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, said the changes amount to putting “lipstick on a pig” and said they still would limit First Amendment rights by banning discussions about important topics including racism and sexism.
“I don’t understand why we are moving forward with this anti-American gag rule,” she said. “After a year of national reckoning about the horrific impacts of systemic racism, we should be taking positive steps forward to promote and encourage discussion, not trying to ban them or limit them.”
Some of the day’s most emotional debate came during a series of unsuccessful amendments to remove or limit a provision that would ban abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life was at risk. Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, described being told that her now-41-year-old daughter wouldn’t live past one year after being born with spina bifida and other health conditions.
“I’m going to tell you all right now that I would not trade one day, one day of not having her in my life. She has enriched my life. She has enriched my family’s life. We need to be very, very careful about what we’re talking about here,” she said. “You’re trying to take away the chance of that child to have a life.”
But Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, who is pregnant, called the proposal an “intrusion of the state into the one of the most intimate and fundamental relationships on our planet.”
“At 27 weeks pregnant, am I not the same mother I was three weeks ago or four weeks ago? What has changed at 24 weeks that no longer makes me the same caring mother?” she said.
The Democrat from Portsmouth also responded to a Republican colleague’s suggestion that “at six months pregnant, Democrats do not think of these as babies.”
“In response I ask, at six months pregnant, do you not still consider me a woman? A mother? Do you honestly believe that I would not do what is best in each moment for the life I am growing, that I’m responsible for?” she said. “It is a most sacred duty and one I would beg you of you not ever to dare to think that we, as complex highly intelligent and capable mothers, women and pregnant people, would ever dismiss or take lightly.”
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday he would not veto the budget if the abortion provision remains. Though he had expressed support for banning late term abortions in 2018, last year he said he wasn't “looking to make any changes” to abortion laws.
Sununu initially vetoed the last state budget in June 2019, forcing the state to operate under a temporary spending plan until a $13 billion compromise was signed into law three months later. Since then, Republicans have regained control of both the House and Senate.