Compromise or stunt? Budget impasse has staying power

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — With New Hampshire's temporary budget set to expire in a few weeks, Democrats say they are offering a compromise that makes meaningful concessions while preserving critical programs. But Republicans call the offer a political stunt.

The state has been operating under a continuing resolution since late June, when Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a $13 billion, two-year state budget he claims set up unsustainable spending expectations and "job killing tax increases" that would put New Hampshire's booming economy at risk.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, said their plan would provide property tax relief and a boost to education funding while addressing the state's most pressing problems. But Republicans argued it relies on one-time surplus funds for ongoing expenses and will drive the state toward a broad-based tax.

Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday they have drafted two new budget bills that cut some spending and address the governor's concerns about business taxes. Sununu has insisted on maintaining scheduled cuts to the taxes. Democrats want to make that conditional on bringing in a certain amount of revenue.

"This compromise is the only fiscally responsible course of action to take, and it works similarly to the compromise made by then Governor Hassan and Republicans in the Legislature four years ago," House Finance Chair Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, said in a prepared statement. "For the good of the state, we hope our Republican colleagues allow this budget compromise to come to the floor for thorough and thoughtful consideration."

Republicans argue the revenue targets are unlikely to be met and complained that Democrats had not shared copies of their new proposal as of Wednesday, a day before it was expected to be brought forward for a vote.

"This is a transparent attempt to do an end run around negotiations with the governor and pull a Washington-style political stunt. They know their proposal has zero Republican buy-in, and we know we've already voted to reject most of what it contains in June," said House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack. "They want to raise taxes so badly, they are willing to abandon professional protocol and put forward this last minute, go-nowhere budget for political purposes."

Sununu said he remains committed to working with lawmakers on a budget that represents "the best interest of New Hampshire."

"Unfortunately, this budget proposal is not sustainable and raises taxes when we already have a $200 million surplus," he said. "As I've continuously stated since June, this is nothing that I, nor the people of New Hampshire would ever support."

The temporary spending measure expires at the end of the month. In order to bring the new proposal forward on Thursday, two-thirds of lawmakers would have to agree to suspend the rules.