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NH Senate backs conservation, higher education

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- The Senate Finance Committee voted Monday to tentatively set the University System of New Hampshire's aid at $153 million — the same amount as the House but $12 million less than the system's trustees say they need to honor a pledge to freeze tuition.

The committee addressed that and other issues as it began making preliminary decisions on its two-year budget plan.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse proposed restoring New Hampshire's UNIQUE college scholarship program — aimed at high-need students — to its original purpose rather than continuing a practice of using some scholarship money as state aid.

The committee voted to replace the scholarship money with state tax funding then set the system's aid at the figured proposed by the House.

The university system had pledged to freeze tuition in return for a larger increase in aid. The trustees previously called on the Senate to restore the funding to the governor's level and said the lower amount jeopardized the tuition freeze promise.

The committee made a similar decision to maintain the House's aid levels to the community technical colleges.

The panel also agreed tentatively to restore $3 million in funding to the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment program that the House had diverted to other state spending. Senate Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen questioned if funding the program would mean cutting social service programs.

Morse, R-Salem, said he thought the funding was possible, but it could be revisited if the committee has trouble making the health and human services budget balance.

The committee voted to use $16 million in renewable energy funds to help pay for the spending.

Morse cautioned the committee that Monday's decisions were far easier than the ones to come, especially in dealing with the human services programs.

The committee hopes to wrap up work on its version of the $11 billion budget late this week or early next week. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the budget June 6. Then, the Senate and House will meet to negotiate a compromise.