U.S. Markets closed

Talks open on $10.7 billion New Hampshire budget

Norma Love, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- New Hampshire House and Senate negotiators tentatively agreed Friday to increase spending on services for the disabled and mentally ill, but have yet to resolve their major differences over a new $10.7 billion state budget.

Negotiators agreed to many spending and policy decisions that were common to the House and Senate versions of the budget for the two years beginning July 1.

They postponed until next week discussions about their differences over how to pay for the budget and whether to expand Medicaid to an estimated 58,000 poor adults under the federal health care overhaul law.

The House put discussion on all those topics on hold until Monday.

The Republican-led Senate rejected a 20-cent increase in the tobacco tax and delaying implementation of tax breaks for businesses. The Democratic-controlled House does not like a $50 million Senate-proposed cut in staff and benefits.

The House also proposes expanding Medicaid; the Senate wants to establish a commission to study the issue.

"We are all here to have a positive outcome for our state," House Finance Chairwoman Mary Jane Wallner said in opening the bargaining session.

Her counterpart — Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse — said the chambers agree on more than they disagree, but added that Republicans won't accept revenue estimates inflated to cover desired spending, won't accept increases in taxes and fees and won't support expanding Medicaid. Morse said expanding Medicaid should be studied and debated as a new bill next session.

Wallner, a Concord Democrat, said those items would be among the topics discussed next week.

Typically on the first bargaining day, House and Senate negotiators go over their respective budget proposals and tentatively agree to as much as they can so they can focus on their major differences. The negotiating teams did that Friday, but can revisit everything before signing off on an agreement. Their deadlines call for them to sign off on a compromise Thursday afternoon.