After the New Hampshire Senate finished its grueling day of voting to meet budget process deadlines, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) warned some of their fellow Republicans’ actions were putting a budget deal in danger.
“House Freedom Caucus members are deeply troubled by the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the next state budget, because the Senate Finance Committee has stripped out necessary State of Emergency reforms and lays the groundwork for a Committee of Conference failure,” the group said in a statement. They went on to say the Senate’s votes created a “recipe for Committee of Conference disaster.”
“Despite a stern warning by House Finance Committee Chair Ken Weyler, R-Kingston, about the cruciality of certain policy decisions being included in the proposed 2022-23 budget, the Senate chose to strip out necessary emergency powers reforms and other measures needed to ensure passage through the House.”
One of those policies is putting restrictions on the ability of governors to unilaterally continue states of emergency.
“With an active state of emergency in existence, we don’t have a budget,” said Rep. Andrew Prout (R-Hudson) in a statement.
“When the Governor has unilateral authority to transfer funds outside of the normal process and without Fiscal Committee oversight, the budget that the Legislature is busy working on is nothing more than mere suggestions.”
Prout told NHJournal he and his fellow HFC members are concerned about reports Sununu may keep the state of emergency in place for the rest of the calendar year. And he rejected claims that Sununu needs to keep the state of emergency in place in order for New Hampshire to receive federal COVID-related aid. “That just doesn’t match the facts,” Prout said. “We keep looking for a legitimate reason for the state of emergency to continue and the reasons Gov. Sununu is citing don’t add up.”
And, Prout noted, Gov. Charlie Baker has announced Massachusetts’ state of emergency will end June 15. ‘If Baker can do it, why can’t we?”
With the recent death of State Rep. David Danielson (R-Bedford) the House GOP majority is down to a narrow 212-186 margin. As a result, the approximately 40 members of the HFC could deny the GOP the margin it needs to pass a budget with no Democratic support.
At the same time, Gov. Chris Sununu has already made it clear he’s no fan of the budget passed by the GOP-controlled House.
“The budget that the House is likely going to pass is nothing that I would ever sign,” Sununu said last month. “They didn’t even get it fiscally balanced and I’m not going to sign an unbalanced budget. I think fiscal responsibility is one of the top jobs of a governor and an executive.”
The group’s members had high hopes for the budget passed by the House last month.
“As someone who has always been a champion of using taxpayer dollars wisely and prudently, it’s noteworthy that I can proudly announce: this is the first state budget I’ve ever voted in favor of,” said third-term Rep. Kevin Verville (R- Deerfield) “This is a budget that I believe all New Hampshire citizens can get behind.”
His message Thursday night was very different.
“We are no longer in a State-of-Emergency,” Verville said. The only group that the legislature is fooling is themselves if after 63 weeks of authoritarian rule, they think we should continue this for another 2 years. It is time to safeguard our citizens, uphold the NH Constitution, and make sure that we never go down this path again.”
But House Majority Leader Jason Osborne tells NHJournal he thinks the budget process, however bumpy, will work out for the NHGOP. “We have a long way to go in this process. There is more agreement than there is disagreement. I remain confident that we will all reach the finish line together a month from now and deliver a product that will make New Hampshire proud.”