In a voice vote, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a $15.9 billion state budget Thursday.

It’s a budget so bad nobody wanted to put their name on it.

Republicans put on a brave face, emphasizing this bill is just the beginning of building a final budget.

“Today’s vote was just one step in a long process,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn).

Meanwhile, State House Democrats were practically giddy.

“HOUSE DEMOCRATS APPLAUD PASSAGE OF STATE BUDGET THAT INVESTS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE,” was the press release headline, which listed some of their favorite highlights. Among them:

  • Removing the expansion of the Education Freedom Account program from the state budget;
  • Reducing the EFA budget appropriation by $10 million each year;
  • Changing the education funding formula to transfer more money to lower-income districts;
  • Blocking Gov. Chris Sununu’s funding for state support in enforcing the northern border.

“Securing these wins was a bipartisan effort, and we’re thankful that House Republicans engaged with us on measures that will benefit all Granite Staters,” said House Democratic Leader Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester).

Senate Democrats were happy, too.

“Watching our friends on the other side of the wall come together to build a budget for Granite Staters is an encouraging sight to see in our legislative process,” said Senator Lou D’Allesandro (D-Manchester) and Deputy Democratic Leader Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua) in a statement.

With a narrow 201-196 margin, House Republicans don’t have a working majority, just an “attendance majority.” And with some Freedom Caucus-affiliated members saying privately they wouldn’t vote for any budget the House was likely to propose, Speaker Sherman Packard and the GOP leadership were stuck with a “get out of this alive” strategy.

“We were able to get the work done on time, and we are ready to move forward in the next step of the budget process where this will go to the Senate,” Packard said in his statement. If punching the clock is a political victory, this is great news.

Not that the Democrats got out unscathed. They will have to go back to their progressive constituents and explain that not only did they vote in favor of the “Millionaire’s Tax Cut” — AKA the phase-out of the state tax on interest and dividends income — but they voted to speed up the process. Instead of January 1, 2027, the bill kills the tax two years earlier.

Democrats also voted for a plan that funds Medicaid expansion for just two years, far shorter than they hoped for.

And they voted to limit a governor’s power to impose a state of emergency, a cause celebre of the anti-lockdown crowd.

In the end, Packard avoided the bad press of being unable to pass a budget, partly because everyone involved agrees the document is largely meaningless.

“There seems to be a misconception the House unilaterally passed a budget today,” a GOP member of the House said after the vote. “In reality, we have merely put several pieces in play for discussion with the Senate as we meet together to produce a budget in June.”

That Senate budget — where Republicans have a solid 14-10 majority — will look very different. That’s what Gov. Chris Sununu is expecting.

“I look forward to working with the Senate to ensure the final budget is balanced, includes key priorities to promote and increase freedom, and gets unchecked spending increases back under control,” Sununu said.

As for the politics…

“Who cares if the Democrats are happy? They won a pre-season game, that’s all,” one budget watcher said afterward.

Perhaps. But a win is a win.