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But read this first to provide some context to the budget conversation.
The New Hampshire Senate approved their budget for 2016-2017 last week and with that vote we begin the final phase of the state budget conversation for the next biennium. Understanding what the budget actually means for agencies and ultimately for the services NH has decided to devote to programming can be very difficult when looking at the budget numbers. Sometimes understanding the state budget requires forensic skills.
At a very high level – at the Department level – changes from biennium to biennium reflect a high level prioritization of resources devoted to each of the state’s major functions. Looking at the 2014-15 biennium (actual expenditures for 2014 and what the state anticipates spending in 2015) suggests that total fund appropriations for resource protection and economic development by 19% and at 13% for health and human services. Public protection – administration of justice and public protection (6%), general government (6%), and education (3%) are anticipated to grow at much lower rates. And resources devoted to transportation are anticipated to decline by a very small amount (-.01%). In aggregate terms, of course, the single largest source of growth is Health and Human Services.
Like the budget proposed by the House and that introduced by the Governor, the Senate plan doesn’t represent a major break from current state practice in terms of budgetary policy or strategy.
All three represent an increase in state spending and would direct a greater share of state dollars to Health and Human Service, and decrease the share (though not the total amount) of state dollars going to education. See here, the difference in biennium to biennium changes in state general fund spending.
And here are the three budgets in a long term perspective. Despite the increases, none of them reach the spending levels pre- the Great Recession.
Despite the similarities, there are obviously important differences between the budgets, though the total dollar value of those differences remain relatively small compared to the overall level of state spending. On the revenue side, the principal changes between the Senate and the House, for example, were that the Senate would not use funds from the renewable energy fund to support other state services (whereas the House did), the Senate proposed a slight reduction in the state’s business taxes ($12m), and the Senate had significantly higher revenue projections (which will likely be similar to those adopted by the house in the end). On the spending side, the Senate’s deposit of $11.8m into the rainy day fund, the restoration of cuts to elderly and adult services, and a restoration of $13.6m to the developmental services line item.
For those interested in looking at changes relative to what we are currently spending, we offer the following table. This provides a snapshot of how spending is changing by major functions in state government, ranked from those receiving the largest increases in aggregate terms (Health and Human Services), to those receiving the least (the Department of Education). Underneath these changes are complicated programmatic changes, the details of which have a significant impact on New Hampshire.