Lawmakers are closing in on a state budget, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is offering concessions, compromises and lines he won't cross.
The House and Senate this week chose members to hash out differences between their proposed budgets. Though Democrats control both chambers, Sununu said Wednesday that he is confident all sides will work together to produce a fiscally responsible plan that serves the state well.
"We can do it, and a lot of folks in the state are counting on us to step up," he said at a news conference where he was flanked by large posters highlighting his February budget proposal, what the House passed in April, the Senate version approved last week and what he called a "roadmap to common ground."
"It's a team effort, and I've been very encouraged over the last couple of months," he said. "We've got to do a lot of work over the next few weeks, and we want to be transparent about putting a plan forward that everyone can understand and everyone can find common ground."
Sununu offered compromises on education funding, Medicaid reimbursement rates and other areas. The governor said he would veto the budget if it includes a mandatory paid family medical leave program, which he considers an income tax, and the rollback of scheduled business tax cuts. Both the House and Senate budgets include those provisions.
"Let's remember what New Hampshire is all about. Let's remember what Live Free or Die is all about. Let's remember, why are we so successful? Why do we have opportunity today that other states don't?" Sununu said. "We are different, and we've shown that both with frugality and keeping the tax rate lo ... we create opportunity."
Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, insisted the budget cannot be constructed without freezing business tax cuts. But the Manchester Democrat said he sees room for compromise with the governor in other areas.
"He's a reasonable person, and as a reasonable person you've got to think about what's best, in totality, for everyone in this state," D'Allesandro said.
Sununu's proposal called for spending $52 million on hand-picked infrastructure projects around the state. On Wednesday, he said he could get behind the Senate's plan to instead send $40 million in unrestricted revenue sharing funds to communities. He also said he would support restoring so-called "stabilization grants" to school districts at a slightly lower level than what the House and Senate have proposed.
Neither Sununu nor the House included funding to increase reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers, while the Senate approved spending $52 million for across-the-board increases. Sununu suggested a compromise of $30 million in targeted increases. He originally proposed spending $26 million on a 60-bed secure psychiatric hospital. But on Wednesday, he said that a 36-bed facility could be an option. The House included no funding for a new facility, while the Senate proposed a 25-bed, $17.5 million facility.
House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, said House members of the committee of conference look forward to working with senators and Sununu next week.
"In a negotiation no one party will get everything that they want, but I am confident we will form a compromise that will work for all parties and the people of New Hampshire," he said.