Tuesday November 27, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan warned New Hampshire agency heads Monday that their spending requests for the next two-year budget are unrealistic.

"The requests total far more than our economy and taxpayers can afford," Hassan said in opening three days of budget hearings on agency spending requests.

Spending requests for the state-tax funded portion of the budget are for $3.3 billion over the two years -- 26 percent higher than the current budget. Spending requests for the total budget from all funds, including federal and highway sources, are for $11.9 billion or 19 percent higher.

Hassan said she felt the outgoing Republican Legislature made some wrong choices in its budget, but the economy has not recovered enough to restore all the funding it cut.

"We will not be able to reverse course all at once," said Hassan.

Hassan and retiring Gov. John Lynch, both Democrats, cautioned that the economy -- while improved -- is not robust. Lynch noted that besides a volatile economy, the state faces other challenges, including repaying the federal government $18 million overpaid hospital payments.

"We must be prepared to continue to make tough, fiscally responsible decisions to ensure that we can invest in our priorities, including protecting the health and safety of our citizens and building an innovative economy that will ensure long-term growth," Hassan said.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, said if agencies fail to set clear spending priorities, lawmakers will set them to free up money for priorities they and Hassan feel are more important.


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For example, Hassan campaigned on restoring some or all of the $84 million in state aid cut to the University System of New Hampshire.

The university system later requested $100 million per year -- more than twice what it got in the current budget.

Hassan said she will soon send conservative budget targets to state agencies.

In her presentation, Administrative Services Commissioner Linda Hodgdon testified that her staff has been stretched thin by cuts. She said many in her agency will be retiring within the next 10 years, including some who help agencies and governors develop their budgets.

"What we are experiencing across government would in the private sector be considered a crisis," she said.

Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes also pressed for money for more staffing, pointing to the rising number of communities relying on the state police, especially during the night.

"As a result, we are sending troopers greater and greater distances to answer calls, stretching our already thin resources even thinner. In some of the less populated areas of the state, emergency response, including 911 calls, can take over an hour for a trooper to arrive," he said.

Hassan, who will be inaugurated Jan. 3, presents a budget to the Legislature in mid-February. The House takes the governor’s budget, sets its spending priorities and sends the plan to the Senate. The Senate comes up with its version of the budget and meets with the House to negotiate a compromise to present to Hassan before the new fiscal year begins July 1.