This past Wednesday and Thursday the New Hampshire House of Representatives failed to approve either HB1 or HB2 with their committee amendments. The failure was caused by an unexpected of coalition of Democrats and the NH House Freedom Caucus (NHHFC) in opposition. On Wednesday both the Democrats and the House Freedom Caucus brought forth amendments to make late efforts to offer alternatives to the committee amendment that was expected to fail.
The Eaton amendment was offered by the Democrats for HB1 to reinclude full day kindergarten and increase contributions to select funds. This amendment failed when the House Freedom Caucus and Republican majority voted in coalition to defeat it. The House Freedom Caucus brought the Ammon amendment which was a broad “back of the budget cut” in the amount of $200 million which would have required the office of the Governor to find $200 million to satisfy such reductions. The Ammon amendment also put back into HB1 $219 million in federal funds that had been withheld from the budget by the Finance Committee’s amendment. After the failure of each bill’s committee amendments and floor amendments House leadership moved to table each bill.
There was a meeting at 2:30pm on Wednesday between delegates from the House Freedom Caucus including Rep. John Burt (R-Goffstown), Rep. Ed Comeau (R-Brookfield), Rep. Victoria Sullivan (R-Manchester), Rep. Eric Schleien (R-Hudson), me (L-Pelham) and the House Majority leadership joined by Finance Committee Chair Neal Kurk (R-Weare). In this meeting we went over a list of major General Fund appropriations including the Municipal Aid provision, the Community College System provision, and the Department of Safety appropriations which were to be targeted for reductions. Leadership expressed concern that federal matching funds may be lost as a result of reductions to these funds.
The delegates from the House Freedom Caucus asserted that the position of the caucus was that they would vote for a budget with no more that a 3.0% increase over the last biennium. Despite this the delegates also asked the leadership if there was some percentage increase where the two camps could “meet in the middle” as Finance chair Kurk had previously indicated that he could, in fact, find cuts that could bring the increase down from 10.5% (in the General Fund) to 4.5% over last biennium. This proposal had been mentioned to the House Freedom Caucus in convention by delegate John Burt and caucus leader J.R. Hoell (R-Dunbarton). The House Majority leadership did not appear to be able to pre-emptively agree to a 4.5% above budget without seeing the specific cuts included in the final amendment.
The deadline for floor amendments was only an hour out from the end of the House Freedom Caucus/Majority leadership meeting. The House Freedom Caucus delegates went down to the Legislative Budget Assistant’s Office where they met with the co-chairs of the House Republican Alliance Rep. Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford), Rep. James Spillane (R-Deerfield), and Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro), who participated in the House Freedom Caucus discussions in completing a floor amendment to make roughly only $75 million dollars in appropriation reductions; far from their consensus ideal of $200 million.
However, after the 4:00pm amendment filing deadline had passed, the House leadership informed a member that no compromise could be found with any of the proposals submitted to the Clerk. With each proposal marked dead-on-arrival by leadership, the House Freedom Caucus went into Thursday expecting to vote down HB2’s committee amendment albeit by a more slim margin than the day previous due to absences of caucus members. After the committee amendment failed, a motion table HB2 was promptly brought by House leadership after only a mere 30 minutes of session. This motion passed on a voice vote. Subsequently the House leadership brought the third reading motion. This motion was put to a division vote which passed with 103 opposed.
Now the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Gary Daniels (R-Milford), will be expected to attach a budget to a House appropriations bill currently in the Senate. By tabling both budget bills the House has no position on any budget bill that will exit the Senate other than to accept or decline its additional provisions but not advocate for any House additions or corrections. While it is still uncertain if the Senate Finance Committee will appease the House Freedom Caucus, the Majority leadership, or even House Democrats, all camps have indicated that they plan to go to the Senators on Finance to advocate their caucus positions.