- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

BOSTON, April 18 (UPI) — The New Hampshire House, rejecting a proposed tobacco tax increase, has approved a $2.7 billion biennial budget, it was reported Friday.

Some Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts, meanwhile, were eyeing deficit borrowing to bridge a budget gap and avoid severe program cuts.

New Hampshire House members, choosing from among competing budget proposals, late Thursday approved the version drawn up earlier this week by Republican leaders.

They rejected another proposal that called for a 39-cent increase in the tobacco tax to pay for $90 million in additional spending, according to Friday's Union Leader of Manchester.

Gov. Craig Benson had threatened to veto any plan that increased taxes.

Among other things, the approved budget included $22 million in Medicaid provider payments to restore a 5 percent cut Benson had proposed.

"This is a tough budget for tough times, one we can live with that does not require an increase in taxes," said Republican House Finance Committee Chairman Neal Kurk.

House Democratic Leader Peter Burling, however, complained the budget "makes vicious cuts to the framework of the social services system that keeps New Hampshire functioning."

The approved budget, which now goes to the Senate, is 10 percent higher than the current biennium, and would increase total spending by about 11 percent to $9 billion when federal money, gasoline taxes and other money sources are included.

In Massachusetts, some lawmakers proposed Thursday to float bonds to help fill a looming $3 billion budget gap and avoid ever deeper cuts in education, public safety and health care programs.

"You're buying time for your ability to repay so you can recover, and you can avoid Draconian cuts by bridging the gap until there's a recovery," Cam Huff of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation told the Boston Globe.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, however, opposes deficit borrowing.

"It's completely irresponsible, and it's a very bad idea," Romney spokesman Eric Kriss said.

The House Democratic leadership, on another budget matter, proposed Thursday that higher paid state workers pay more for their health insurance.

All state workers now pay 15 percent of their premiums, with the state picking up the rest.

Romney has proposed that be increased to at least 25 percent.

House Ways and Means Chairman John Rogers, however, suggested a "fairer" plan would be to have those who earn more pay more.

Those earning below $25,000 a year would still pay 15 percent, but workers who make up to $49,999 would pay 20 percent, those making up to $89,999 would pay 25 percent, employees earning up to $109,999, 30 percent, and premiums would cost 35 percent for those making more than $110,000.

Romney's plan would save the state $62 million, while the House plan saves only $35 million.

The House will take up the whole budget proposal next week.

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