- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - State budget negotiations began cordially Monday as House and Senate lawmakers pushed off debates over funding for social services, substance abuse treatment, transportation and more until later this week.

The nine-member negotiating team spent the day going through their competing spending plans line by line to find areas in which they agree. The Senate’s $11.3 billion budget spends upward of $150 million more than the House’s plan, largely due to updated revenue estimates. Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, chairman of the negotiating committee, has set a deadline of Thursday for reaching a final deal. Discussions over the two chambers’ differences are likely to begin Tuesday.

“We had the advantage of better revenue estimates, and I think (House members) just have to get comfortable with what we did,” said Republican Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith. “That’s what I’m hoping anyway.”

The two-year state spending plan will then go to both chambers for approval before heading to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk. She could sign it, veto it or let it pass into law without her signature.

While Republicans control both the House and the Senate, there are differences in the two spending plans. The Senate’s plan, for example, relies on rolling about $34 million in surplus from the existing budget into the next budget, a change the House may not support.

House members also did not immediately agree to the Senate’s restoration of funding for programs such as Meals on Wheels and ServiceLink or a restoration in millions of dollars for people with developmental disabilities. Changes to mental health, substance abuse programs and education funding will also be debated later this week.

There are some areas of immediate agreement: Neither chamber supports including roughly $12 million to continue Medicaid expansion after federal funding drops below 100 percent at the end of 2016. House members also agreed not to empty the state’s rainy day fund for an additional $10 million in the next budget. The House initially raided the fund to balance its budget, but senators put the money back.

Representatives and senators agreed on dozens of smaller issues as well.

There are only two Democrats on the negotiating committee: Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester and Rep. Mary Jane Wallner of Concord.

The existing $10.7 billion state budget ends June 30. Although Democrats hold little sway in the negotiations, Hassan’s ability to veto the spending plan will give her office some leverage as a final plan is crafted.

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