CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Come July 1, the budget battle in Concord typically comes to a close and state officials head into summer with a picture of how the next two years of spending will look. Not so this year.
Partisan wrangling has tied the state budget up in knots, leaving the government running on a six-month spending plan that will delay the start of substance abuse recovery programs, create uncertainty around college tuition and leave transportation officials wondering how they’ll handle winter cleanup.
And while Gov. Maggie Hassan and lawmakers plan to continue budget negotiations, they haven’t set a timeline for when they’ll return to the table. Republican leaders say it could be as late as the fall.
The spending plan - or continuing resolution - passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by the Democratic governor keeps funding at existing levels through December. While departments won’t be getting less money, it means most of them won’t be seeing the increases they’d planned on.
To compound the problem, no one knows if the short-term plan will last the full six months or what the final budget will look like, making it hard to plan ahead.
Officials from New Hampshire’s community college system, for example, say they can’t finalize tuition until a two-year budget is in place. Currently, they are planning to charge students at the 2014-15 tuition rate, but students will be told the number could change, spokeswoman Shannon Reid said. The University System of New Hampshire said Monday it won’t be able to continue a tuition freeze for the next two years.
In the Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest department, the budget would have given home health providers a long-awaited reimbursement rate increase, opened a new 10-bed unit at New Hampshire Hospital and addressed aspects of the state’s community mental health settlement.
Asked whether the short-term plan would put these initiatives in jeopardy, department officials said they still need more information about how flexible the continuing resolution will be. It includes a provision to let departments seek emergency funding through the legislative fiscal committee and executive council.
Smaller agencies, such as the Department of Resources and Economic Development, will also miss out on immediate increases. The budget included money for business recruiters to travel out of state and to create a new website designed to bring in new employers. Money for tourism promotion was also slated to increase.
“In the short term, we won’t see an immediate impact; we are hopeful the budget will be resolved well before the continuing resolution expires,” spokeswoman Lorna Colquhoun said in an email.
Throughout the budget process, Republicans and Democrats alike called for greater efforts to address the state’s growing heroin and prescription drug abuse problem. The budget would have doubled money in prevention, treatment and recovery fund to $6.7 million, allowing the state to begin investing in now-lacking recovery programs. Without the additional funding, the state can’t start issuing requests for proposals for new programs and providers.
For people who need help, advocates say, the delay will have real consequences.
“That means continued waitlists, that means continued overdose deaths,” said Tym Rourke, chair of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. “There is no substantive change we can expect to see around the substance abuse epidemic until we have the ability to provide those expanded services.”
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