- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Free college tuition for New Hampshire’s highest performing high school students, more services for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness and a new election law attorney are among the items on state agencies’ wish lists for the next two-year state budget.

Budget writers heard agency requests last week as the process of writing the state spending document begins. Republican Gov.-elect Chris Sununu takes office in January and must hand a budget proposal to lawmakers by February. The new budget takes effect July 1.

All told, the budget requests total $12.6 billion over two years, up from the current $11.2 billion biennial budget. That includes state and federal dollars as well as grant money.

“We want to make sure that while being frugal we are putting together the best services for the people of New Hampshire,” Sununu said to kick off the budget process.

The University System of New Hampshire wants to keep the state’s brightest high school students by offering full rides to all valedictorians and salutatorians. Nearly 60 percent of New Hampshire high school students who go to a four-year college leave the state - the highest percentage in the nation, according to federal data.

That’s one piece of the system’s $182 million request over two years, up about $20 million from the existing budget. The additional money also would allow for a tuition freeze at the system’s four schools - the University of New Hampshire, Keene State College, Plymouth State University and Granite State College.

“Our budget request is highly targeted on the need to keep more students here in the state,” Chancellor Todd Leach told budget writers.

The community college system, meanwhile, wants to freeze tuition for the school year beginning in 2017 and lower it for the next.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s largest agency, is seeking nearly $100 million more to improve services for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. That includes about $13 million for community-based outpatient services for people with mental illness, as well as $18 million to reduce the developmental disabilities waiting list.

The state provides services to citizens with developmental disabilities and acquired brain disorders, but roughly 176 people are on a waiting list. In total, the state is expected to serve almost 500 people during the current two-year budget.

Money to pay overtime to workers in the Division for Children, Youth and Families to operate 24/7 services is also part of the request.

Elsewhere, the Department of Corrections needs to increase staffing for the planned opening of a new women’s prison in Concord next fall, and the attorney general’s office wants to hire a full-time attorney for election law complaints. There is only a part-time attorney with a focus in that area now, causing a backlog of complaints.

“Without dedicated enforcement staff, our laws provide a false promise to our citizens,” Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said.

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