- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget, at first glance, gives a lot of people something to cheer about, from money for full-day kindergarten to a new fund aimed at repairing local roads and bridges.

But lawmakers and advocates alike are carefully evaluating the $12.1 billion spending plan.

Many specifics on how Sununu’s proposals would actually work remain a mystery for now. A second budget document will likely be released next week that includes details on how he’ll implement his plans, such as what formula he’ll use to dole out the $18 million for full-day kindergarten to various school districts.

Lawmakers will now make changes to the budget, and a final plan must be signed by late June.

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WINNERS AND LOSERS

The inclusion of full-day kindergarten marks a win for early childhood education advocates, but the $9 million Sununu budgets each year isn’t enough to fully fund it in every district. A $14 million price tag is more realistic. House Republicans may create a roadblock for Sununu on this proposal.

Sununu appears to be advocating for the community college system as the key venue for workforce development, awarding the system $10 million more while giving no increase to the university system.

“It’s going to break open this conversation about what our educational institutions should and should not be doing in a way that the budget process has not done in the past,” said Steve Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies.

Advocates for substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery also are happy with Sununu’s budget. It gives $3 million more to the “alcohol fund,” which a governor’s commission can choose to spend in innovative ways. Still, that’s several million dollars lower than what advocates had sought.

And not everyone is satisfied. The state’s emergency domestic violence shelters are seeing an annual cut of $20,000, dropping the yearly allocation to just $140,000. And the state hospital association says the budget doesn’t include enough money to reimburse hospitals for providing care for people without insurance.

Economic development is a stated focus for Sununu, and he’s outlined plans to create a new Department of Business and Economic Affairs and hire a “small business advocate.” The state currently provides a limited amount of money for economic development purposes, and it’s unclear how much Sununu’s budget would boost that.

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QUESTIONS REMAIN

Sununu’s plan to use $84 million in surplus money from the current budget to pay for local road, bridge and school building projects remains murky. It’s unclear if the full $84 million would be available by the end of the existing budget and how it would be allocated to cities and towns. But House Republicans broadly seem enthused by the idea.

Similarly, the proposal to fund full-day kindergarten will be open to scrutiny. Sununu says he’d allocate the money based on need, but the formula for calculating how much money a school would get hasn’t been released. Dan Vallone, director of engagement for the nonprofit education group Reaching Higher, said he’s excited about Sununu’s support for kindergarten but would like to see every district get the same amount of money per student.

“You’re introducing uncertainty into what is a very tight and difficult planning process,” he said of Sununu’s need-based plan.

Sununu’s budget presented Thursday also lacks specifics on how he’d award a proposed $5 million in college scholarships.

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