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Column: Budget process is long and tedious, but it works

The House passed an $11 billion budget last Wednesday and the Senate will begins its work on the budget this week. The budget is contained in three bills: House Bill 1 which has the line by line details of the operating budget for the two years beginning on July 1; HB 2 which has statutory language to implement the budget; and, HB 25, which is the capital budget with the bonding for construction and major renovation projects.

The Senate will have April and May to put together an income plan and match that with spending that does not exceed revenue for the next two years. The proposed budget must be balanced.

A couple of days last week were filled with back to back meetings with lobbyists and advocates for government agencies and service providers who depend upon government contracts and others with a stake in how the state will spend its money over the next two years.

For me, I have a dual role. First, I chair the five member Ways and Means Committee. We start this week comparing current income with revenue projections from the Governor’s and the House budgets. In time, we will have to fill in a blank space on a spread sheet with our predictions of how much money will come in from each revenue line.

To help us, agency heads of departments that collect or generate revenue will come before us. After all, they run their departments and understand how much they will take in over the next couple of years. Some are pretty easy. The Justice Department has a good handle on how much will come from the Master Tobacco Settlement agreement ($42.4 million this year) and the Commissioner of Insurance knows the amount we will get from the insurance premium tax ($86.8 budgeted for this year).

In early May, the Ways and Means Committee will add up our line by line estimates from our 20 revenue sources and that number will be how much the Finance Committee will be able to spend in the Senate’s version of the budget.

I also serve on the Finance Committee which is my second budget responsibility. Months ago departments sent their requests to the governor for inclusion in her budget that she presented to the legislature on Feb. 14. The agencies then had to troop before the House Finance Committee to explain their requests and possibly seek adjustments from the governor’s proposal.

Now, those same agencies will now come before the six member Finance Committee. They will be asked again to justify their spending plans.

In late May, the Finance Committee will make some very tough decisions about spending and many stakeholders will not be happy. There will not be enough money to meet everyone’s wishes.

The budget process is long and hard. The focus will be on the Senate as we get closer to the end of June deadline for the new budget. And while creating the all important budget is a frustrating and time consuming process, it will work this year just it has for decades past.

Bob Odell, a Republican, is the New Hampshire senator representing Antrim, Bennington and Francestown, among other towns.

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