This is a big week in Concord. Cross over day is on Thursday. That is a significant deadline that is roughly marks the midpoint of the legislative session.
Most importantly, the House will vote on three budget bills. HR 1 has the $11. 5 billion revenue and spending plan for the next two fiscal years beginning on July 1, HB 2 contains language to implement the budget and HB 25 is the plan for capital projects that require bonding. The Governor proposed his budget on February 12. Now the House will vote on its budget which has major changes from the Governorís original plan.
On Friday, the House budget writers will present their plan to a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Ways and Means Committee. That signals the passing of budget planning from the House to the Senate with committees of conference anticipated in June to work out the differences between House and Senate versions.
The House budget votes will take place under the clouds of increasing unemployment in New Hampshire and around the country and very disappointing revenue numbers for March. Given business tax filings, March is the largest revenue month of the year. The adjusted plan for revenue counted on general fund and education trust fund income of $649 million for the month. Actual revenue was $595 million creating a budget gap for the month of $54 million. That is an 8% shortfall Ö and is $21. 9 million less than revenue received in March last year. It is a serious and impactful shortfall.
For the first nine months of our current fiscal year, we have taken in general fund and educational trust fund revenue of $1. 676 billion which is $181 million below the budget plan. Revenue so far is $63 million less than the same period last year.
As costs increase for current operations and revenue is less than the prior year, Senate budget writers are keenly aware that current government costs will have to be reduced to balance declining revenues. Not an easy job.
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Friday was devoted to visiting with some local organizations and citizens on issues of concern to them. One meeting was with about 30 representatives of conservation groups to introduce them to Ted Austin, the new director of the division of Parks and Recreation. Ted replaces Allison McLean of New London who spent
decades with the division and was critically important to the recent study of our state parks and the legislative effort to secure some long over due funding for delayed maintenance and improvement of facilities. She has left for a job in the private sector. Ted, in contrast, has held major corporate responsibilities in the recreation field that took him to several states. He offers the benefit of that experience as he works within the framework of a strategic plan being developed for the state parks system.
Our state parks system is a valued element of the economic life of New Hampshire serving tourists and residents alike. It is also a part of our stewardship responsibility for our special places including historic sites and open landscapes important to current generations and especially to future generations. Conservation group leaders appreciated the chance to have a couple of hours to informally talk with Ted Austin about their concerns and ideas for the state park system and especially the parks in our region. This is another example of how accessible government can be. In this case, Ted Austin and three division colleagues, travelled to Sunapee to meet with citizens interested in our parks and the recreational opportunities they provide to all of us.
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It has been decades since I have rolled a ball down an alley to try to knock down the ten candle pins at the other end. But that is how I finished up Friday bowling at Newport ís Sunset Lanes with a group of middle school students. The group is part of the 110 students participating in NOST, the Newport Out of School Time program. It is an 18 month old program for students each day from 2:30 to 6 p. m. as well as full day schedules during school vacations and summer breaks.
I visited Richards School talking with kindergarten to 3rd grade students, then went on to the Towle School to meet a group of 4th to 6th graders and then to Sunset Lanes to bowl a string with the junior high students. What I found at every grade level were students playing and working together. Ann Spencer, who leads the NOST program, says the goal is to provide social, emotional and intellectual development for students that also backs up the curriculum being taught during the school day.
Parents, if they can afford it, pay a daily or weekly fee. Using federal funds, the state Department of Education provides grants to community groups to help them provide safe, interesting and exciting programs like NOST that offer opportunities for academic enrichment coordinated with the curriculum. As I saw parents picking up their youngsters, I also had a sense of the tremendous assistance NOST provides to single parents and families where both parents work. I went home feeling good, too, not just because of a pretty good score in bowling but because there is nothing so uplifting as being with young people when they are doing good things. NOST gives Newport students the opportunity to do just that.
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