As we approach the Memorial Day weekend, Senators on budget writing committees are looking forward to having their work done by the time we head home late on Thursday night.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee, which I chair, settled-in on Thursday to determining revenue projections for the stateís general fund and education trust fund for the next biennium starting on July 1. None of the six member committee claims to be an economic expert, but we had as much expertise as we felt necessary whether it was from the Federal Reserve or state think-tanks which focus on predicting future economic activity.
In the end, the committee settled on relatively low annual percentage growth factors for the next two years. I think we all feel a bit burned by the state failing to take in as much money as predicted in the current biennium, and Aprilís revenue numbers were chilling.
The day before the Ways and Means Committee met, a major economic forecasting agency predicted that New Hampshire job growth for the next fiscal year will be just one percent. One percent is the growth factor we accepted. And while many suggest that growth will be in the range of three percent or more in the second year of the biennium, the committee chose a conservative 2.8 percent growth factor.
In the end, our budget revenue figure for the biennium was just over $4.4 billion or about $41 million more than the House had predicted earlier this year.
The committee vote was unanimous. Lou DíAllesandro (Manchester) showed me his predictions after the vote and they were very close to the ones I had offered that the committee accepted. There is a reality to the current economic recovery and as we learned years ago, you cannot spend money you do not have.
With the new revenue figure in mind, the Senate Finance Committee went into session to make some of the most important decisions of the year.
There are vital services provided through our Medicaid system. Medicaid is a shared program with the federal government. The state sets the rates paid to providers for long term care for seniors, services for those with disabilities, treatment for adults and children with mental illness and many others.
Services for mental health patients, for example, are provided by West Central Behavioral Services in Sullivan County, Monadnock Family Services in Cheshire County and Riverbend Community Mental Health in Merrimack County. These agencies accept patients, provide services and bill the state for the costs.
The House cut the money for mental health services by $25 million costing an additional $25 million in federal Medicaid matching money. That action would drop 4,000 adults and 3,500 children from the rolls of those eligible to be served. The Senate added back- in $18 million which goes to $36 million with the federal match.
The Senate Finance Committee is also accepting a Department of Health and Human Services plan to change the current system. The mental health agencies will be able to prioritize who gets care and when. Payments to agencies, in time, will be determined by the overall care they provide to patients, including help in managing non mental health issues.
In summary, as with other significant budget items, money is being restored in the Senate budget. It is not going to be at levels of this or past years, and changes in delivering services to save money and increase efficiencies are in store.
The Senate Finance Committee will finish up its work on Thursday leaving Senators their much deserved and welcome Memorial Day weekend.
Do you have a good friend that you have only known for a few years, a person you wish you had known all your life? That is how I felt about Fred Wood who died a few days ago.
Fred was just a decade older than I, but his mechanical knowledge and skills and unique personality intrigued me, and every occasion when we were together it seemed he was the sage mentor teaching a younger and much less experienced student. It was not an easy job for Fred but he seemed to like it.
Our friendship started with Fred sharpening household tools and chains for the chain saws. With his encouragement, I bought a 1927 Model T from another friend, Dan Wolf, which was not running well. Fred took it apart and put it back together again so that it ran perfectly.
He taught me to drive it. That was not an easy process, either. Most of those I know with Model Ts learned to drive them as kids. Fred had quite a job teaching me as I was no kid. I know I frustrated him but when I got the courage to drive by myself and pulled up his hill to show him I could do it, there was a smile and more than a bit of satisfaction in his studentís performance.
Fred lived an abundant life. He and Elaine drew a constant stream of family and friends to their house, shop and garage. His life was full of rich experiences providing good stuff for story- telling decades later. Those stories were best told and learned in Fredís boat while the two of us were horned pout fishing on warm summer nights on Rand Pond. I only wish I had met Fred earlier in our lives.
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