NH House Legalizes Keno, Rejects Cigarette Tax Hike

House members voted 212-161 for final passage of an 11.2 billion, two-year state budget

The House voted 212-161 for final passage of an $11.2 billion, two-year state budget, sending the bill to the Senate.

Voting on the various amendments to the budget lasted more than six hours Wednesday as Democrats tried to restore cuts to many health services, including those for people with developmental disabilities. All of the Democratic-led efforts failed.

Members of a still-divided Republican caucus, with one faction led by House Speaker Shawn Jasper and the other by Rep. Bill O'Brien, were able to agree on several budget amendments that found majority support.

The Senate is likely to change the budget substantially.

The budget does not include the pay raise recently negotiated by the state employees union and Hassan. Restoring that raise failed 167-199. Seventeen Republicans voted in favor of the raise.

An amendment to raise the cigarette tax, close offshore tax loopholes and raise car registration fees, as proposed in Hassan's budget, also failed.

Earlier in the day, the House voted to legalize keno in bars and restaurants to bring in an additional $8 to $12 million in non-tax state revenue over the biennium.

Members voted 206-176 in favor of the gambling game, which involves wagering by picking a series of numbers that can appear on an electronic screen. Hassan included revenue from keno in her initial budget. She says bringing the game to New Hampshire would keep revenue from the state's citizens who play the game in Massachusetts here. The House passed keno last year, but it died in the Senate.

Under the amendment, a town or city would have to approve keno before any bars or restaurants there could establish it. Licensees would keep 8 percent of the proceeds, with most the remaining money going into the state's education trust fund.

The House also passed a budget amendment that restores $36 million in public school funding, eliminates the creation of a chief operating officer, cuts overtime pay in the Department of Corrections and takes $10 million from the state's rainy day fund.

The amendment, approved by a vote of 210-170, was drafted by House Finance Chairman Neal Kurk and Rep. Steve Stepanek, a close ally of former speaker Bill O'Brien. Republican leaders had been scrambling to cobble together a deal that would appeal to a conservative faction of lawmakers led by O'Brien and moderates led by Speaker Shawn Jasper.

The amendment also cuts $2.5 million from Hassan's budget for the community college system, still leaving the system with more than it has now, and eliminates seven nursing positions at New Hampshire Hospital.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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