Hundreds pack State House for public budget hearing

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Hundreds of New Hampshire residents flooded the State House on Tuesday to advocate for more state spending on substance abuse treatment, services for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness, the university system and more.

"(My daughter) has taught me to be strong and to advocate for what is most important in our lives," said Kimberly Habib, whose daughter has a disability.

The Senate Finance Committee heard public testimony for hours as part of its process of reworking the House's $11.2 billion, two-year state budget. Senators must pass a budget by June 4. The two chambers will then negotiate a plan to send to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The existing $10.7 billion budget ends June 30.

The House's budget reduces Hassan's proposed spending for services for people with developmental disabilities by around $50 million, a cut that has prompted backlash.

William Diener of Manchester brought his daughter Sarah, who has cerebral palsy, and asked lawmakers to consider how Sarah lives: She cannot walk, dress herself or communicate with others.

"I know this must sound extreme to you, but there are people who experience life like this every day," he said.

The House's budget also removes money in Hassan's proposal to extend substance abuse treatment for Medicaid patients.

"Funding for treatment is essential and crucial to saving lives," said Lynn Fuller of Farmington.

Winifred Langtry, a graduate of Keene State College and former teacher, urged lawmakers to increase funding for the university system. The House's budget reduces the system's funding from 2015 levels in each of the next two years.

"There are people today who can't earn their way through, not with the cost of tuition," Langtry said.

Sherri Harden, an AARP volunteer, asked for a restoration in funding for ServiceLink, a program that helps older people live independently.

Patty Burlingame told lawmakers about her son, who had been preparing to play golf professionally but suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2008 car accident. Burlingame said she and her family receive help through Lakes Region Community Services, a program that receives state funding.

"We were thrown into a world that we knew nothing about," she said. "Having available and caring experts to guide us through this unknown world was and is still invaluable."

Others who testified Tuesday called for a continuation of the state's Medicaid expansion plan, set to expire at the end of next year, and a return of roughly $50 million to the state's renewable energy fund, among other things.

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