As we enter the biennial budget-writing season in the New Hampshire Legislature, many representatives and senators have intoned that we must "live within our means". This glib mantra glosses over the grim reality: over the past dozen or so years, New Hampshire's population and economy have grown, but our revenue has shrunk. Our "means" have increased, but our revenue has not.
Since 2001, New Hampshire's General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent. During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent. As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue. It's not working very well.
Our university system is chronically underfunded. After adjusting for inflation, state funding for the university system has dropped 20 percent since 2001. In-state tuition and fees at UNH are the third highest in the nation. Our students graduate with the highest average college debt in the nation. Many of our talented high school students choose to go to college out of state because they find that it is cheaper to pay out-of-state rates in places like New York, than to pay in-state tuition at UNH. When our young people seek education in faraway places, we are robbing our future.
To attract business to New Hampshire, we need top quality infrastructure. New Hampshire roads and bridges do not make the grade, particularly when you get off the interstates. The problem is declining revenue. Since the gas tax was last raised in 1991, gas tax revenues have declined 20 percent, after inflation. The 4.2 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax that went into effect last year will make up for most of that decline, yet there are Republicans who are working to repeal it.
The number of full-time employees in our Department of Environmental Services has dropped 25 percent in the past 12 years. We can't protect our environment for future generations without people.
Twenty-five years ago, New Hampshire's community mental health system was held up as a model for the rest of the nation. Repeated cuts over the years have damaged the system to the point that the state was sued last year for underfunding. The state has settled that case, and the cost to comply with the settlement agreement will be significant.
Republicans say we can grow our way out of our revenue problem. The numbers don't back them up. Since 2001, real growth in our state GDP has been 15 percent, while inflation-adjusted general fund tax revenue has declined by 8 percent. Recent experience shows us that growing the economy does not result in higher revenues.
Republicans are proposing to cut business taxes by about $85 million. The have not explained what cuts they would make to our bare-bones state budget. Would the University System take another hit, as it did in 2011-2012, during the William O'Brien years? Will they cut community mental health and environmental protection — again?
The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the "general good". It also states that each of us is obligated to "contribute his share" to the cost of government. Republicans are so focused on tax cuts that they have lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.
We count upon state government for law enforcement, care for the elderly, a system of justice, and many other services.
We also want a state government that invests in the future by building and maintaining infrastructure, protecting the environment, and educating the next generation.
In 2002, the Republican Party adopted a new "pledge" against any new taxes, any tax increases, any new revenue. The result has been a dozen years of cuts in higher education, reduced staff for environmental protection, and a decline in the condition of our roads. These cuts make New Hampshire less attractive to the businesses and young families that are the key to our future.
We cannot cut our way to prosperity. Every government, like every business, must invest for the future. Our legislature is now controlled by people who have no answer to the decline in State revenue other than to make more cuts. This bodes ill for our state and its future.
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