On April 2, 2015 a good friend of mine lost her 21-year old son to a heroin overdose. A few days ago she sent me an e-mail and asked that I look at her facebook page. This is what she posted:
"To the NH Legislature:
Allow me to speak in the vernacular you understand.
First let me remind you the definition of a constituent. Any one of the people who live and vote in an area.
If I knew that my constituents wanted a healthy budget;
And if I knew that my constituents in my community continue to die due to the current drug epidemic;
And if I knew that my constituents with mental health issues were not receiving the help they need;
And if I knew that many other programs, important to my constituents, were not being funded due to a single person's opinion that the budget passed was not what that single person wanted and vetoed it;
Then I would need to uphold my duty to my constituents and override the budget veto on September 16th."
The budget the governor vetoed included a 75 percent increase in funding for prevention, treatment and recovery efforts, a total of $42 million to fight the substance abuse epidemic facing New Hampshire.
The budget the governor vetoed also included full funding of the mental health settlement and the necessary funds to expand bed capacity at New Hampshire Hospital.
Because of the governor's veto, the state is in a holding pattern on many important issues — the substance abuse epidemic being one. Because of this, I question her commitment to this crisis. We know that back in August 2014 the governor declared a state of emergency because 40 people overdosed on synthetic cannabinoid (aka "Spice"). Also in 2014 there were 321 drug-related deaths, 97 from heroin overdoses alone. In 2015, by all accounts we are headed on the same trajectory. Where is the sense of urgency? Shouldn't this be considered a state of emergency too?
I also question the governor's sincerity in advocating for our most vulnerable citizens based on her actions during and after the budget process. She attempted to raid money dedicated to nursing homes and the home health agencies like Granite State Independent Living and visiting nurses. Fortunately — working with the House — we restored funding to the nursing homes and provided a 5 percent increase in rates to home health providers — the first since 2006. Now these agencies won't receive their rate increase for at least six months.
Crotched Mountain Hospital, which serves individuals with disabilities, was in critical need of increased funding. Although we provided that funding, they will have to wait too. The governor also cut funding to community health centers, like Mid-State Health (Plymouth & Bristol) and Ammonoosuc Community Health Services (Warren & Woodsville). During the budget negotiations, she did not list them as a priority in restoration of funding.
Finally, I question the governor's sincerity in wanting to work together towards a budget we can agree to and pass.
As an example, Governor Hassan's recent proposal at a compromise budget was delivered via a press conference rather than with budget writers in the House and Senate. The action was disappointing and poorly conceived.
Her recent proposal increases spending by $100 million and adds $100 million in new taxes and revenues. In an about-face from her previous position, the governor now proposes a more aggressive business tax cut in a shorter time period. In order to pay for the more costly tax cut, she wants to increase taxes on drivers, smokers, and small businesses.
We have met regularly with the governor's office and will continue to do so. But it appears that, much like in the last session when the governor would not work with us on a New Hampshire solution for Medicaid expansion, it will take legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle in both houses to move the state forward once again.
The Legislature has its priorities right. We made substance abuse, mental health, and our most vulnerable citizens a priority. We provided tax relief to New Hampshire's private sector employers with a very modest tax cut spread over three budget cycles. We balanced the budget and rebuilt the Rainy Day Fund without raising taxes. As a reminder, the House budget proposed a 3 percent spending increase over the FY14/15 budget. The governor's proposed increase was 7 percent; and the Senate's was 5 percent.
We delivered a fiscally responsible, conservative and compassionate budget.
On September 16th the Legislature will return to the Statehouse to vote on the Governor's veto of the FY16/17 budget. My hope is that we will come together and override the veto. My fear is that if we don't, people and programs will continue to suffer.
(Meredith Republican Jeane Forrester represents District 2 in the N.H. Senate.)
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