The governor's claims that the FY16/17 budget she vetoed is unbalanced and dishonest continue to be unfounded, misleading, and hurtful to the people of New Hampshire. As the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I stand by our proposal as a solid foundation that is good for New Hampshire, spending $600 million more than the FY14/15 budget.
Within days of the House and Senate passing the $11.35 billion state budget, Governor Hassan irrationally acted on her veto promise. Many, on both sides of the aisle, are scratching their heads about what she hoped to achieve by taking this action. Many recall that when John Lynch was governor, he simply allowed the 2012/13 budget to go into law without his signature. He fully understood the turmoil that would descend on state agencies and our citizens with a veto. His priorities were well-placed when he allowed the budget to pass into law without his signature.
The House and Senate, in anticipation of Governor Hassan's veto, prepared a six-month continuing resolution (using FY15 appropriations) that would prevent a government shutdown. It was a bit of a puzzle when the Democrats introduced their own continuing resolution to fund government at FY16 levels, when they too had joined the chorus of claims that our budget was irresponsible and unbalanced.
Last week the Senate Finance Committee met in public with the non-partisan Legislative Budget Assistant (LBA) to review the governor's accusations that the budget was unbalanced, dishonest and made promises it couldn't keep. One by one, those claims were refuted.
In addition, the public learned that the Department of Health and Human Services had requested additional funding for Medicaid caseload spending. The governor denied that request and neglected to account for it in her budget. If the governor had acceded to the department's request, she would have been out of balance at the close of Fiscal Year 15. It was clearly disingenuous of the governor to then ask the Senate to address a problem she was aware of months before but didn't address.
I appreciate that the governor is willing to work together and I look forward to having some productive conversations. Since revenues are ahead of plan by $42.5 million, we can only assume that if there is a problem (which the governor clearly believes there is), it has to be on the spending side of the equation.
For us, what will be extremely helpful in finding a path forward will be for the governor to provide us with the spending numbers now — and not make us wait until the end of September. If the governor does have a problem, we want to be able to help solve that problem as soon as possible. The citizens of New Hampshire expect no less than for us to come together and solve this problem as soon as possible.
This budget does so much good: it funds the mental health settlement and the 10 beds at the N.H. Hospital and the staff; it fully funds developmental disabilities and the wait list; it restores cuts made by Governor Hassan to the home health agencies (like Visiting Nurses and Granite State Independent Living) and provides the first rate increase since 2006; it increases spending on drug and alcohol prevention, treatment, and recovery by 75 percent more than the last budget; and it restores ServiceLink, Meals on Wheels, the DHHS district offices, and Emergency Shelters.
This budget restores the retiree health insurance premium contribution to 12.5 percent; it spends more than the governor's budget on roads and bridges, restores the DMV stations and state troopers. This budget starts to seriously rebuild the Rainy Day Fund, from $9.3 million to more than $21 million over the biennium. It also offers a modest cut to business taxes which will help our small businesses grow.
This budget sends money back to our cities and towns through state aid grants, flood control, rooms and meals distribution, and increased education adequacy payments.
This budget does all that and more without the $129 million in taxes and fees as proposed by the governor. We found a way to build this budget without adding any unnecessary financial burden on our hardworking citizens.
The governor's unsubstantiated claims (much like the claims she made during our last budget) and her subsequent veto directly impacts our communities, state agencies, and important programs. As we wait for the governor to provide the information on spending, critical new mental health programs don't get funded, increased spending on drug & alcohol programs doesn't happen, cities and towns are held hostage and left wondering about the tax rate-setting process, and much more.
I urge the governor to work with the legislature and share the information we need to move forward.
(A Meredith Republican, Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate. She is chair of Senate Finance Committee.)
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