Earlier this month, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, a bi-partisan group of 10 legislators, met to consider nearly 50 items that will impact our state and our budget.
The purpose of the committee is to "consult with, assist, advise, and supervise the work of the legislative budget assistant." The Fiscal Committee also considers matters concerning appropriations, expenditures, finances, revenues or any fiscal matters of the state.
Most of the items on the agenda were fairly easy to address and related to issues created as a result of the Governor's veto of the budget.
One notable item was a request by the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services for an extension of the public release of the Fiscal Year 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and other audited financial statements.
This was notable because the legislature has been waiting for information on spending and lapses so we can confirm how we finished Fiscal Year 15. We have been concerned about the spending side of the budget, because even though revenues were coming in on or above target, the governor issued executive orders asking for cuts throughout state government. You may also recall that the governor attempted to take funds appropriated to nursing homes and home health care agencies. So getting information on spending is critical to having the entire picture of our financial situation. While we have been anxiously waiting for this information, the department's request for a two-week extension was approved.
Another responsibility of the Fiscal Committee is to consider proposed recommendations for performance audits on various state agencies. Performance audits help legislators understand how well an agency is doing and if improvements are required. This month, recommendations were made for audits on the Department of Information Technology, Homeland Security, Environmental Services, and Bridge Maintenance under the Department of Transportation. These proposed recommendations were approved by the committee.
There were several federal grants that we accepted relative to substance abuse, totaling approximately $2.2 million in new money. This represents additional funding above and beyond what we are currently spending in the current budget. With this new money, New Hampshire will be spending close to $70 million (state and federal funds). This spending doesn't include new legislation that is being brought forward as result of the drug task force.
We also accepted federal grant funding totaling approximately $15 million that will flow to the cities and towns in this budget.
At the end of the Fiscal Committee meeting there were presentations by various departments on informational items. The committee does not vote on informational items — they are essentially a status report to the committee. Of particular interest was a presentation by the commissioner of Health & Human Services on the status of the Sununu Youth Services Center. The current budget required the commissioner to present a plan to reduce expenditures by $1.7 million in 2016 and $3.5 million in 2017.
Historically, the SYSC spends approximately $13 million each year at the 144-bed facility in Manchester. For the past couple years, the population has been about 50 youth, making the cost of running this facility unsustainable. The commissioner advised that he believed he could absorb the $1.7 million cut in 2016, but that in 2017 in order to meet the cut, he would need to lay off staff, make payouts to employees, and mothball the facility, which could cost the state approximately $5 million. The commissioner's proposal didn't seem viable to many committee members, so we will continue to work on a solution that assures our young people get the care they need, and also assures taxpayer funds are being spent responsibly.
(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)