Granite Staters deserve a responsible state budget
An op-ed by State Sen. Jim Gray
With divided government in Concord, some people led Granite Staters to believe that there would be gridlock in the legislature and nothing would get done. I am pleased to say that working in conjunction with the leadership shown by Governor Sununu, we proved those people wrong.
Case workers at the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) were increased. We implemented the 10-year mental health plan, with increasing the number of designated receiving facility and voluntary inpatient psychiatric admissions for mental health patients. Protecting our most vulnerable citizens has been and continues to be a top priority for Republicans and I am grateful for Governor Sununu who has shared these priorities and signed the bills into law.
Republicans and Democrats agree on most of what the budget should include. Governor Sununu proposed in his budget to fully fund the developmental disability waitlist, a critical element that the entire Senate voted to support. There was consensus on reauthorizing Granite Shield to prevent deadly opiates from entering New Hampshire and to provide funding for substance abuse treatment. These are just a fraction of our common ground and what would have been implemented under a bipartisan budget.
When Governor Sununu presented his budget to the joint session of the New Hampshire legislature, it met the needs of the state while taking care of our most vulnerable, without any new taxes or fees. Governor Sununu's budget fully funded a new Secure Psychiatric Unit for civilly committed mental health patients; it used surplus funds for school building aid and expanded the student loan repayment program to ease the financial burden on college students.
Unfortunately, the budget passed by the House and Senate cut funding for mental health patients, raided the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund of $6.5 million, increased business taxes, created a $93 million structural deficit and would have set the state up to create an income tax. At a time when the state has record revenue surplus it would be reckless and irresponsible to raise taxes and halt the economic success that has been born from a business-friendly environment.
New Hampshire business owners have made financial decisions based on the tax rate that went into effect on Jan. 1, and to retroactively raise that rate six months later can have catastrophic effects on employers and their employees. Some employers may be forced to lay off workers, some may cut hours and others may move out of state or decide not to move here.
It is troublesome that in a budget of over $13 billion, $6.5 million could not be found without raiding the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund. A trust fund that is designed to finance water contamination projects such as those on the Seacoast and along Route 202A in Rochester. This is a valuable financial resource and if we irresponsibly deplete the account there will not be money available when PFOA, MTBE and other contaminates get into public water sources.
The budget as proposed by legislative Democrats spends more money than it takes in, and that is the definition of a deficit. There is a $260 million budget surplus from the last budget. That money should not be spent on the state's operating costs. Doing so would force the next budget writers to cut programs that Granite Staters have come to rely on in order to successfully balance the next biennium budget.
In fact, Governor Sununu proposed using surplus funds to create a Capital Infrastructure Revitalization Fund that would offset costs to municipalities. It included $750,000 in grants to local fire departments, $1.5 million to the Affordable Housing Fund for workforce housing, traffic lights at dangerous intersections and fully funding the new Secure Psychiatric Unit to ensure that mental health patients are not housed at the State Prison with violent criminals.
We know that education funding is a problem in New Hampshire and has become a burden for local property taxpayers. However, the formula Senate Democrats snuck into the budget never had a hearing, lacks public input and brings back donor towns, an idea that already failed the state once before. A new funding formula can be created with the input of school boards and administrators, municipalities and the families who use our schools. A great starting point that could be done today would be to fully restore stabilization grants.
I voted against the Democrats' budget and support Governor Sununu in his veto. He has been consistent that he would not sign a budget that raises taxes and creates a structural deficit. The Governor should be commended for standing by those principals. Rather than staging political stunts in Concord, Democrats should come to the table. There is room for Democrats and Republicans to come together and produce a bipartisan budget for Governor Sununu to sign.