October 20. 2016
By CHUCK MORSE and JEB BRADLEY
As the presidential election draws our attention, it is easy to lose track of critical state issues, such as implementation of the Fiscal Year 2016-17 budget, first vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan. She called it “dishonest” and “fiscally irresponsible” before claiming it a triumph in her recent political advertising.
In the budget, there are bipartisan areas of legislative agreement including funding provided for substance abuse, mental health and services for families with disabled children.
In the midst of New Hampshire’s public health crisis where heroin- and fentanyl-related deaths continue to increase, Gov. Hassan has failed to expeditiously distribute the 75 percent increase in funding the Legislature authorized. That failure began with her budget veto that delayed funding for nearly three months and continued with her ineffective drug czar. Recent spending reports reveal $2 million out of $3 million of newly authorized funds have yet to be distributed. The governor blames bureaucratic regulations for the delay, but in the middle of a crisis where people continue to perish, such excuses are just that: excuses.
Despite the Legislature providing $8.7 million to eliminate a waiting list for families with a disabled child, $3.7 million of those funds weren’t spent in FY 16. Adding insult to injury, this waiting list has not been eliminated but instead has grown to 182 individuals. The Legislature agreed on a bipartisan basis that families with a disabled child should receive services but the governor has withheld 42 percent of the funds appropriated. She has no answer for these 182 struggling individuals and their families.
There is bipartisan legislative agreement that mental health services need to be funded starting with the New Hampshire Hospital. Yet again, $4.1 million in funding remains unspent. The opening of the 10-bed mental health crisis unit at the New Hampshire Hospital was delayed by more than a year and hasn’t been used to capacity, meaning hospital emergency rooms across the state continue to have patients waiting for treatment from facilities ill-equipped to treat their specific mental health needs. Again, no answers have been provided by Gov. Hassan, who puts all her energy into campaigning while hard-working New Hampshire citizens continue to see their needs unmet.
Gov. Hassan has mismanaged bipartisan priorities that voters agree with, while allowing department heads to propose spending increases for 2017 of $1.4 billion (12.5 percent) because of her focus on campaigning.
While new spending of $1.4 billion is a “wish list,” it will make setting budget priorities difficult for Legislators who want to meet the needs of New Hampshire citizens while also protecting New Hampshire taxpayers. Additionally, if approved, these spending increases could eventually force a sales or income tax.
A legitimate question to ask Gov. Hassan is what taxes she believes should be raised by the next Legislature to pay for her unprecedented $1.4 billion spending increase.
Her last budget proposal included $100 million in higher fees and new taxes on drivers, smokers and business owners. Who can forget her LLC Tax, an income tax on small business owners? Does she favor a new tax on capital gains? Some in her party do. We simply do not know what new or higher taxes Gov. Hassan expects the next Legislature to raise.
As we look beyond the pending election and prepare for the next legislative session, we hope to continue our work of the last six years. We have met the needs of New Hampshire voters by providing resources for substance abuse, mental health, and disabled children but also for K-12 education, higher education, environmental protection and insurance coverage for those left behind by Obamacare. We have managed these budgets without new taxes and lowered New Hampshire’s business taxes, which were third highest in the nation, and added $100 million to our Rainy Day Fund. Because of the careful fiscal management we provided, the economy has grown with more hard-working men and women finding jobs in the first half of 2016 than all of 2014 and 2015 combined.
Gov. Hassan is very good at claiming political credit for the overall budget success. Voters should remember she first vetoed the budget then mismanaged its implementation to the detriment of those struggling with addiction, mental health or disabled children. Now she has proposed $1.4 billion in new spending without a single word about what new taxes she believes should pay for it. While she is out campaigning, she is not providing the fiscal management our state needs and what taxpayers deserve.
Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is President of the New Hampshire Senate. Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, is Senate Majority Leader.