While the legislature has been enjoying a well-deserved summer recess, legislative leadership, along with the governor and her staff have begun a series of meetings for the purpose of crafting a plan that would allow us to move forward in dealing with those parts of the budget on which we disagree. While the Continuing Resolution is in place until December, it was important to have initiated these discussions.
In a recent letter to the governor, I reminded her that we have confirmed, through the Legislative Budget Assistant, that the budget she vetoed is a balanced spending plan, addressing many of the concerns that she had brought to the legislature.
There are a number of different paths that we could have taken in order to resolve the detrimental effects placed upon the people of New Hampshire when Governor Hassan exercised her veto authority.
As a direct result of her action, we very well could witness a spike in property taxes, depending upon how and when the Department of Revenue Administration sets local property taxes, the inability of the state to address the opioid epidemic, as well as any undue pressure felt by the state's health and human services providers.
House Finance Chair Neal Kurk (r-Weare) has pointed out a number of important points that clearly shows how ill advised the governor's veto was.
· The budget appropriates $11.352 billion in total funds for the next biennium, an increase of 5% from the current biennium.
· Dedicated funds were not "raided" in the process.
· The community college system would have been fully funded allowing them to freeze tuition for the next biennium; USNH would have seen an increase in funds.
· Health and Human Services would have received higher funding in this budget than in any previous one--$4.449 billion, up 8% from the current budget. Additionally, funding would have been restored for elderly services, including meals on wheels, services for veterans, the developmentally disabled, and the mentally ill, with the latter at levels meeting the requirements of a legal settlement.
· The nearly 40,000 people served by the expanded Medicaid program will continue to receive their 100% federally funded health coverage through December 31, 2016, as provided for in current law.
· Funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment would have been increased by 49.5%, to $42.3 million.
· A 5% rate increase would have been granted to providers of long-term care in the community.
· Transportation department services would have been funded at $1.172 billion, an increase of 8% in the current budget.
· The Department of Safety would have seen a 9% increase in its budget, largely through the substitution of general funds for highway funds.
· The Fish and Game fund would have received a $1.2 million infusion from the general fund.
I outlined many more examples in my letter to the governor.
There are 160 democratic state representatives and 10 democratic state senators who very much want to address the needs of our citizens, as do members of the majority party. This was clearly illustrated when most of minority party supported the continuing resolution. That vote was necessary to address the governor's veto threat so that the people of New Hampshire would not suffer through a shutdown of state government.
As I wrote to the governor, "The cleanest and clearest path forward for you would be to politically free all 170 colleagues from across the aisle, allowing them to vote their conscience on veto day." We remain confident that the many issues listed in my letter are mutual concerns to us all. In fact, if it were not for the governor's veto, we would have a state budget in place today.
I have called upon the governor to provide us with her thoughts as to the best way to address this issue. None of Gov. Hassan's concerns are of such a critical nature that they could not be addressed in the next legislative session.
The governor's argument over the 21 million dollar business tax cut issue pales in the face of the systemic stresses placed on our service providers, the neediest in our society, and the employees of New Hampshire when she chose to veto the budget. It has proved to be the most harmful of the three choices that were presented to her, i.e. sign, veto, or let the budget become law without signature.
It is incumbent upon us as leaders to evaluate the impact of the decisions we make, apply what we have learned from the results of those decisions, and consider a new course of action. I encourage the governor to consider the current circumstances and the impact of not having a 2016-17 FY plan that addresses the many important concerns for the functioning of our state. I call upon her to free the 170 democratic legislators, allowing them to vote to follow the clearest and quickest path for a sound, pragmatic solution, which would be to override her veto of the budget.
Shawn Jasper is the NH Speaker of the House.