(The following was sent to me by a reader who wrote to Sen. Bradley regarding the recent articles on the blog. He requested that his letter be published)
A Budget for New Hampshire’s Priorities
By Jeb Bradley: July 20, 2015
Two years ago, all 24 Senators voted for a budget hailed as a bipartisan accomplishment. Two years later Governor Hassan has vetoed a budget that spends $600 million more than the previous budget to meet New Hampshire’s needs. Given that backdrop and the needs of our citizens, her veto is astonishing.
The Governor’s rhetorical flourish when she wielded the veto pen included calling the budget “dishonest and irresponsible” and that legislative leadership “refused to compromise on any of the major issues.”
Human service advocates disagree. Gina Balkus, a well-respected home health care advocate said this budget is “the best budget we have seen in years,” due to the 5% increase in funding for home health care workers. Another well-respected home health care advocate Clyde Terry said “don’t veto this budget; there is a lot of good in it.”
It is not just home health care that received significant increases in funding. So too did programs to address substance abuse, mental health, families with a disabled child, higher education, transportation and services for the elderly. In terms of funding the needs of people in New Hampshire, the Legislature met the Governor more than half-way and funded priority after priority. Yet surprisingly the Governor didn’t consider this to be compromise.
Perhaps most disheartening is the Governor’s claim this budget is dishonest, because the Legislature carried forward surplus revenue from the current budget into the budget she vetoed. However, the Governor herself proposed to carry forward $13 million when she presented her version of the budget!
What the Governor is not talking about is that she has likely overspent the current budget – the one that she continually hails as a bipartisan success. The Department of Health and Human Services has acknowledged it expects to have overspent its budget ---- though it does not know by how much and won’t reveal that figure until the end of September.
Rather than hurling partisan attacks, perhaps the Governor would be better advised to focus on determining the extent of the overspending which could negatively impact the funding of future critical priorities.
The Governor also criticized the Legislature for not including in the budget, reauthorization of the NH Health Protection Plan (Medicaid Expansion), which I co-sponsored in 2014. When we passed this law with an 18-5 bipartisan vote, we included a sunset provision to review the program in a year. We did this not as a way to end the program, but instead to make sure that the program was working as intended. At this point, the program has not been fully implemented but early results are encouraging. Emergency room use is declining and the hidden tax of uncompensated care (which anyone with private insurance in NH pays via higher insurance costs) is also declining.
Nevertheless, there are still unanswered questions. For instance: Will the transition to private health insurance for beneficiaries in New Hampshire be seamless? To what extent will uncompensated care be reduced?
These are important questions that can be better answered in January when we have a full year of data to look at. Not including reauthorization in the budget should not be interpreted as a lack of support for the program, certainly not on my part. Questions need answers and a bipartisan bridge must again be built for a successful reauthorization vote to occur.
In the Governor’s veto message, she criticized not including the State Employee pay raise. What she doesn’t mention, is that the Legislature offered to partially fund the raises which the Governor rejected. We will re-examine this pay raise during the next round of budget discussions.
Perhaps the largest obstacle in the budget debate is business tax reductions. They are modest reductions, phased in over time. The Governor adamantly opposes any tax breaks to business saying they will benefit mostly out of state corporations.
I believe that’s the wrong answer given how many NH men and women are employed by corporations who in NH pay among the highest business taxes of any state in the nation.
Jim Roche, President of the Business and Industry Association, NH’s statewide chamber of commerce, said in a recent letter to the Governor, “New Hampshire’s high business tax rates are not competitive with other states. That fact, combined with excessively high electrical energy costs, high health insurance and workers’ compensation rates, and other business costs put New Hampshire employers at a significant disadvantage relative to businesses located in other states and countries.” Mr. Roche’s statement is typical of what business leaders are telling the Legislature.
Instead of modest business tax reductions to help spur business and job growth, the Governor took an opposite approach in her proposed budget – raising taxes on business including hiring more auditors at the Department of Revenue to go after small businesses.
We hope the Governor will set aside the partisan rhetoric and finger pointing and instead work with the Legislature to craft a bipartisan budget that will fund important services for our friends and neighbors in need, while also creating an environment in the state where businesses want to locate and grow their workforce. We owe the citizens of our state nothing less.