Our Turn: Tax breaks for wealthy over child protection

For the Monitor
Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu and the Republican majority chose to appease the far right on the budget, a budget even former House Speaker Bill O’Brien has praised.

That’s not the New Hampshire way.

Gov. Sununu’s partisan budget spends much more on additional tax breaks for business owners and big corporations than it does on child safety and child protection. In doing so, it blatantly ignores “foundational” (basic) recommendations on child protection coming from a recent independent audit of DCYF.

The massive tax breaks for the wealthy elite primarily benefit big corporations with headquarters out-of-state. Over the next several years, the only more significant threat to our state’s budget, and to increasing your local property taxes, is Trumpcare.

By looking out for the wealthy elite, critical and cost-effective priorities like child safety and child protection lost out.

New Hampshire’s recent shortcomings on child safety and child protection have been well-publicized and well-documented. The situation has only been exacerbated by our opioid epidemic.

While some pundits are calling this budget a “win” (simply because it passed), it is really a lost opportunity to protect the safety and security of our most vulnerable and at-risk children.

First, while the budget adds case assessment workers at DCYF and funds an Office of Child Advocate, it fails to spend any money on critical and cost-effective programming necessary to prevent the future mistreatment of children.

In fact, the so-called voluntary services program went unfunded, even though it is a “foundational” recommendation of an independent audit of DCYF released in December. This critical program preventing the future mistreatment of our at-risk children is recommendation No. 10 found on page 15 of that report.

Why do an independent audit if you don’t follow its most basic, foundational recommendations?

Unfortunately, all of our efforts to add this prevention programming, along with the family social workers, were voted down by the Republican majority.

Second, foster care was also largely lost in the discussions and reports about DCYF as well as the opioid epidemic.

Foster care placements help ensure that children can stay close to their communities, schools and social networks – not hundreds of miles away or in another state.

The problem is that the number of foster care homes available is not keeping pace with demand, which is increasing dramatically, particularly in the opioid epidemic.

The significant and pressing need for foster care support has been well-documented and well-publicized.

Why were common sense steps on child protection rejected by the Republican majority? As best as we can tell, Republicans in the majority didn’t want to support too many programs perceived as “new,” for fear of losing votes on the far right of their party.

This shouldn’t be about unifying one party or the other. It shouldn’t be about placating the far right. It should be about doing the right thing.

As Nelson Mandela said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

In the end, what does Gov. Sununu’s budget reveal about New Hampshire’s soul when it prioritizes even more tax breaks for big corporations over child safety?

We know the Granite State can do so much better.

(Mary Jane Wallner is state representative for Ward 5 of Concord and for Hopkinton. She is the ranking Democrat on the House Finance Committee. Dan Feltes is state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and serves on the Senate Finance Committee.)