State House Memo: Use part of the state surplus to restore critical programs
In the previous state budget, there were dramatic cuts to essential programs within the Department of Health and Human Services. Our communities and citizens felt that pain, and the state government began to feel the pain with the recent legal settlement over New Hampshire’s failure to provide essential mental health services. The lesson learned is easy and clear. We must fully fund essential services. When we do, our communities, economy and state budget all benefit in the long run.
As we debated the current biennial budget last June, Sen. Chuck Morse summed up his position by saying that he didn’t want to have to make certain cuts, but there just wasn’t enough money to pay for the programs. As a result, he (and fellow Senate Republicans) demanded that we include an across-the-board $7 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services in the back of the budget, thus reducing or eliminating necessary funding of essential programs provided in the front of the budget. Today we know there is additional revenue – about $15.3 million that hasn’t been allocated from the Fiscal Year 2012-13 surplus – and we are currently running more than $17 million over revenue projections for Fiscal Year 2014-15, while the economic forecasters are increasingly confident of a higher rate of growth.
Some of the surplus above projections for the current biennium will need to be used to pay for the essential mental health services settlement reached in December. This is a stark reminder that when we don’t pay up front, we pay more down the road – and the current back-of-the-budget cut may lead us down that road again. Therefore, House and Senate Democrats are proposing that we split the $17 million surplus from 2012-13, use $7 million to eliminate the cut to Health and Human Services and send the remainder to the Rainy Day Fund.
If we do nothing, if we don’t reduce the Department of Health and Human Services’ obligation to make additional cuts, in six months there will be further reductions in programs that our citizens and communities rely on every day – programs like services for the elderly, including Service Link and Meals on Wheels, and services for children and families, including the restarting of the CHINS program that is so important to our schools.
We cannot allow such cuts to occur. Our communities need these services. Not having these services is detrimental to our economy. Not providing the services shifts heavier costs down to municipal and county property taxes. And when we fail to provide these essential services, we set the state up to face lawsuits and liability costs well beyond the costs of simply providing the services.
When we talk about funding the Department of Health and Human Services, we must remember two things. First, these cuts affect real people, denying them services they absolutely need for their health and well-being. Second, $1 cut usually means $2 of services lost, sometimes more. These programs are tied to federal matching money that our federal taxes paid for, money we lose unless we match it.
New Hampshire loses in too many ways if these cuts go forward. We have the money to eliminate them, and we must do so.
(Concord Rep. Mary Jane Wallner is chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. Lebanon Rep. Susan Almy is chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.)