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New Hampshire Views: New ideas for old budget challenges

As Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan readies for her first budget-planning season in the state’s corner office, she got started on a good note last week by promising a measured approach. She warned that while she aims to see some of the deep cuts included in the current biennium’s budget reversed, it won’t happen all at once. That’s commendable, because although we didn’t agree with the previous Legislature’s slash-and-shutter budget style – particularly in education and health and human services – the state’s fiscal situation remains precarious and calls for budgetary restraint and creativity.

Hassan and state lawmakers may want to begin by considering a move from the playbook of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Smith. In a meeting with Sentinel editors during his bid for his party’s nomination, Smith laid out a budgeting approach in which state leaders analyze the provision of funding for state services using a system of metrics. While we’re not suggesting a simple formula in which every dollar of funding for state services is based solely on return on investment, we favor Smith’s idea of putting greater weight in decision-making on hard data analyzing the effectiveness of state agencies, over anecdotal arguments. State agencies should always be held accountable for how they spend taxpayer money, but this becomes particularly vital in lean times when every dollar is being stretched even further.

Budget planners must also do a better job of increasing state revenue. During her campaign, Hassan highlighted two areas she thought the state could tap for more income: repealing a 10-cent cigarette tax cut and considering a single, high-end casino in the state. It’s unlikely that those will be enough to foot the bill for budget increases. But through innovation – one of Hassan’s main talking points during her campaign – the state may be able to increase its resources even more.

Take, for example, fees for using state parks. Nearly every park in the Monadnock Region has fee boxes posted at trailheads for visitors to leave cash, but most are unmanned due to lack of funding. Why not also put barcodes on those boxes that would allow hikers to scan them with their smartphones and pay their fees online with a credit card? Businesses such as Amazon and Apple have perfected ways of making it easy for people to spend money on things they want. State officials could also consider adding optional automatic renewal to online hunting and fishing license sales, making it easier for sportsmen to do business with the state.

The boost in revenue from these areas may be minimal, but there are surely other unexplored areas to consider. And in a time when every dime counts, tapping technology to make extra money could help ease the pain of the budgeting process.

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