My Turn: From Hassan, revisionist budget history
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan has been quick to take credit for the passage of the bipartisan state budget. However, a review of the process shows that her dubious claims of fiscal leadership do not reflect reality.
The No. 1 priority for the governor is to develop a balanced, fiscally sound budget proposal to kick off the budget season. Unfortunately, she presented an unaffordable plan in February that increased state spending by $1 billion – a 10 percent increase over the previous budget. Her proposal included numerous taxes and spending increases and a delay in important business tax reforms passed last session by Republicans. Her budget was “balanced” with $80 million in non-existent casino fees – a plan that was rejected by the Democratic-controlled House.
House Democrats then proposed a budget that included a dramatic increase in state spending funded by an increase in the state gas tax. Instead of opposing the House Democrats’ proposal, Hassan remained silent and didn’t rule out supporting it in the final budget negotiations.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans, under the leadership of Senate President Peter Bragdon, Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, did their homework and made tough choices. They presented a balanced proposal built on reasonable revenue estimates that funded critical state services without raising taxes.
The Senate Republican proposal increased funding for Health and Human Services programs, restored funding to the UNIQUE scholarship program that serves high-need New Hampshire residents seeking a college education and preserved a scholarship program for needy students. At the same time, the Senate implemented the promised business tax reforms passed last year, increased no taxes or fees, and increased spending by a very responsible 3 percent.
How did Hassan respond to this fiscally responsible proposal? By launching partisan political attacks against the Senate, calling its plan “fiscally irresponsible” and “shortsighted” and threatening that it would “cost hundreds of jobs.”
Despite Hassan’s unproductive comments, House Democrats and Senate Republicans were able to come together and reach a compromise. During this process, Hassan did not provide any new ideas to balance the budget and even saddled budget writers with an 11th-hour, $38 million state employee contract expense that was omitted from her original proposal. She also decided to leave New Hampshire and travel out of state for several days while a bipartisan group of legislators in Concord worked on a plan. Senate Republicans stuck to their fiscally responsible principles and produced a budget that closely mirrored their original proposal and bore little resemblance to the governor’s plan.
Like the Republican Senate proposal, the state budget does not raise taxes or fees. The tax and fee increases in Hassan’s proposal were eliminated, and the gas tax increase she was willing to allow was also excluded. Like the Republican Senate proposal, the budget spends only what the state can afford at about 3 percent, significantly less than the increase included in the governor’s proposal. Like the Republican Senate proposal, it implements the important business tax reforms Hassan wanted to stop. And like the Republican Senate proposal, the budget preserves critical state services.
Hassan is now attempting to rewrite history by crediting herself with bipartisan leadership, despite the fact that she didn’t provide any real leadership during the budget process. She is praising a state budget that is based almost entirely on a Republican proposal that she attacked and disparaged only a few weeks ago. Fortunately, the people of New Hampshire realize that they would be saddled by Hassan’s proposed tax hikes and reckless spending increases if not for the efforts of the fiscally responsible Republican Senate.
Real leaders give credit where credit is due. That makes two critical tests of her leadership that the governor has now failed.
(Jennifer Horn is chairwoman of the state Republican Party.)