Editorial: Drastic state personnel cuts are unwise, unnecessary
The Republican strategy of starving government to keep it small, coupled with the recession and an unwillingness to raise revenue, has worked. More than a decade ago, New Hampshire employed 12,000 people to meet the needs of a smaller state population. Today, according to the State Employees’ Association, the state has 10,173 full-time employees. That number will shrink by up to 700 if Senate Republicans refuse to budge on their decision to reject all tax or fee increases and instead force Gov. Maggie Hassan and Health and Human Services Commissioner Nick Toumpas to do the dirty work of balancing the budget with cuts.
The Senate budget, which comes in $300 million below the one crafted by the House, calls for Hassan to reduce personnel costs by $50 million over the next two fiscal years. It requires Toumpas to reduce his budget by $40 million, a sum that could further diminish the department’s ability to meet the needs of people with a disability or mental illness.
“We had to take that personnel cut to make those numbers work,” Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told Monitor State House reporter Ben Leubsdorf.
What Morse meant is that the Senate majority didn’t want to take the time to identify services, programs or jobs it felt the state could do without, nor deal with the suffering and anger the cuts will cause. It wants the governor and Toumpas to do that. Such cuts are a cop-out. They’ve occurred before, and each time meeting the demands of the next big unspecified cut becomes harder.
Hundreds of jobs that were on the books but vacant have been eliminated. In some areas, two people are doing the work of three, that is, as much of it as they can. There are currently 966 vacant positions, but money saved by not filling many of them is already being used to fulfill existing state obligations. The jobs can be eliminated but, since the debt won’t go away, there won’t be any savings.
The Senate majority is acting like a man who, upon seeing someone in need, takes out some chalk, draws a box around his feet, and says, “I’d help, but I can’t get out of this box.” The Senate’s rejection of an increase in the taxes on tobacco and gasoline – a retaliation, we believe, for the House’s rejection of casino gambling – will leave the state short of the money it needs to repair damaged roads and red-listed bridges at a reasonable pace. The reduction in services made necessary by the refusal to raise revenue and cuts to the Health and Human Services budget will make the state the target of more lawsuits.
The Senate budget, to its credit, like the ones crafted by the House and the governor, does restore some of the funding for higher education. An improved state revenue picture provides some of the money to do so. But as for the rest, what some gain, others will lose.
There is a way around, if not out of, the box the Senate created. The budgets of the House and Senate are not all that far apart. The Senate’s projection of state revenue growth for 2014-15, at just 1 percent, is unreasonably conservative. Foreclosures are falling, home prices rising, the stock market soaring and the economy slowly improving. Raise that revenue growth estimate to a more realistic, but still too low, 1.5 percent and the need for the back-of-the-budget cuts goes away. It’s what the committee of conference created to negotiate a budget deal should do.