Our Turn: A budget that puts hard-working families first

Published: 6/23/2019 12:15:16 AM

New Hampshire should be proud of the balanced budget crafted by the House and Senate, which meets the needs of our communities and our people. This budget addresses the state’s most pressing issues – including the opioid and mental health crises, child protection, education funding and property tax relief – without implementing any new taxes.

This budget is an expression of our state’s values that enables us to continue moving New Hampshire forward and because of that it deserves the full support of the House, the Senate and the governor.

For communities struggling to pave their roads and keep their school doors open, this budget is a game-changer.

On the heels of a recent court ruling that said the state is failing to live up to its obligation to provide an adequate education to public school students, the House and Senate budget adds $138 million to public education through the full funding of stabilization grants, full adequacy funding for full-day kindergarten and fiscal capacity disparity aid.

Berlin would see an increase of $4.2 million in education funding over current law, Claremont would receive an additional $5.5 million, and Manchester would see an additional $15.2 million over the biennium.

On top of increased state education funding, towns and cities receive a boost in this budget from the allocation of municipal aid, to the tune of $40 million in the next two years. These unrestricted funds give municipalities the flexibility to alleviate the growing burden of property taxes or tackle currently unfunded projects.

This revenue redistribution provides stimulus to communities across the state, including more than $800,000 in Laconia, nearly a half million dollars in Franklin and $3.5 million in Nashua.

Our budget also provides additional substance use disorder treatment options, including $1 million to improve treatment and recovery housing facilities and allocates $60 million in state funds, matched at 50-90% by federal funds, to increase Medicaid provider rates. This funding is critical for recruitment and retention efforts and will help rebuild our health care workforce. It allows New Hampshire providers to continue delivering vital substance use disorder treatment and mental health services.

This budget supports New Hampshire’s 10-year mental health plan by ensuring Granite Staters can receive the care they need, when they need it and in the most appropriate setting. We address the emergency room boarding crisis, increase funding for transitional housing, and build a new Secure Psychiatric Unit to stop criminalizing people experiencing mental illness.

In addition, our budget makes the greatest step forward for children’s safety and well-being our state has made in a generation. We fully fund and fully staff the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to reduce caseloads that are currently four times the national average. And we implement a comprehensive, cost-effective children’s system of care that establishes the first-ever statewide children’s mobile crisis unit to prevent the mistreatment of children and advance children’s mental health.

We support law enforcement and build a safer New Hampshire by more than doubling state funding for domestic violence crisis centers and increasing funding for our regional drug task forces and Granite Shield. This budget funds an additional detective and attorney for the state Cold Case Unit to assist with more than 125 unsolved murders and increases funding for Safe Stations in Manchester and Nashua.

We’ve tackled New Hampshire’s most pressing problems while also addressing most of the concerns voiced by the governor throughout the process. However, simply put this budget cannot be constructed without stabilizing business taxes – which are already the lowest in New England.

By stabilizing business tax rates and implementing smart business tax reform measures, the House and Senate have built a fiscally responsible budget that addresses the critical needs of the people of New Hampshire rather than institute more giveaways for a small group of big, out-of-state businesses.

If New Hampshire prioritizes further business tax breaks over hard-working families, we won’t be able to fully fund DCYF, fully fund services for people with developmental disabilities or fully fund the 10-year mental health plan.

If New Hampshire prioritizes further business tax breaks over hard-working families, people with substance use disorders will struggle to find access to the critical care they need.

If New Hampshire prioritizes further business tax breaks over hard-working families, property-tax payers will be forced to continue shouldering an unfair and unsustainable share of the cost of public education.

It’s time to shift priorities in our state spending.

New Hampshire can’t wait for increased funding for mental health, child protection or public education. Granite Staters are counting on Gov. Sununu to prioritize them and sign this budget.

(Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, is president of the N.H. Senate. Steve Shurtleff, a Penacook Democrat, is speaker of the N.H. House of Representatives.)




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