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House should reject immoral budget



Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011
Today, the New Hampshire House will vote on a budget so heartless in its approach to the poor, the disabled and the mentally ill as to be immoral. Should it become law, New Hampshire will be a different state, one that under the guise of "personal responsibility" replaces the social compact with the survival of the fittest.

The budget was crafted by the House Finance Committee, which took a hard-hearted budget submitted by Gov. John Lynch and, with a few notable exceptions, made it much worse. Both budgets are built on the premise that the state must live within its means. But both Lynch, a Democrat, and the House Republicans artificially cap those means to justify the abnegation of state responsibilities.

Lynch's budget clearly and deliberately downshifts massive costs to local and county government - including cuts in school building aid, special education aid and the suspension of shared revenue from the rooms and meals tax. All would drive up local property taxes and reduce home values.

The House budget proposal thankfully rejects some of Lynch's proposals but makes up the difference by making deeper cuts to social services, cuts that will cause great human suffering and shift costs to taxpayers, hospitals and local welfare offices in a less direct way.

For a host of reasons, the House should reject the Finance Committee's cruel and shortsighted budget. What follows are merely the worst elements in the proposal, including several that on their own justify a "No" vote.

• The proposed budget takes $13 million away mental health care providers and eliminates services for 8,000 people with significant to severe mental illness. Their conditions will worsen and the impact will be felt by families, hospitals and law enforcement. It will cost lives and compromise public safety.

• The budget ends child-care subsidies for poor working parents, a cut which, when compounded by the loss of federal matching funds, means many working people will have to give up their jobs or put children in substandard care.

• The deep cut in state aid to the university system would increase tuition dramatically, making New Hampshire's state colleges and universities less attractive to out-of-state students and residents alike, accelerating the out-migration of young people and creating a brain drain that will harm the economy.

• The budget eliminates funding for ServiceLink, a program that helps senior citizens and their families obtain services that help them stay in their own homes rather than nursing homes, and cuts aid for elderly home services. This proposal will send more people to nursing homes, where care is expensive. Some of the cost of that care will be borne by county taxpayers.

• The budget cuts so deeply into the Department of Corrections budget that its commissioner says the Berlin prison would have to be closed.

That would crowd Concord's prison, cause prisoners to be shipped to out-of-state facilities and eliminate hundreds of jobs in the economically depressed North Country.

• Many of the committee's proposals would prove not just harmful but financially counterproductive.

Among them: the proposal to eliminate the jobs of auditors in the state revenue department, people who bring in far more money in the taxes that would have gone uncollected than it costs to keep them on the job.

• Many cuts would lead to a reduction or elimination in federal matching funds and compound the pain. The plan calls for the elimination of the state Council on the Arts, which gets more than a one-to-one match from the feds, results in $32 million in private contributions to arts programs, draws tourists and boosts the economy.

The list of cruel and counterproductive cuts in the 146-page budget before lawmakers today goes on and on.

It includes reductions in funding for homelessness prevention, domestic violence programs, family planning, and the prevention of disease, both those sexually transmitted and those like West Nile virus, carried by mosquitoes. It eliminates the services provided to truant and delinquent children, a shortsighted decision that will increase crime and long-term costs for society.

It's safe to say that the House Finance Committee has created a budget that would go a long way toward erasing New Hampshire's standing as the most livable state, the safest state and the best state in which to raise a family.

It is a budget the House should reject.