Sununu budget veto gains support from local officials

Monitor staff
Published: 7/26/2019 6:02:20 PM

As the impasse over the state budget heads into its second month, some municipal leaders are throwing their support behind the governor’s veto, even if it means holding back money that could fund local projects.

Some 50 city and town officials from communities across the state signed a letter to Senate President Donna Soucy and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff on Thursday, calling on the Democratic leaders to “work with Governor (Chris) Sununu in crafting a true compromise budget.”

Among the items left in limbo since the veto is $40 million in revenue sharing for towns and cities.

Sununu, a Republican, vetoed the Democratically-controlled legislature’s budget near the end of June, saying it contained “job-killing tax increases” and uses a one-time surplus to cover ongoing expenses. He said the budget contains a $93.4 million “structural deficit.”

Democrats, meanwhile, criticized the governor’s veto saying it puts several statewide services on hold while blocking property tax relief and a boost in education funding. After the veto, Senate President Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, said Sununu chose to “put big businesses before the people of New Hampshire.”

The veto was handed down a day after lawmakers approved a continuing resolution, which extended current spending levels to continue for three months. The period ends Oct. 1.

Neal Kurk, a longtime fiscal hawk who served 16 terms representing Weare in the State House before declining to run again in 2018, was among those to sign the letter backing the veto.

In a phone interview Friday, Kurk, who currently serves on Weare’s finance committee, said the budget adopted by the legislature includes the use of one-time surplus funds to cover ongoing projects, setting the state on course for a deficit down the road when those funds run out.

“It sets us up for a repeat of what happened in 2012,” Kurk said, referring to the 2012-13 budget that faced a $900 million deficit. “As a result of spending in excess of reasonably forecasted revenues, the state had a significant budget deficit. I hoped we would learn from that, and I think the governor is right.”

Earlier this month, Sununu invited municipal leaders from across the state for a closed-door information session on the budget, something that hadn’t been done since Jeanne Shaheen’s governorship, noted a city councilor from Derry.

That meeting was followed by a letter from two dozen mayors, city councilors and select board members detailing concerns with the governor’s version of the budget. Locally, those signing the letter include Franklin Mayor Tony Giunta, Franklin City Councilor Karen Testerman, Epping Selectmen Cody Belanger, Pembroke Budget Committee member Brian Seaworth, and a trio of Pittsfield selectmen.

The veto itself puts about $40 million for municipalities on hold. Asked if this will affect his town, Kurk said “the 90-day delay doesn’t have an impact on the town or schools.”

“It doesn’t affect us immediately,” he said. “Nothing I’m aware of in the town of Weare will be adversely affected by a continuing resolution.”

Based on his experience in state politics, Kurk is confident a deal will be made soon in Concord.

“We’ve done this before having budget vetoes from both Republican and Democratic governors,” he said. “For people to say the governor is to blame for whatever crisis they think exists is a failure to recognize the full nature of the process.

“I certainly think they will get something done by the end of this period,” he said. “There’s always a possibility of a last-minute glitch, a 30-day extension. But by the end of September, certainly before Thanksgiving, this should be resolved. I think it’d be quite the precedent if it weren’t.”

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