Gov. Chris Sununu: Concerns and common ground as budget takes shape

For the Monitor
Published: 6/13/2019 12:10:24 AM

The people of New Hampshire sent us to Concord to deliver a responsible budget, and I am committed to doing just that.

As the state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 heads toward a Committee of Conference between the House and Senate, there are a few areas where I believe there is great opportunity for common ground, areas where our partnerships have already made meaningful improvements and areas where I continue to have real concerns.

It is my sincere hope that we can get to a place where the state can meet our financial obligations and responsibly allocate resources to ensure strong and consistent services.

Let’s take a look at where we stand:

I am continuing to work with House and Senate leaders to find common ground. We built a new formula for municipal revenue sharing in a bipartisan manner, sending nearly $40 million to cities and towns across the state using one-time surplus funds. We have completed reforms at the Division for Children, Youth and Families in order to fund new positions, which are critical to protecting our most vulnerable children. In signing Senate Bill 11 last month, we achieved the next phase of investments in mental health and will continue to make it a priority.

Moving forward, there are additional areas where great compromise can be found. There are initiatives and proposals working through the Legislature’s budget process that I can support: mainly, kindergarten funding, as well as Sen. Lou D’Allesandro’s concept to restore stabilization grants to schools, which helps districts lower property taxes. We all agree that we should fully fund special education aid and will get it done.

My budget proposed a new 60-bed secure psychiatric hospital that finally allows the civilly committed population to be transferred out of the Concord men’s correctional facility, as well as help alleviate the emergency room boarding crisis. While the House removed this proposal, the Senate ultimately included a 24-bed facility in its budget, which gives me hope a practical compromise can be reached. Additionally, we are working constructively with the Senate to finalize our plan to move the children from New Hampshire Hospital to a more appropriate facility. Through compromise and collaboration, the plan included in the Senate’s budget could be a critical part of implementing the state’s 10-year mental health plan.

There are areas of my budget the House removed that warrant further consideration. These areas concern our stated shared priorities and present a real opportunity for New Hampshire.

I proposed a $32 million student debt assistance program to help retain and attract New Hampshire’s future workforce, as well as $24 million in University System capital projects to help develop programs that expand our health care workforce. While the House took these critical appropriations out, I hope we can work together with our public institutions to fund these workforce initiatives.

While there is much that we agree upon, there are a few outstanding concerns that I have been incredibly transparent about. The structural deficits presented in both the House and Senate budgets are troubling. I have been very clear: The state should not put forward a budget that does not balance within itself. Any budget that depends on the use of one-time revenues for ongoing expenses may create financial gaps in future budgets. This policy could set precedent for state employee layoffs, elimination of services and broken promises in future budgets. The state has a responsibility to pass a balanced, sustainable budget.

As I have repeatedly stated, with our booming economy and record surpluses in the state, we do not need an income tax, a sales tax or business tax increases. It is my sincere hope that we can work collaboratively in the next few weeks in order to deliver the results and important investments. We cannot let final areas of disagreement result in delays in expanded and critical services. There is so much that we agree upon, and we must be able to work together in ways that will benefit the citizens of New Hampshire.

(Chris Sununu is serving his second term as governor of New Hampshire.)

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