Our Turn: A lost opportunity to address opioid epidemic

Published: 7/23/2017 12:10:02 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget spends more on additional business tax cuts than it does on combating the opioid epidemic.

At public hearings on the budget, we heard untold testimony and compelling personal stories about the need to address our opioid public health epidemic. We heard no such plea to give even more tax breaks to those at the top.

Yet, Gov. Sununu and the Republican majority still chose to take our budget on a partisan path, aiming to appease the far right rather than meet in the middle.

Former House Speaker Bill O’Brien even praised this budget. The fact is these massive tax cuts for the wealthy elite primarily benefit big corporations, and, over the next several years, it’ll cost us and local property-tax payers upward of three-quarters of a billion dollars.

By looking out for the wealthy elite, critical and cost-effective priorities like combating the opioid epidemic lose now and lose big in the future.

New Hampshire faces the dual problem having one of the worst opioid epidemics and having one of the most limited treatment and recovery capacity.

Yes, there are some lobbyists and political pundits calling this budget a “win” but it was really a lost opportunity to address our opioid epidemic.

On paper there appears to be an increase in state support for prevention, treatment and recovery programs, but there is also a brand new provision that allows the diversion of prevention, treatment and recovery program money.

Specifically, it can be diverted to support a line item in the budget of Health and Human Services. That very line item is also then cut by $4.4 million in the second year of the budget.

If the deficit in that line item is back-filled with diverted treatment money, New Hampshire would actually spend less in this budget cycle than we did in the last budget cycle on prevention, treatment and recovery, when including Senate Bill 533 of last year.

That’s unadjusted for inflation. Granite Staters struggling with addiction, their families and our economy deserve much better.

We recognize there are those on the far right who don’t believe in funding prevention, treatment and recovery with 5 percent of gross liquor sales, as originally promised by the state. We also recognize there are those on the far right who don’t believe that investments in prevention, treatment and recovery are cost-effective, despite all evidence to the contrary.

But this budget shouldn’t be about appeasing the far right; it should be about doing the right thing for all of New Hampshire’s citizens.

Now is the time to fulfill our promises as a state – unfortunately, all efforts to do so were rejected by the Republican majority.

In the end, what does it say about Gov. Sununu’s partisan budget when it spends more on tax cuts for the wealthy elite than it does on combating our opioid epidemic?

We can and must do much better.

(Mary Jane Wallner is state representative for Ward 5 of Concord and for Hopkinton. She is the ranking Democrat on the House Finance Committee. Dan Feltes is state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and serves on the Senate Finance Committee.)

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