Editorial: Voters, you have a say on spending

Published: 2/24/2019 12:10:13 AM

Now is the time for voters, especially in communities smothered by property taxes and with schools battered by cuts to state education funding, to put their lawmakers on the spot.

Work on the state’s next two-year budget has begun.

State revenues came in more than $100 million higher than expected last month. The surplus, the third in three years, allowed Gov. Chris Sununu, in his recent budget address, to propose to do some very good things. The operative word in that last sentence, however, is “some.” The governor’s proposed budget does little to address the state’s biggest, chronic fiscal problems.

We applaud Sununu’s proposal to spend $61 million to increase services to the developmentally disabled and eliminate the waiting list; his $32 million program to help students repay college loans; and his plan to close the state prison’s secure psychiatric unit and build a new $40 million facility.

Sununu’s budget also includes funds to create 40 transitional beds to eliminate long and agonizing waits in hospital emergency rooms by those in need of immediate diagnosis and help. It increases funding to aid victims of domestic violence by 50 percent but mysteriously halves funding for New Hampshire Legal Assistance. That would cut aid to the poor that helps them deal with life’s crises and avoid homelessness.

When asked to justify the cuts, the governor fell back on the time-worn bunk about needing to make tough choices. That’s absurd. The amount Legal Assistance would lose, $650,000, would cripple the organization, but the sum amounts to a rounding error in the $13 billion budget. Something else is at work.

The governor recognized that the Division for Children, Youth and Families isn’t doing enough to protect the state’s youngest residents, yet the 62 new positions his budget would add would leave the agency far from being able to meet national standards. That’s not good enough. Lives are at stake.

Sununu repeated his vow to veto any new or increased tax. He continues to drink the trickle-down Kool-Aid and falsely attributes New Hampshire’s revenue surplus to tax cuts. He failed to mention rebuilding the state’s infrastructure, the school funding crisis, rising property taxes, or the inability of nursing homes and other institutions that care for the elderly to pay wages high enough to hire and retain employees.

New Hampshire is last in the nation in the rates paid Medicaid providers. It is first in the nation in the percentage of state education costs that must be paid with local property taxes.

Several dozen bills to increase state education funding, freeze or restore education grants to property-poor communities, provide property tax relief, and increase pay for the workers who care for the sick, disabled and elderly have been filed. So have bills to raise the revenue necessary to meet the state’s needs. Sununu says he’ll veto them all.

Some of the bills, if residents who care about their schools and their property taxes get behind them, could earn enough votes to override a veto. Assuming Democrats stick together, two in the Senate would be enough to do it. Five Republican senators, John Reagan, Harold French, Ruth Ward, David Starr and Regina Birdsell, represent property-poor towns desperately in need of increased state education funding. Taxpayers should ask them what they plan to do to bring them relief.

In the House, 34 Republicans would be needed to override a gubernatorial veto. All three of the property-poor town of Pittsfield’s representatives are Republicans, as are all five of Franklin’s reps.

Ask them, are they going to support their governor or their constituents?

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