Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deliberately Decreasing Our Means

Every biennium the legislature creates a new state budget. This budget is required to be balanced every year. This happens no matter what party currently holds the majority in the House, the Senate, or the Governor’s office. Right now the legislature is winding down. The Committee of Conference reports will have been voted on by the time you read this.

As always, the most interesting item to watch is the budget wrangling. The House got started a bit late this year; probably because the O’Brienistas created so many diversions that everything was late. On days when the House is session, bills that will be coming up for a vote fall into two categories in the calendar: Consent and Regular. The Consent Calendar is comprised of bills that come out of committee with a unanimous vote to either pass or kill. They’re generally non-controversial, and are easily dispatched with voice votes. O’Brienistas made it a “thing” this session to yank as many bills off the consent calendar as possible, just to gum up the works and create delay.

Rep. Neal Kurk chairs the House Finance Committee. Kurk has long been a fiscal conservative, but generally someone who could be sensible when the situation called for it. This biennium apparently Kurk was so giddy at GOP control of both houses that he’s thrown caution and good sense out the window in favor of ideology. He partnered up with Free Stater Dan McGuire to create a hastily written budget that was guaranteed to ensure that NH would continue lose ground economically and hurt a lot of people along the way.

The original version included $88 million in DOT cuts, which meant rest areas and some bridges would be closed. Half the workforce would be eliminated. Federal funds would be lost, the widening of I-93 would be jeopardized, and some 2500 miles of roads and 1000 bridges would have been turned over to cities and towns to pay for. Apparently Meals on Wheels was a socialist program that needed to be cut, and Service Link was completely de-funded. Dan McGuire proposed $2 million in cuts to the NH Veteran’s Home, which would have resulted in 25 veterans losing their place to live. Some changes (the proposed cuts to the Veteran’s Home were too much for even the most rabid members of the right) were made, and eventually the budget found its way to the Senate. The Senate made some cosmetic changes and added business tax cuts. Because when you claim that there isn’t enough money to adequately fund the needs of the state, the only thing to do is cut revenue! 

A recent op-ed in the Laconia Sun penned by Senators Jeb Bradley and Jeanne Forrester claimed that the Senate decided to reduce business taxes at the end of the budget process. On January 8, Senator Bradley introduced a bill to lower the business profits tax (BPT). On January 8, a bill Bradley co-sponsored was introduced to lower the business enterprise tax. (BET).  Those bills were both passed by the Senate and Bradley tabled both. The intent from the very beginning of the session was to lower business taxes. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best. They’re telling us on the one hand that we must live our means while the other hand is slashing the means we live on.

The lowering of the BET and the BPT are touted as the way to bring business to our state. The fact that businesses actually want good infrastructure, lower utility costs, and an educated work force is lost on our representative ideologues, who are firmly steeped in the kind of economic policies that have failed to work since the Reagan administration. NH is a wealthy state, yet we refuse to raise sufficient revenues to fix the things that need fixing and invest in the future. As a result, we have the 11th worth infrastructure in the United States. Award winning NH civil engineer Darren Benoit tells us that if we start right now, it will cost us $1.5 billion to fix everything. NH also ranks at about 100th place out of the 50 states for state funding of our university system. We want an educated workforce, but we do not want to pay for it. If a budget is a statement of our values, than it’s painfully clear that the budget writers don’t value our state or its people.

The budget for tourism, the second largest industry in our state was level funded in this budget. This will not hurt the southern part of the state. It is likely to impact the North Country. Be sure to thank your GOP representatives for voting against the best interests of our area. It’s also worth pointing out that this budget fails to invest in repairing our state parks, something that would also benefit the tourist economy.  

A variety of self-congratulatory legislators are boasting that the substance abuse treatment budget was increased. It was but the Senate added those increases. They were not in the original House budget. The increases came about because even the most rabid ideologues couldn’t pretend that there aren’t significant numbers of young people dying from heroin overdoses.

Another aspect of all of this that goes unmentioned by our budgeteers is the downshifting of costs. Items the state doesn’t adequately fund (like infrastructure) get passed on to the counties and municipalities, which will likely be passed on to you, in the form of an increase in your property taxes.  

As I write this, the Governor has stated her intent to veto the budget unless changes are made. The NH GOP is wailing about the need to compromise. Their definition of “compromise” appears to mean that the House Republicans get to write the budget; the Senate Republicans get to change it, and the Republicans of both bodies compromise with each other in the Committee of Conference. The CoC process included the compromise of closed door meetings with Greg Moore of the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity. After all that internal GOP compromise (with a dash of Koch-promise) the Governor is expected to meekly sign it, displaying her willingness to compromise.

This budget fails to address the needs of our state and blows a big hole in future budgets by cutting business taxes. It guarantees that nothing will ever get fixed properly, because we will have to live within our deliberately decreased means.

Published as an op-ed in the June 26 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

1 comment:

Artemisia said...

"Living within our means" is just a string of weasel words. What does it really mean? It's right-wing dog whistle for deliberately reducing revenue and then whining about it. If we in New Hampshire, a relatively wealthy state, "lived within our means" we would have new bridges and highways, low college tuition, thriving state parks, the very best snow removal during winter blizzards, excellent care for our elders, etc etc etc. We need to all start paying attention to this kind of baloney rhetoric and question those who use it. Make them explain exactly what they mean by this, and guaranteed you will come face to face with tea party ideology, NOT any critical thinking about what is right for New Hampshire.