A pathway to a bipartisan budget
By Jay Kahn Jun 4, 2017 (0)
New Hampshire’s Legislature finally has a budget to work with.
Two-year budgets originate in the House of Representative, but the House failed to pass a budget. So the Senate began from the governor’s budget. The difference is, the Senate set a revenue target $20 million under the governor’s, then reduced revenues another $21 million by cutting business taxes.
In a state known for its frugality, under this plan, priorities get funded, but only by a fraction of what is needed to do the job.
In his inauguration address the governor asked legislators to put the partisanship of the election aside and work in a bipartisan manner. That’s far from what the N.H. Senate has passed with its budget. This budget took a hard right turn, one even former House Speaker Bill O’Brien has praised.
More business tax cuts, mainly benefiting big corporations, leave unfunded priorities like: kindergarten, workforce development, a higher education tuition freeze and graduate retention incentives. Other priorities are only partially funded, such as: improvements to children and youth services, mental health delivery, and alcohol and drug treatment.
Partial funding is a deceptive practice. The real cost will be passed along to future legislatures.
Funds exist to meet our shared priorities. New Hampshire’s GDP grew at 3 percent in the past year, the highest in New England and fourth highest in the nation. Unemployment is under 3 percent. New Hampshire can meet the priorities of workforce development, property tax relief, and supporting vulnerable populations — children, the disabled, drug-abuse recovery — without new taxes. This is a time for strategic investment. But this budget pulls up short and fails the bipartisan test.
Here’s how to get to a bipartisan budget:
Step 1, Stop favoring big-business tax cuts over investing in workforce development. Despite Republican claims, these tax cuts don’t benefit small businesses. A business with a $2 million payroll would save $2,000 a year; a big business with a $200 million payroll would save over $200,000. Business-tax cuts are already set for Jan. 1, 2019; those newly proposed would deplete state funding by $20 million in the next two years and by $100 million in future years. Ask businesses what can have the greatest impact on their growth, it’s workforce. Businesses’ biggest concerns is replacing retiring workers and filling vacancies. There are 20,000 vacancies each month; if unaddressed, by 2030 New Hampshire’s workforce is projected to decrease by 10 percent, affecting manufacturing, IT, health care and trades.
Step 2, Develop a comprehensive work force strategy: Retain, retrain and recruit. This budget is lean on such strategies. It should include proposals to retain high school graduates in state by freezing tuition at University System campuses, promoting college graduate retention incentives through New Hampshire employers, and adding more workforce training funds for growing New Hampshire businesses. All of these proposals could be funded through funds already in the Republican-passed Senate budget.
Step 3, Improve education funding: Fund full-day kindergarten the same as every other grade. It helps improve educational outcomes and balance educational opportunity. Neighboring states are considering how to fund education for 3- and 4-year-olds and we’re stuck on funding kindergarten, something currently offered at 70 percent of all elementary schools. We also need to help high school students access career training programs at regional centers.
Step 4, Property tax relief: This budget continues to downshift costs to local communities by decreasing education stabilization funding, not sharing meals and room revenue growth, and passing along higher municipal and school retirement costs.
Step 5, Support the most vulnerable: The budget implements some recommended improvements for children who are abused and traumatized in their homes, but doesn’t implement recommended in-home and social worker services necessary to prevent future mistreatment of vulnerable children. Developmental disability services are improved, but not sufficient to eliminate the wait list when the person turns 21. Also, the budget should assure that additional funds for the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Fund are used for community-based services, rather than permitting diversion of funds to state operating costs.
Step 6, Democrats could concede that Republicans get to underestimate revenue growth: This means that state priories get underfunded while leaving surpluses for the governor and Legislature to spend outside the budget plan without public input. For now, it seems the preference is to fund initiatives, like kindergarten, outside the budget with surplus funds.
These six steps can be enacted within the Senate-approved budget. Our Republican friends in the majority should work to build a bipartisan budget to address state priorities comprehensively: retain and attract young people; help struggling families and vulnerable citizens access the support they need to be more self-sufficient; and provide paths to reducing property taxes.
We do our best when we work together.
Jay Kahn of Keene represents District 10 in the N.H. Senate.