The working men and women of New Hampshire sent us to Concord to deliver a responsible, viable and balanced state budget, and I am committed to doing just that. As governor, my job is to represent the 1.35 million people of this state, to give voice to their concerns, and to stand up for the New Hampshire advantage.
Unfortunately, the budget currently being considered by the Legislature is unsustainable and puts the future of critical state services in dire jeopardy. In short, it makes promises to the citizens of our state that we cannot possibly keep.
Today in New Hampshire, we have a quarter-billion-dollar budget surplus — the largest in state history. But over half of that surplus comes from a federal tax change that sent a short-term windfall into the state’s coffers. This one-time infusion of cash will not happen again so it is critical that we not use it to fund programs and services that will be dependent on funding in the future.
Unfortunately, the Legislature’s budget proposal does just that. It expands services and grows the size of government to a level that puts the budget out of balance by close to $100 million. The last time New Hampshire put forward such an unsustainable budget in 2009, it caused long-term shortfalls resulting in layoffs and devastating cuts to mental health services and child protection programs that we are still working to repair. We cannot allow history to repeat itself.
Households across New Hampshire are expected to balance their checkbooks every month, so it is reasonable to expect that state officials should do the same.
We must dedicate these funds to critical programs where a single, one-time investment can make a difference. One example from my proposed budget was to take over $24 million of these funds to invest in valuable programs at the University System — including Keene State College. This investment would have grown our nursing and health care workforce. The Democrats eliminated all of this funding.
Regrettably, the Democrats’ budget proposal also prioritizes special interests. Rather than targeting worthwhile Medicaid rate-increases to front-line workers who need our support, they propose sweeping, across-the-board increases that will bloat administrative health care bureaucracies. Instead, we must focus on targeted rate increases to help front-line heath care workers in a fair and sustainable manner.
Throughout the budget process, I have been incredibly transparent. Recently, I proposed a road map to common ground that took all of our priorities and identified ways for all of them to be fulfilled in budget that could be sustained long term without raising taxes. I have gone to great lengths to negotiate with Democratic legislators. I compromised on education funding, supporting the concept of stabilization grants. I accepted a lesser proposal with fewer investments into mental health services because families have waited over 20 years for a solution to this crisis and it is a good first step. I supported their efforts to increase provider rates, but drew a line in the sand when it came to accepting massive handouts to industry lobbyists and executives.
Our economy is booming and as a result, we are able to provide state services at an unprecedented level. But we must take a balanced and responsible approach so that promises made today are promises kept tomorrow.
I will continue to urge legislators to work with me to find common ground so that together we can deliver a viable and sustainable budget that the people of New Hampshire can support. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet. One of the biggest tragedies in all of this is seeing how the politics of Washington, D.C., has made its way into the Legislature. We can, and must do better for the people of our state.