All of New Hampshire is on a bus heading for one destination it has never seen before, and one that it will not enjoy when we arrive. No destination is definite, and we have an opportunity to alter the destructive course we find ourselves on as a state. It will require that either we change the ill-fated route we are currently travelling or the driver who seems determined to deliver us to a fiscally irresponsible end.
The driver on this twisted journey is our own Gov. Maggie Hassan, the journey is our state budget, and the final destination is either our fiscal well-being or failure.
The issues currently affecting the economic security of our state are simple to state, and frankly, even simpler to correct. I did not say easy or without political peril, but simple, as in straightforward, but only for those of ethical fortitude. As with most budget crises, it comes down to the same issue — our government spent more money than it took in and this happened because our chief executive was either asleep at the wheel or complicit in the unauthorized overspending.
Gov. Hassan is supposed to be the steward of our state budget, and she is in charge as our chief executive (along with the Executive Council and department heads) to faithfully enforce the will of the people of New Hampshire, as predestined by the legal passage of our state budget. Gov. Hassan signed the budget that was passed with bipartisan support by the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. However, today New Hampshire finds itself on the brink of a budgetary nightmare.
Not only did Gov. Hassan sign the budget, she used its creation and passage in one of her campaign ads as a validation of her bipartisanship. Contrary to what some people believe, bipartisanship is really quite simple to gauge. It has nothing to do with how many bills you co-sponsor or how many times a politician “reaches across the aisle.” Honest bipartisanship is when politicians of character and principle come together in the best interests of the people, and craft legislation they pledge to support, not circumvent or work to undermine. Gov. Hassan has failed to live up to her own illusion of principled bipartisanship (refer to my previous article http://tinyurl.com/nsqojao).
Fact: New Hampshire does not have a revenue problem. The revenue estimates (taxes and fees) that are the responsibility of the forwarding-thinking Senate, hit their mark as expected. The revenues came in at statistical perfection. Revenue was not, nor has ever been, the problem this budgetary cycle. The revenues were delivered as projected, period. The issue is Gov. Hassan’s mismanagement and the inability to act in the best interests of the people of New Hampshire. By permitting departments to overspend and by not being open and truthful, Gov. Hassan has shown failed leadership. The pure lack of transparency and Hassan’s unwillingness to work with the leadership of both parties to try to solve this issue is nothing more than weakness driven by political preservation.
Fact: Our budget runs on a two-year cycle. We started this current budget cycle by spending more than $50 million more than we took in through fees and taxes (remember, revenue projections hit their mark). That $50 million overspending is on us, it is our burden moving into the second year of our biennium budget. Next, we learned just a few months ago that departments, especially the Department of Health and Human Services, were reporting (behind closed doors) budget shortfalls, anywhere between $30 million to $70 million. Gov. Hassan all but admitted our budget was in crisis when she recently announced she directed all departments, except DHHS, to cut a combined total of at least $30 million from their budgets for the remainder of this current budget cycle. Left untouched is DHHS, which has an estimated shortfall of at least $40 million.
So here we sit on this journey, apparently without a competent driver and Gov. Hassan’s inability to work with the Senate leadership to resolve this issue. What does Hassan intend to do with the $30 million in “savings” cut from most of our state departments? Remember, those cuts are to address overspending. Are we to believe Hassan would recklessly shift deficit spending from one area and “add” it to another area? How is Gov. Hassan going to address the $40 million shortfall at DHHS (surely not with the “cuts” made by the other departments)? Looming still are the cost overruns and readjustments related to Medicaid spending.
To add insult to injury, as if clueless to the current budget crisis, Hassan recently announced she would seek an 18 percent increase in state spending next budget cycle. This is nothing more than reckless and irresponsible on Hassan’s part.
We can sit on this bus, carelessly singing the “Wheels on the Bus” as we continue travelling down the highway to our fiscal hell, and watch as those wheels fall off. Or, we can take the off-ramp to economic sanity. The only question is whether Gov. Hassan is the right driver to help correct the very failed course she set us on?