Occasionally, I review past articles to see how they have stood the test of time. This is less an exercise in affirmation, and more about keeping me honest. In my most recent review, I discovered the content of several of my past articles have blended into events of today. How our state and elected officials are conducting themselves regarding the budget, our rainy day fund, and the heroin epidemic have now merged into a story of unfortunate interdependence.
More than a year ago I wrote about the emerging heroin epidemic and the need for our state to try to get ahead of the crisis. In between that article and this one I also wrote about the budget battle in Concord and the recklessness of not safeguarding our rainy day fund. It is time for our representatives to put the disagreements aside and attack the opiate crisis that has taken hold in New Hampshire.
I do not use the word epidemic lightly. According to the New Hampshire state medical examiner’s office, the state recorded 321 drug related deaths in 2014. Every day we see multiple reports of overdoses either resulting in death or the need for emergency treatment. Frightening still are news reports of victims slumped over a vehicle steering wheel with a needle in their arm, or a deceased or unresponsive victim with a child present. There were more drug-related deaths in 2014 than deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Heroin, along with the painkiller fentanyl, have played a major part in those deaths. 2015 is on pace to pass 2014’s stomach-turning “record.” Yet, New Hampshire’s response has been anemic at best, immoral at worst. People are dying, and Gov. Hassan is playing partisan games when we need proactive leadership.
This past week, Manchester Mayor Ted Gastas asked Gov. Hassan to declare a state of emergency so the entirety of the state could be brought to bear in confronting this issue. Hassan refused. We also learned the state’s new drug czar, Jack Wozmak, had not even talked with Mayor Gatsas at any time during Wozmak’s first 100 days. It was only after this fact was made public that Wozmak scheduled a meeting with Gastas. We are past the point of being reactive. This epidemic requires an unselfish leader willing to set aside all parochial bickering. This epidemic requires a proactive leader who understands there is a time to campaign and a time to govern. A reality apparently lost on Hassan and Wozmak.
This epidemic is the greatest health and safety issue facing our state. Gov. Hassan, New Hampshire needs a leader now, concerned more about the safety of her citizens, and less about a budget battle that froze much needed funds to combat this crisis. A budget battle in which most of the state’s leading media, as well as the governor’s own department heads, believe was unnecessary. Hassan vetoed a budget that contained a 75 percent increase in funding to combat substance abuse. Granted, Hassan’s budget included more spending to combat substance abuse, but the difference was not one of the reasons she originally stated for her veto. Hassan’s veto pen was filled with nothing more than partisan ink. Her narrow-mindedness was over a dogmatic insistence of pay increases and tax revenue of a few million dollars. Hassan’s veto lacked a commitment to principle and was nothing more than misguided political foolishness.
Both the governor’s original budget (approximately $11.49 billion) and the budget submitted for her signature increased state spending (approximately $11.35 billion). Hassan’s budget increased state spending by 6.4 percent, while the House-Senate budget was only 1 percent less, with an increase in state spending of 5.4 percent. While our neighbors suffer from this terrible infliction, our governor squabbles over a percentage point. Furthermore, if Hassan had been keenly focused on this crisis, and effectively managing her office, how was it she was unaware of a $12 million federal grant to combat drug abuse the state recently received. Critical funds were mishandled that could have been used to help combat this scourge. Just another political misstep by Hassan that has further compounded this crisis. A misstep with a crisis of this magnitude costs lives.
I also can’t help but think that had more people, Republican and Democrat, been more concerned about maintaining a healthy rainy day fund, we would be in a stronger position to combat this crisis. A rainy date fund is our commitment to our neighbors, our vow to each other to be ready with a rapid response in times of need. In many ways, our inabilities provide the resources to fight this epidemic is our collective failing as a state.
There are times and events that test every leader. A true leader sees with absolutely clarity what needs to be done. A true leader is stern of focus to the task at hand, unbound by thoughts of trivial political pursuits. Gov. Hassan, this is your test, and you are failing.