The NH House and Senate approved a budget for the next two years, and the Governor has signed off on it. But before I get to the budget, I am pleased to say that I did support two very important bills that were outside of the budget.
Full-Day Kindergarten & Seacoast Water Quality
I voted to support funding for full-day kindergarten with revenue from newly-approved Keno gaming. The legislation makes clear that allowing Keno is a local option for each municipality, and it sets forth the process by which a municipality can act on the question. If Keno revenue misses the mark, there is a guarantee that support for full-day kindergarten will not be jeopardized.
We established a permanent commission that grew out of the discovery of a Seacoast cancer cluster which will recommend long term goals and requirements to insure safe drinking water in the Seacoast area. The Commission will develop a long term plan to protect our state’s most valuable resource, drinking water. Seacoast Communities will each have a seat at the table to identify threats to drinking water and any connection to the health and safety of our residents. I was a co-sponsor of this bill, HB 484 that has been signed into law.
The Recently Adopted Budget
Due to my work on the House Ways and Means Committee and many hours of studying NH’s revenue sources, I decided to vote against the overall budget because I believe it overspends the amount of revenue we can expect over the next two years. My vote also reflected other priorities and initiatives that I believed deserved a more thorough analysis and guarantee that we can effectively provide drug treatment, support of the university system and property tax relief.
This budget approved further tax cuts for our business community, cuts they are not asking the state to do. The tax cuts in current law from the last budget cycle will cost us $20 million this year alone. When the latest round of business tax cuts are added in, they will grow exponentially until the loss of revenue reaches $128 million in fiscal year 2022. Altogether the total cost balloons to $208 million.
Our business community repeatedly said that an educated work force is their top priority, but this budget eliminates the bipartisan agreement to develop the Granite Workforce Program. This would be funded using federal money designed specifically to help low income workers to gain the skills that both the workers and our businesses urgently need.
The budget flat funded our university system, again saddling our students and their families with the highest tuition in the country and waving good-bye as those students leave New Hampshire and future jobs for greener pastures. Considering inflation, this represents a cut to the university system.
We are in the midst of an opioid crisis that has not improved and in fact, has become worse since the last budget. The Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery could see a diversion of its funds to the Sununu Center, thereby affecting contracts and reducing funds available for treatment services. This plan to allow money to be taken away from alcohol and drug abuse funds to support juvenile justice programs is an improper use of these funds. Some believe that opening the alcohol abuse and prevention and treatment fund is a dangerous precedent that could quickly deplete the funds.
There was an additional $36.8 million for highway and bridge projects, however these funds must “supplement not supplant” local appropriations and therefore limits their effectiveness as property tax relief. Similarly, the additional environmental grant funding is the state share for water and waste projects already due under statute, but previously suspended.
The meals and rooms tax catch up formula is suspended for both years of the biennium. The additional $5 million municipalities are to receive in this budget over the last biennial budget is not “new” money; were the catch up formula in place in the FY 18/19 budget, municipalities would receive an additional $15 million in that distribution base on revenue projections. It is important to understand that the real level of property tax relief provided in this budget.