By State Sen. David Starr
The Democrats’ proposed state budget could have been a product that was bipartisan and brought much-needed assistance to communities in the North Country. Unfortunately, that budget came up short — it increased taxes, increased spending by 13.2 percent, and made commitments to taxpayers and communities that could not be kept. Under the Democrats’ budget, the state would be set on a path to renege on its promises in the future.
The last state budget crafted by Republicans, coupled with federal tax reform, has left New Hampshire with a surplus of roughly $200 million dollars. Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed budget outlined a plan to use these funds for one-time expenses through the Capital Infrastructure Revitalization Fund that would offset costs to municipalities. Not only did the Democrats remove this fund, but even with the surplus, Democrats increased spending and taxes, leaving the state with a $93 million structural deficit that the next legislature must address through budget cuts or tax increases.
The Democrats thought it best to increase taxes on everything from internet phone service to drivers’ licenses. At a time when New Hampshire is seeing low unemployment, take home pay that is increasing and business expansion, Democrats went ahead and increased business taxes. New Hampshire has one of the most vibrant and strong economies in the region. Increasing costs on businesses and impeding New Hampshire’s economic growth would force employers to lay off workers, reduce hours for their employees and encourage businesses to move out of the state or locate their business elsewhere.
Democrats also raided dedicated funds like the $6.5 million from the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund, a fund that towns and water districts can apply to for funding important water projects. This fund has been instrumental in helping advance projects in Errol, Stewartstown, Gorham, Colebrook, Whitefield and Bethlehem in 2017 and 2018. Lower water quality standards were passed this year to for contaminants like arsenic and PFOA/PFOS. Communities will need financial support to meet these new standards, but Democrats irresponsibly removed money from this fund that could otherwise be used by North Country communities.
Gov. Sununu proposed using part of the state’s one-time surplus to increase state school building aid from $50 million to $63 million. Unfortunately, Democrats removed the increased funding in the budget. Gov. Sununu’s larger appropriation could have helped fund important school building projects like Lakeway Elementary School in Littleton. This uncertainty about state school building aid has led to a lack of confidence in Littleton about any state assistance for its school in the future.
Education funding in New Hampshire is certainly a problem for those in the North Country. However, the education funding formula created by Democrats never had a public hearing and lacked any public comment. The formula also brings back donor towns, a failed policy that was inequitable to towns around the state and pitted communities against one another.
There are some worthwhile policy proposals that have broad agreement amongst Democrats and Republicans. Most importantly, the budget would have stopped the 4 percent annual reduction in stabilization grants to school districts in our communities and returned them back to 100 percent. I am glad to have co-sponsored the bill that would have done so. The restoration of these funds would have helped communities in Grafton and Coos counties, especially Berlin, which has cut staffing and building maintenance over the years and even struggled to keep its schools open for students.
Democrats and Republicans also followed up on past Republican achievements under Gov. Sununu. There was a consensus to increase the number of caseworkers at the Division of Children, Youth, and Families to help children in harmful situations, reauthorize Granite Shield, a program for law enforcement to target opioid distribution in New Hampshire, and to increase funding for mental health services and fully funding the developmental disabilities waitlist.
I voted against the Democrats’ budget and support the veto made by Gov. Sununu. I could not endorse a spending proposal that raised taxes and created a structural deficit over the next two years. That is not how Granite Staters manage their households, and that is not how elected officials should manage taxpayers’ money. I am supportive of certain policies in the budget and am hopeful that Democratic leadership in the Legislature will work with Gov. Sununu and Republicans in the Legislature to produce a bipartisan and fiscally responsible budget that can be signed into law.