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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Parties cast blame as NH slips in Kids Count rankings

CONCORD – Republican and Democratic partisans played a spirited game of finger-pointing for why New Hampshire after a decade at the top slipped from first to the fourth-best state to raise a child.

Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa knocked the Granite State off its pedestal in the Kids Count survey that covered 2005-12, examining a number of variables linked to a thriving state to raise a family. ...

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CONCORD – Republican and Democratic partisans played a spirited game of finger-pointing for why New Hampshire after a decade at the top slipped from first to the fourth-best state to raise a child.

Massachusetts, Vermont and Iowa knocked the Granite State off its pedestal in the Kids Count survey that covered 2005-12, examining a number of variables linked to a thriving state to raise a family.

Two factors that played a part of the state’s slide were a sharp increase in the number of children living in poverty and the percentage of children living with parents who didn’t have “secure employment.’’

Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley fired the first shot early Tuesday, blaming the downgrade on what he called the “painful and irresponsible’’ state budget cuts that then-House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, secured in mid-2011.

“The data released today shows, once again, how much disgraced former Speaker Bill O’Brien hurt New Hampshire children and families with his brand of slash-and-burn-politics, and his relentless push for painful and irresponsible budget cuts,” Buckley said in a statement.

“As O’Brien tries to reclaim the speakership, New Hampshire is still reeling from the damage he did to middle-class Granite Staters by repealing the state minimum wage, jeopardizing job growth, cutting millions of dollars from public education and childcare programs, and gutting at-risk youth initiatives like the Children in Need of Services program.”

O’Brien said the 2011-12 budget had to cut state spending 11 percent to restore a right-sized state government that grew out of control when Democrats had all the levers of power in Concord and spent $800 million in federal stimulus money.

“It’s so unfortunate that rather than look at themselves and their desire for an ever-expanding welfare state that traps people in poverty, the Democrats would rather engage in fear and demonizing people,’’ O’Brien said during a telephone interview.

“The majority of New Hampshire citizens understand the best results for children come from a strong economy, and they understand that when state government grows too big – as it did – that stifles economic growth, which ends up hurting – not helping – families.’’

Not surprisingly, GOP critics also pointed at first-term Gov. Maggie Hassan, who before becoming governor had been the Senate’s top Democrat when lawmakers first adopted the much-larger state budget in mid-2009.

The following year, responding to the recession, lawmakers and then-Gov. John Lynch reduced the spending plan and repealed some unpopular tax and fee increases.

“Governor Maggie Hassan’s failed economic policies are hurting New Hampshire children,’’ said Lauren Zelt, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Republican State Committee.

“She is incapable of managing our state budget and improving our economy. Further, she continues to stand against policies that would expand child access to education, as evidenced by her choice of radical anti-school choice advocate Bill Duncan to the State Board of Education.

“Maggie Hassan isn’t working for New Hampshire children; she’s working for her own personal, political gain, and it’s time to replace her with a responsible Republican this fall.”

For her part, Hassan sought the middle ground, celebrating New Hampshire’s still-high score while admitting that more work lies ahead.

“New Hampshire continues to outperform most of the country in overall child well-being, but the latest rankings reinforce that there is more that we can do to strengthen the economic security of our hard-working families,’’ Hassan said in a statement.

“Over the past 19 months, we have made significant bipartisan progress to support the creation of good-paying jobs and strengthen the economic security of middle class families, reaching our lowest unemployment rate since 2008, expanding access to health care for thousands of Granite Staters, freezing in-state tuition at our university system and reducing tuition at our community colleges beginning this fall.’’

GOP candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway, of Bristol, said Hassan and the White House should be held accountable for the slippage and defended the Republican-led state budget cuts of three years ago.

“Governor Hassan doesn’t get the credit; she gets the blame for her continued support of President Obama,’’ Hemingway said.

“For the fiscal-year 2012 budget, lawmakers had to account for those lost dollars with budget cuts. The resulting decreases are a result of the lack of federal monies and the natural reaction of responsible budgeting. In other words, it’s Obama’s fault.”

The campaign of GOP gubernatorial rival Walt Havenstein, of Alton, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at
321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).