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  • Kathy Cleveland photo

    Cheryl Beaulieu works in a neighboring office to Host Homes and Milford Mediation, two Milford-area programs that closed for good last week.

    Beaulieu is in charge of Milford fuel assistance for Southern New Hamshire

  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Facebook - Grant Morris of the Nashua Telegraph

    Southern New Hampshire Medical Center's Behavioral Health Services department.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Attorney Elliott Berry will be taking his current cases with him when his office, New Hampshire Legal Assistance in Nashua, moves out Friday, and is merged with the Manchester office. Many of his clients seek legal help from foreclosure and other problems that often send them into homelessness.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Robert Drakoulakos roles his son, Dakota's wheelchair into their van at Derryfield Park in Manchester, Monday, August 22, 2011. With a son suffering from Cerebral Palsy, among other conditions, the family has found themselves victims of state budget cuts.

Friday, December 30, 2011

3. $1 billion NH budget trim devastates health, service, education programs

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Telegraph will be wrapping up its review of the 10 biggest local stories of 2011 in Saturday’s paper.

The traditional budget battle at the Statehouse took casualties by the hundred this year.

Hospitals, colleges and human services alike suffered hundreds of layoffs on account of the state’s $10.3 billion budget, approved in June by state lawmakers.

Republican legislators heralded the budget as a victory for smaller government, shaving more than $1 billion, or 11 percent, off the prior spending plan.

“This budget lives up to our promises of having responsible, sustainable spending in state government,” House Speaker William O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, said at the time.

But many state Democrats decried the budget for digging too deeply into some of the state’s most essential services and programs.

“Let it be known that today we traded the health of thousands of our citizens for higher cigarette company profits,” House Democratic Leader Terie Norelli, of Portsmouth, said of the Republican majority, which also voted to lower the state’s cigarette tax.

“This budget does tear the heart and soul out of the state that we love,” she said in June.

In the months since lawmakers passed the budget, hospitals and colleges alike have hemorrhaged jobs.

Under the spending plan, New Hampshire hospitals lost more than $115 million in payments, forcing more than 1,000 layoffs statewide.

In Nashua, administrators at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center laid off 100 employees and cut 20 beds from a 30-bed inpatient unit. At St. Joseph Hospital, managers cut 174 positions and cut ties with a private ambulance service and medical equipment company.

The two Nashua hospitals, each of which lost about $20 million over the two-year budget, have joined eight others in filing a lawsuit against the state looking to reclaim parts of the $250 million in lost Medicaid reimbursements. The lawsuit is ongoing in U.S. District Court in Concord.

“It’s the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in as a result of the state budget,” Melissa Sears, a St. Joseph’s spokeswoman, said this fall. “We would not have needed to (cut these jobs) if the budget hadn’t been created and passed in the manner it was.”

Even deeper cuts to the state university system have cost New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities hundreds of jobs this year.

Gov. Lynch initially proposed a 5 percent cut to state higher education funding, which already measured as the lowest in the country. But over the course of the budget talks, lawmakers increased that figure to a record 45 percent, which forced more than 200 layoffs at the University of New Hampshire, Keene State College and Plymouth State University.

The university system’s board of trustees also is considering a 6 percent hike in tuition, fees, and room and board at the three schools to further absorb the cuts, they announced last month.

“When (our funding) gets cut at that level, we have to make up the difference somewhere,” said Matt Cookson, a spokesman for the state university system.

Among other agencies facing cuts, the state’s Division of Family Assistance has had to cut back some programs, like Aid to the Needy Blind, to absorb $14 million in lost funding. New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which provides legal services to the state’s impoverished residents, closed its Nashua office this fall; and the Youth Council in Nashua likely will have to cut back its programs if it doesn’t raise $380,000 this year to make up for lost funding.

“With all the cuts in Concord, that’s really changing the dynamic and really forcing us to reach out to the public and to ask them whether we’re worth to remain in Nashua,” said Nick Frasca, president of The Youth Council.

But as difficult as the cuts are now to stomach, residents will find them easier when they see their tax bills, according to Republican leaders.

“We promised the voters that we would pass tax cuts to help our residents,” O’Brien, the House Speaker, said earlier this year. “We have done that by lowering the tax burden on small businesses to help them grow.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.