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Mark Fernald
Sunday, April 29, 2012

The tall tale that won Republicans the Statehouse

Guest Commentary

In 2010, the Republicans came up with a clever story for their campaign.

They claimed that four years of reckless spending by Democrats resulted in a 25 percent increase in state spending and a huge deficit.

Not one part of this story is true. There was no reckless spending. There was no 25 percent increase. There was no deficit.

The proof is in an audited report called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The report for 2011 is available on the Department of Administrative Services website (http://admin.state.nh.us ).

Keep in mind that Republicans controlled state spending for decades, until 2007. The Democrats were in control of the Statehouse for the four budget years from 2008-11.

Comparing the Republican year of 2007 to the Democratic year of 2011, the increase in overall state spending – including federal funds and highway spending – was 17.5 percent, not 25 percent. Most of that increase was simply a reflection of inflation, which ran about 10 percent over those four years.  Most of the rest of the increase was increased social safety net spending during the Great Recession and one-time federal stimulus money we would have been foolish to turn down.

The inconvenient fact is that the Democrats were positively miserly during their four years in control of the Statehouse.

The general fund is that part of state spending that is paid for with taxes raised in New Hampshire. It excludes federal funds, the highway fund and state fee income.

General fund spending in 2011 was nearly 5 percent less than in 2007. Even as inflation was running 10 percent over those four years, the allegedly “wild-spending” Democrats spent less in the general fund than the Republicans did in 2007.

And when the state closed the books on the 2011 budget year, it posted a surplus of more than $17 million.

The Republicans rode their story to victory in 2010, secure in the knowledge that no one would be able to check their numbers until now.

Of course, the story is now a problem for Republican candidates. They promised us that the state’s fiscal challenges could be met by undoing the “reckless” things the Democrats had done during their four years in power.

But the Democrats had not added any significant new programs, nor did they enact any expensive expansions of existing programs. In fact, Democrats had simply maintained the programs that had been put in place by Republicans over the preceding decades.

Republicans told voters they could put New Hampshire’s fiscal house in order simply by cutting out Democratic “fluff.” The reality is that there was no fluff. Instead, the Republicans have cut into the heart of our state government.

 • They have instructed our college students to go elsewhere to learn and work.  State funding for the University System of New Hampshire has been cut 45 percent.

 • They have cut the legs out from under our most vulnerable citizens. State funding for poor people accessing our hospitals was cut by $125 million. Thousands of health-care workers have lost their jobs.

 • Severely disabled people have been denied assistance and instead have been placed on a waiting list.

 • They have balanced their budget by unbalancing everyone else’s.  State aid to cities and towns was cut by more than $40 million, increasing local property taxes.

Not surprisingly, there is loud and vociferous criticism of these disastrous budget decisions. The Republican response? Just that the budget is balanced, as if their job is no more than counting beans.

Anyone can balance a budget if you are willing to throw people under the bus. The actual job of our legislators is to balance a budget and maintain state services – which is what the Democrats accomplished during their four years in the majority.

The positions of the parties are clear. Republicans are intent on cutting spending and taxes, no matter what the impact on the people of New Hampshire. Democrats seek to restore funding for important state services, such as education and health care.

The question for voters is whether they want state government that is willing to solve problems and face hard truths, a government intelligent and creative enough preserve necessary programs while maintaining fiscal responsibility, or whether they are willing to settle for legislators who look no further than the numbers on a spreadsheet.

Mark Fernald was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002. He can be reached at mark@markfernald.com.