Governor’s budget falls short

Putting the state budget together is never easy. There will always be perceived winners and losers, but historically New Hampshire could always count on the process being as fair and equitable as possible for all Granite Staters. What makes Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget so troubling is that this year, without the benefit of a competitive process and without any apparent rules or guidelines, the governor randomly selected winners and losers. In his budget the governor allocated $168 million in state funds for certain projects across the state. During a press conference last week, the governor described a situation where he happened to meet a Town Manager at a Market Basket and learned of a problem in that community and now that community is getting funded for that project. Are we comfortable with a budget that leaves out communities the governor hasn’t visited? If the governor had visited a different Market Basket that day would that community be less important?

Of the 69 pet projects, only fourteen of them have been previously listed as a priority in a department budget or anywhere else. That means that only fourteen of the sixty-nine ever received vetting of any kind before being selected. The sixty-nine projects only span twenty-four towns across the Granite State, leaving 199 communities left out. This is what makes this particularly puzzling. The governor’s budget funds towns for skate park improvements, town hall improvements and improvements to sports fields. Did the governor call each community to make sure they didn’t need a new town hall? He has made it clear the projects were not chosen that carefully.

Additionally, while the governor claims that these projects would benefit tax payers in these towns, his budget does just the opposite. While Laconia might feel great about receiving $1.5 million to renovate a parking garage (a garage the City Council isn’t even sure it wants to fix) the governor neglects to mention that his budget has a $16 million gap in funding long term care, a cost that will be directly passed on to Granite Staters through increased county property taxes.

Also, in his budget address to the state the governor said he would allocate 62 new positions at the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). His budget only funds 26 while an independent commission recommended 77 new case workers to make DCYF fully functional. Without funding for those positions the governor has left Granite State children and families vulnerable.

Most importantly for Granite Staters regardless of zip code the governor’s budget does nothing to better fund our struggling education system or bring down our citizens ever growing property tax burden.

I am sure that the projects funded in the governor’s budget have merit, but we must focus on meaningful, long term, relief for our cities and town and must ensure that we are doing that for all Granite Staters and not just the few who happened to run into the governor one day.

Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, D-Concord, is the chair of the House Finance Committee.