With all the politics at play, it’s hard to bring the focus back where it belongs – improving the lives of people. In my time in Concord, I have seen people who are indifferent to the facts and I’ve watched adolescent antics misrepresent clearly-stated plans, for political gain. I’d like to think most of us are not interested in this gamesmanship, but unfortunately, trash-talk works. I’m writing to give you an inside look at what we’re doing and why, in the hopes that you will understand that hollow words cannot replace hard work.
Since the start of the 2019 session, leadership has been laser-focused on the priorities you told us mattered to you in 2018. Being able to alleviate the down-shifting that has reached a crushing burden for many property taxpayers, and addressing the actual issues of the state: 1) an aging population/retaining more young people/families in the state 2) the property tax burden pitting taxpayers against schools 3) high electricity costs 4) ensuring a fair apportionment of taxes so those on fixed incomes aren’t pushed from their homes and 5) finding a way to pay for long-overdue repairs (like the long list of red-lined bridges and other critical projects being put off year after year). There are also social services reaching critical states in terms of funding: Opiod and Mental Health Services, the Developmentally Disabled waitlist, investments in physical buildings and beds as well as wrap around service for the elderly and DCYF.
Now these may not be the same priorities you hear other elected officials talk about – but they are the actual problems any responsible legislature must address in its budget to avoid further erosion of what’s working. And make no mistake, just as with the maintenance of a home, wise investments increase value over time or else it diminishes from neglect. We are being responsible with your money, so your return on investment stays high! And the several budget meetings I’ve attended also show a great deal of care among our Finance Committees for keeping spending down, while solving what we can this biennium.
In my last post, I heralded the House passing HB497 – an attempt to reinstate 15% of the New Hampshire State employee retirement contribution that had been eliminated. However, the price tag would have been $86 million dollars. It was money we could not raise while meeting our other priorities and therefore, it will have to wait. There is some short term relief for state employees in the form of the first Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in ten years. The point is, we know we cannot fund all of our priorities, but we have an agenda of smart priorities and the budget we passed is designed to help us achieve them.
On education, the House has short, medium and long term plans for fixing adequacy funding, stabilization and building aid – but the fixes require a reliable funding stream and more than a 2-year commitment to see it through. This reality is not because we want to spend money – it is because we want to provide a real solution. You get to choose in 2020 whether that makes sense.
Finance chose to modify an existing law – the Dividend and Interest Tax – to include a 5% Capital Gains tax (with some significant exemptions that help lower the D & I taxes for many). Though no NH legislator wants to increase taxes, it costs us more in the long run to forego needed investments in our children and the future of our state. In this light, the Finance committee opted not to give away the next round of business tax cuts and keep those rates at the 2018 levels. That money is better spent on schools and communities who also provide an economic engine for the state. This stuff is not easy, but please understand that the House investments are strategic and will yield solid and practical positive outcomes.
The House budget increases education funding to provide relief to schools and towns and local taxpayers. It defines a new revenue stream that is not a broad-based income or sales tax, while adding sufficient dollars to address the lack of adequate education funding that has put NH on the verge of another law suit for not meeting its Constitutional responsibility to educate its people; it supports the priority of encouraging families to stay in New Hampshire, as does the Family Medical Leave Act and the increase in minimum wage. Each of these policies helps New Hampshire attract and retain more qualified (young) workers and prevents the brain-drain of college graduates leaving the state, that threatens the next generation of entrepreneurs.
I’m not going to list all the bills and how I voted. If you want to see my votes they may be found here. I’m assigned to Science, Technology and Energy and my work there has been busy and interesting. I will devote a write up to my particular work and achievements this session year, next time. The important take away is that I am not working to serve an ideological slogan or a political party, I am working for you and the prosperity of the state.
Know that there is a plan going forward to bring relief to towns as this budget seeks to reinstate revenue-sharing not included in budget plans since 2008. Help is on the way with a responsible, measured and strategic plan for balancing the books while funding essential priorities. If others trash-talk what the House is doing, make sure to ask them for their solutions! Meeting the needs of the state is not easy – but we are very proud to have addressed so many long-standing, structural issues with this biennium’s budget.
If you agree, please call your Senator and ask for their help in keeping the House budget as intact as possible going from the Senate, back to the Governor for his signature later this year.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions.