By CHUCK MORSE
Special to the Union Leader
Published Jun 14, 2011

As the House and Senate form committees of conference to develop a compromise budget, one thing is certain: Both budgets are taking our state down the path toward fiscal responsibility.

Over the past four years, Gov. John Lynch and the Democratic leadership brought us a 24 percent increase in spending and 100 increased or new taxes and fees. While this may be a line we’ve heard often, its sting should not be lost. In 2007, Democrats increased or created 22 new taxes and fees; in 2008 there were 13; in 2009 there were 44; and finally in 2010 there were 21.

These range from the seemingly innocuous, such as increasing pesticide registration fees, to the much-dreaded increase in motor vehicle registration fees. The common denominator is the same; they are all taxes and fees paid for by regular, hard-working taxpayers like you and me to sustain more government spending.

The House- and Senate-passed versions of the next budget are not that different from each other. The Senate agrees with the House position on nearly half of all departments reviewed by the committee. Both versions balance the budget without bonding operating expenses, as has been done by the Democrats with school building aid to the tune of $130 million over the past four years. Both budgets contain no new or increased taxes and fees, and result in at least an 11 percent decrease in current spending levels.

Naturally there are some differences. The Senate made it a priority to restore funding for mental health services, the developmentally disabled waiting list, and to restore public safety services. We also cut more in certain areas, such as the Corrections Department, the only department to receive an increase over the prior budget.

This was not an easy budget to produce. We took a long, hard look at what the state can and should be doing and implemented reforms in the delivery of services. The Senate’s budget starts the conversation for privatizing our prison system to achieve much-needed efficiencies in that department. The Senate directs administrative services to expand incentives available to retirees to utilize lower-cost health care services. Directing retirees to get the same services at a lower price will generate savings in the future, but does nothing to diminish their level of benefits.

After many years of debate, the Senate directs the leasing of the management of the Cannon Mountain ski operation. The current management has done a tremendous job there, and this is no reflection upon them. Opponents of privatization fail to acknowledge that ski areas require capital-intensive projects, which are paid for by New Hampshire taxpayers. The state simply cannot afford to keep up with the capital projects necessary to keep a ski area competitive.

The Senate worked closely with the House to implement Medicaid managed care. New Hampshire is one of the healthiest states, yet our Medicaid costs rank 10th highest in the country. This reform will implement a coordinated approach to health care through a medical home, resulting in efficiencies, but also improving the delivery of care.

Gov. Lynch called a special session just one year ago to fill the $295 million budget gap in the current budget (fiscal year 2010-2011) that was facing him at that time. That “fix” included the use of federal funds, increasing fees, creating committees to find state property to sell, and cuts in spending. The current fiscal year looks like it may be coming up short by as much as $42 million, with plans to balance that amount still unclear. Accounting gimmicks, temporary fixes, and higher taxes of the past will not be part of our future.

As a state, we can and should be creative and disciplined in the services provided by government to maintain our enduring Yankee, “Live free or die” mentality. It will take years of hard work, fiscal discipline, and saying “no” to get there. I have every confidence that the House and Senate will agree on a sound compromise budget for the next two years. That compromise will be the first step toward getting New Hampshire’s fiscal house in order.
____

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.