Gov. Maggie Hassan has been quick to take credit for the passage of the bipartisan state budget. However, a review of the budget process shows that her dubious claims of providing fiscal leadership do not reflect reality.
The No. 1 priority for the governor is to develop a balanced, fiscally sound budget proposal to kick off the budget season. Unfortunately, she presented an unaffordable plan in February that increased state spending by $1 billion — a 10 percent increase over the previous budget. Her proposal included numerous taxes and spending increases and a delay in important business tax reforms passed last session by Republicans. Her budget was “balanced” with $80 million in non-existent casino fees, a plan that was rejected by the Democrat-controlled House.
House Democrats then proposed a budget that included a dramatic increase in state spending that was funded by an increase in the state gas tax. Instead of opposing the House Democrats’ gas tax hike, Gov. Hassan remained silent and did not rule out supporting it in the final budget negotiations.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans, under the leadership of Senate President Peter Bragdon, Majority Leader Jeb Bradley and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, did their homework and made tough choices. They presented a balanced proposal built on reasonable revenue estimates that funded critical state services without raising taxes.
The Senate Republican proposal increased funding for important HHS programs, fully restored funding to the UNIQUE scholarship program that serves high-need New Hampshire residents seeking a college education and preserved a scholarship program for needy elementary and high school students. At the same time, the Senate implemented the promised business tax reforms passed last year, increased no taxes or fees, and increased spending by a very responsible 3 percent.
And how did Gov. Hassan respond to this fiscally responsible proposal? She launched partisan political attacks against the Senate, called its plan “fiscally irresponsible” “shortsighted,” and threatened that it would “cost hundreds of jobs.”
Despite Gov. Hassan’s unproductive comments, House Democrats and Senate Republicans were able to come together and reach a compromise. During this process, Gov. Hassan did not provide any new ideas to balance the budget and even saddled budget writers with an eleventh-hour, $38 million state employee contract expense that was omitted from her original proposal. She also decided to leave New Hampshire and travel out of state for several days while a bipartisan group of legislators in Concord worked on a plan. Senate Republicans stuck to their fiscally responsible principles and produced a budget that closely mirrored their original proposal and bore little resemblance to the governor’s plan.
Like the Republican Senate proposal, the recently signed state budget does not raise taxes or fees. The tax and fee increases in Gov. Hassan’s proposal were eliminated and the gas tax increase that she was willing to allow was also excluded. Like the Republican Senate proposal, the budget spends only what the state can afford (an increase of about 3 percent, significantly less than the increase included in the governor’s proposal). Like the Republican Senate proposal, the budget implements the important business tax reforms Gov. Hassan wanted to stop. And like the Republican Senate proposal, the budget preserves critical state services by providing affordable increases in funding for worthy programs.
Gov. Hassan is now attempting to rewrite history by crediting herself with bipartisan leadership, despite the fact that she didn’t provide any real leadership during the budget process. She is now praising a state budget that is based almost entirely on a Republican proposal that she attacked and disparaged only a few weeks ago. Fortunately, the people of New Hampshire realize that they would be saddled with Gov. Hassan’s proposed tax hikes and reckless spending increases if not for the efforts of the fiscally responsible Republican Senate.
Real leaders give credit where credit is due. That makes two critical tests of her leadership that the governor has now failed.
Jennifer Horn of Nashua is chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.