CONGRATULATIONS AND CONDOLENCES
This may strike you as an odd heading for this article, but it is really appropriate. I ran for State Representative for Claremont, Unity and Lempster but did not win. The night of November 2nd I was with other candidates waiting for the election results. Slowly they were coming in. The results from Sunapee arrived and Spec Bowers had won. I congratulated him on winning and his response was "It should be congratulations and condolences...It's going to take a lot of hard work!" His comment got me thinking about how big a task the new legislature has been handed.
The legislature in New Hampshire is elected for a two year term. The Representatives are expected to be active on a committee and to attend legislative sessions. Most committees meet twice a week, usually Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some committees meet even more often. The legislature meets once a week on Wednesdays from January to June. Of course, there is much more time involved – communicating with the constituents of the Representatives. For all of this, the Representatives are paid the princely sum of $100 a year and can be reimbursed for up to 45 days of travel to Concord. While not truly a voluntary position, the Representatives are performing an act of love for their state. They give the gift of their time and effort in order to make and keep New Hampshire a great state. All of them deserve our gratitude for this gift.
This legislature has been handed an especially hard task concerning the financial state of New Hampshire. The law states that we must have a balanced budget. The budget is done every two years and runs from July 1 to June 30 two years later. We now have about eight months left in the current budget which ends June 30, 2011. Despite many campaign claims, the current budget is on track to be between $600 and $900 million in the red. This legislature has, as just one of its jobs, the task of somehow balancing this budget before it ends. A huge and daunting task!
The budget is basically written in two parts. Part 1 is the Capital Budget which includes capital outlays (i.e. buildings and properties) and debt servicing (paying back the bonds the state owes).
Part 2 is the General Fund which is basically the operating costs of the government and government services. Most discussions concern the General Fund portion of the budget.
In my opinion the primary reason for NH being in such a financial hole is overspending by the state government. Even in these poor economic times, the state's revenue has only decreased by $23 million. (This decrease was in spite of over 100 new or increased taxes and fees during the same period.) However, the state spending has gone up $679 million. That is an increase in the General Fund of 25 percent over the past four years.
The logical answer to the problem is simply to cut state spending. That is also exactly were the problem lies. Cutting spending means decreasing state services and shrinking the number of state employees. This will not be easy because every special interest group getting state services has their own "sacred cow" that they will not want touched. Every employee, and every employee's union, will not want any jobs lost. So in order to fix the problem created by poor financial management over the past several years, the new legislature will have a fight on its hands!
Do I think the job can be done? Can the budget be balanced? Yes. There is a large enough majority of Representatives and Senators who ran on the campaign promises of decreasing taxes, decreasing spending and balancing the budget that if they stay true to their promises, it will be done. There will be arguments, resentment and hard feelings along the way, but it can be done. It must be done.
You promised and We the People are watching.
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Contact: ken.s+sunacom.com (replace "+" with "@")