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Bob Odell
State Senator
District 8

February 15, 2010

Senator Odell is Chairman of  the Ways and Means Committee, and member of the Energy, Environment and Economic Development Committee;  Finance Committee; Citizens Trade Policy Commission; State Park System Advisory Council; and Comprehensive Cancer Plan Oversight Board.

Senate District 8 towns: Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

 

 

The department has 26 vehicles and 17 have over 100,000 miles on them. Recently they had to spend $700 to repair a car with a Kelly Blue Book value of just $600. That was part of the testimony of Margaret Fulton, Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Revenue Administration, before joint hearings of the Senate Ways and Means and Finance Committees held over two days last week. Senators heard reports from 18 departments on their expenditures measured against the current budget and personnel and other cuts required by the Governor last fall.

By coincidence, the first day of hearings began right after Governor Lynch had met with department heads to ask them to find another $140 million in spending cuts to be implemented over the last five quarters of the biennium starting on April 1. That level of reductions will impact some departments much more than others, requiring additional cuts in personnel and possibly elimination of entire programs.

When legislators, department heads and those involved with the budgeting process talk about cutting spending in Concord, they are focused on general fund spending. That is the money the state raises through taxes and fees to pay its share of state programs. Other money, principally from Washington, is not included.

* * *

There are some things the state cannot cut. That includes the Judicial Council which provides constitutionally required defense attorneys to people with no money who are accused of a crime. Nina Gardner, the executive director of the Judicial Council, reported that the current caseload has been flat instead of the 5 percent growth seen in the past.

The legislature puts a figure into the budget for the Council knowing it is not enough money. Then, Ms. Gardner "pays visits," as she calls it, to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee to seek additional money to handle her cases. The Fiscal Committee goes along and provides money from "funds not otherwise appropriated." That figure will be over $1 million in the current biennium.

High profile cases like the Michael Addison capital murder case and the Mont Vernon murder and assault case consume hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Addison case will go on for years.

In the case of the five Mont Vernon case defendants, the public defenderís office can only defend one of the accused. Using public defenders is less expensive but because of possible conflict of interest issues among the defendants, the state will have to hire contract attorneys to defend four of the accused. About 85 percent of cases are handled by public defenders and 15 percent through contract attorneys.

* * *

For the Community College System, Chancellor Richard Gustafson said "enrollment growth has been a lifesaver." Enrollment was up for the equivalent of full time students from 9,528 in the fall of 2008 to 10,659 last fall. Those additional students are helping meet increasing costs.

Retirement costs for the system had been averaging $400,000 per year; the figure could be $740,000 for the current fiscal year. Health care costs hit government, too. Increased health insurance will cost the system $580,000 for the balance of the year, projected to increase by $1.2 million in the next fiscal year not counting likely added increases in January, 2011.

Meanwhile, the state supports the system with $37.4 million each year of the current biennium. That is equal to the 2009 appropriation. But, $1.1 million of that money came from federal stimulus money. The state budget also requires the system to make a $1 million payment back to the state each year of the biennium.

You can see why the Chancellor is so thankful for the increased enrollment and the student fees that come with it.

* * *

Not everything is equal in government spending. The Department of Health and Human Services has 30 percent of general fund money. The only larger item in the budget are transfers to school districts, towns and cities at 40 percent.

Commissioner Nick Toumpas has been struggling with a $43 million cut required by the budget and the Governorís reductions made last October. My simple math suggests his share of the new request by the Governor could be in the $50 to $60 million range. That scale of reduction when often a dollar cut in state funds eliminates a dollar or more in federal matching money means the reduced spending will be felt across New Hampshire. The requested HHS reductions are happening just when unemployment is driving up the number of people seeking, and qualified, for benefits. HHS is worthy of a column all by itself.

* * *

In comparison to HHS, the $257 million Department of Environmental Services only gets 10 percent or $26 million from the stateís general fund. This year, fees for services such as permits for septic systems provides $134 million of revenue (52 percent) and federal funds are $98 million (38 percent) of the DES budget. Only about 5 percent of the DES budget is the cost of administration. Authorized positions at DES total 546, but only 160 are paid with state general funds. Of that, 15 percent are vacant or  not funded in the budget.

The amount of money saved even with severe cuts at departments like DES is not much; that is why much attention is on the Department of Health and Human Services and Commissioner Toumpas. To save major amounts of money through cuts, you have to go where the money is.

 

Bob Odell
State Senator
New Hampshire State House
107 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4951

Telephone:  603-271-6733
Email:  rpojr@aol.com

 

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