Governor Lynch called me, in my role as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, on Wednesday morning to give me a heads up that there was an important press release coming out later in the day. His office announced that afternoon that the unaudited financial figures for fiscal year 2012 that ended on June 30 had a surplus of $13.8 million.
The Governor was clearly pleased. This was the last full state fiscal year under his governorship. It will be a part of his legacy as the state’s chief executive.
John Lynch will be turning over to the new Governor, who takes office in January, a pretty good fiscal picture with the first half of our biennium having a surplus. That is a big plus for any new Governor coming into office. Can you image Maggie Hassan or Ovide Lamontagne having a $25 or $50 million or larger deficit from the prior fiscal year on their desk on their first day on the job? That would be tough way to start your governorship.
There was praise from the Governor for department heads and state employees saying "the hard work and commitment of the people in our state agencies produced a surplus despite a number of challenges that had to be overcome." Governor Lynch was right to recognize the good work of the state agencies.
But, the foundation for the budget was set by the legislature. The key was establishing revenue projections that were achievable. Even with less money, $22 million, coming in from hospitals for their Medicaid Enhancement Tax, and a couple of other adjustments, the revenue projections were right on target. Business taxes and meals and rooms revenues actually exceeded the budget plan.
The state did face some spending issues. The extent of the problems was mitigated in the legislative budget process by some difficult and impactful reductions in some areas of state spending. But unbudgeted were millions of dollars the state is paying back on a quarterly basis for failing to comply with federal Medicaid regulations in 2004.
Fiscal year 2012 also benefited from a $17.7 million surplus in the prior year. If that money had been put into the state’s rainy day fund, for example, or spent, it could not have been carried forward to insure a surplus in the next year. That would have put 2012 in deficit.
The Governor said in his release: "I think we’re going to have to continue to manage the budget very, very tightly. It is doable, but there has to be a strong, strong lid on additional cost increases or expenses." Amen.
The next Governor is required to present his or her budget plan for the next two years by February 15. State agencies and Governor Lynch and his staff are setting the stage now for the arrival of the new governor after the Nov 6 election.
The budget process is ongoing. Governor Lynch has presented four budgets and managed state finances longer than any other chief executive. When he suggests we need to continue to be constrained in our revenue projections and spending plans, he knows what he is talking about.
Biennial budgets of more $10 billion are not easy to manage but it has been a pleasure … personally and legislatively … to work closely with Governor Lynch over the past eight years on the state’s finances.
Last month I wrote about a decision by the Joint Legislative Historical Committee to take down a portrait hanging on the second floor hallway of the State House. A former legislator, Dean Dexter, casually walking down the hallway saw that the picture was different from the dozens of others hung on the walls.
The portrait was identified as that of former governor and U. S. senator, Henry Keyes of Haverhill. Dean did his research including talking with Keyes’ ancestors and looking through directories of congressmen and state elected leaders. He made a convincing case to the Historical Committee, on which I serve, that the picture was not of Keyes.
There remained the mystery of who was the person in the portrait. Before Senator D’Allesandro and I could get organized to do our own research, as a study subcommittee of two, the senate research office came up with the answer. The person in the picture is former congressman Jacob Hart Ela from Rochester.
The senate research office typically responds to requests from senators on legislative issues. A senator, for example, looking to introduce a bill mandating liability insurance could ask the research staff to find out what the laws are in other states or maybe just in New England. A request might include what changes states have been making in their laws in this area. Good research is important in drafting and advocating for legislation.
By identifying the age of the Ela’s portrait, researchers were able to track it to a picture in the 1892 Red Book, the biennial publication of the Secretary of State’s office, which is the record of who has served and is currently serving in federal and state office in New Hampshire. The research also led to the minutes of an 1891 meeting when the governor and executive council accepted a portrait of Jacob Hart Ela from his son and widow.
The mystery has been solved and it has been fun. History can be that way.