During the week, a couple of people came up to me and spoke of the tough decisions the state faces preparing a new budget. That is the reality in Concord as more and more people see limited revenue bumping, or possibly more appropriately, crashing into current spending and additional state needs.
The summary point: putting together a new budget could be tougher than it was to build the last two budgets. Governor-elect Hassan has put down a marker asking each department to come forward with a plan that is 97 percent of spending last year. That would reduce spending across state government even as debt service costs, salaries and health care expenses rise.
This is the time of year where not-for-profit agencies and other service providers start to line up at Senators’ doors making pleas for "restored" funding or increases in the budget that affect them. I have a standard line which suggests they work with the Governor on her budget because my belief is that if the money they are seeking is not in her budget, it will be nearly impossible for the legislature to add it to the budget later.
I wrote here a couple weeks before the election that both candidates for governor proposed restoring some cuts made in the current budget. I simply did not see any revenue projections over the next two years to cover that spending.
I see revenue growth of $30 to $40 million in each of the next two years. Just to fund current operations, called maintenance budgets, the built in increases were around $375 million as first proposed by agency heads.
Funding for the University System of New Hampshire is a top priority for many leaders. The state’s annual contribution had been around $100 million but in this biennium it was reduced to $50 million each year and would have been $8 million less had the state not taken money from a scholarship program.
Tom Horgan, President of the New Hampshire College and University Council, came by last week to drop off a paper titled, "2013, Positioning Higher Education as the Cornerstone to New Hampshire’s Future. " It points out that New Hampshire has one of the most highly educated populations with 33 percent of the residents 25 years of age or over having earned a bachelor’s or higher degree. That puts us 9th in the nation.
Looking at the native New Hampshire population, however, the numbers are terrible. Those who grew up here who have earned a bachelor’s or higher degree are just 19 percent of the population, 46th in nation. The contrast between overall higher education achievement and that of native New Hampshire residents indicates that those who have made the state so highly educated have moved into the state, they did not grow up here.
The report suggests that as "the state’s ability to ‘import’ highly educated workers from neighboring ‘aging’ states diminishes, educating its own (New Hampshire’s) will become an economic imperative."
How does the New Hampshire stack up with other states. We rank 50th in state funded scholarship aid; "ranked 1st in the nation with the most expensive community colleges with average tuition and fees of $6,262, more than double the national average of $3,029;" and we are ranked 3rd in the country in the cost of attending our state university.
These statistics raise many public policy issues. Money is not the only question but it is a critical factor in determining what the state’s role will be in advancing higher education. There is no growth in our current revenue streams to even make a dent in turning around our commitment to higher education. We eagerly await Governor Hassan’s budget address in February.
Nearly 30 years ago I was about to settle on my house in Lempster. I needed a truck and I asked the real estate agent who I should go to. As if I should have known, she said Rich Chappell. That was when Dartmouth Motors was on North Main Street in Newport. The next day, Rich sold me the first of several vehicles I would buy from him.
Rich has been the coordinator of the food pantry in Newport for more than five years. I went by for the second time in a couple of weeks because Rich had told me about two students from Sunapee High School who come by each week to volunteer. When I got there, Bridget Sherwin and Aubree Kozie, were hard a work filling up shopping carts for waiting families and stacking newly arrived food containers from local grocery stores. They were part of a team, assisting Rich and long time volunteer, Barbara Tatro, to serve others.
This is the perfect time of year to stop and remember those who struggle to meet their daily needs. Sometimes their needs are long term; others just need short term assistance. Rich used the example of a man who has moved to the area, started a good job but needed a little help with food to get him through until his first paycheck.
The Newport pantry is one of several food pantries in the area. The work that goes on there year round helps fulfill the spirit of giving we share at this time of year. Our food pantries can always use our support.