"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." Ė Professor Randy Pausch, 2007
The Republican members of the NH House of Representatives played their hand and fulfilled their promise to balance the budget without bonding, stimulus money, new or increased taxes, or downshifting. The cuts are deep, many are painful, and they are spread throughout the state departments.
There was no joy in making those cuts, especially to the Department of Health and Human Services where there are many programs to aid the poor, the disabled, and the troubled. But this legislature was elected to stop the bleeding, take bold moves in cutting the cost of government, and put the stateís house back in order to make its financial plan sustainable. HHS still has a substantial budget of $3.7 billion and the commissioner has the power to shift funds as needed to help meet the most pressing demands.
Note that the collective Republican promise, in spite of what you may have seen written by the opposition, did not promise to immediately lower taxes. We said that there would be no new taxes or fees and existing taxes would not rise. It would have been irresponsible to promise tax cuts as we were repairing an $800M hole in the budget. Nevertheless, tax cuts have been included but not implemented in the back of the budget. If revenues exceed expectations, these tax cuts are in place for implementation if revenues exceed expectations.
Speaking of revenue expectations, Republicans were pilloried by the opposition for having low revenue forecasts now that "the economy is recovering." But Republican leadership responded that there are no current indications that the economy is recovering, citing low housing prices and high fuel and grocery prices, among other indicators. While we hope the economy does improve, it would be imprudent to place hope rather than reality into our budget.
If the economy actually has a sustained recovery during the biennium, the plan is to use the added revenue to shore up the reserve fund thus maintain the stateís good credit rating, a very important step for lower bonding costs, and implementing the tax cuts which appear at the back of the budget. There may even be enough to reinstate some of the more worthy and successful service programs that were cut.
Budget changes still can occur. We have completed only Stage II of the budgetís journey through a four stage process. Stage I was the introduction of the governorís budget in mid-February. Six weeks after the governorís presentation, the governorís budget was replaced by HB 1. In a little over a month Stage III, a review by the Senate, will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. Assuming that the Senate amends the bill as they usually do, it will most likely move to Stage IV, wherein the Senate and House versions of the bill will be reconciled by a Committee of Conference. It will then come to the floor of both bodies for rejection or approval.
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