The Union Leader last week published a column by Charles Arlinghaus presenting his take on the current state budget process. While I respect Mr. Alinghaus’ opinion, I believe readers deserve the rest of the story.
Many legislators and Gov. Maggie Hassan are deeply concerned with the Senate’s adopted $50 million cut to state personnel in 2013’s budget because of the harm it will do to critical state services and because it may cost the loss of up to 700 jobs. The cut would be the third such in three consecutive budgets, for a six-year total of $150 million.
Because of state and federal funding formulas, each $50 million cut to personnel saves the state budget only about $20 million, for a total of $60 million over six years. Each $50 million cut to personnel is worth approximately 700 jobs, or 2,100 jobs in whole. So not only are New Hampshire citizens losing more than 2,000 good jobs, they are essentially forfeiting about $90 million in federal matching funds just to save $60 million in the state budget.
The Senate’s strategy behind the newly proposed $50 million in personnel cuts is unknown to all of us right now. It came just a few hours after the casino bill was killed by the House; the only rationale given for it was that “we had to make the numbers work,” according to Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford.
Since ordering them, these senators are questioning why there is such concern over the cuts. They claim the cuts were fine with everyone in 2009 and 2011, when then-Gov. John Lynch included the cuts in his budget. There are two key differences between now and then. Those cuts were in response to the most serious financial downturn since the Great Depression. Today, New Hampshire’s economy is improving and job and wage growth are returning.
Those cuts also were announced at the governor’s stage of the budget process, four months earlier than the Senate’s stage in 2013. Neither the governor, the House nor the Senate has done any planning for large-scale layoffs; no analysis exists as to how difficult it will be to achieve the cuts due to the fact that more than 1,700 positions already have been eliminated. With a workforce approximately 20 percent smaller than it was when the recession began, continuing the delivery of services while also finding the required savings is likely to result in severe hardship all around.
It’s clear some senators were very angry when the casino bill was killed by the House. The senators voted along strict party lines, with all Republicans voting for the $50 million in personnel cuts. To add insult to injury, they also refused to add Medicaid expansion to the budget, which would have brought health insurance to 58,000 uninsured New Hampshire taxpayers and created hundreds of new health care related jobs.
I can certainly appreciate how frustrating it was to see the potential for thousands of new private-sector jobs disappear into thin air, and to feel millions in new revenue slip through their fingers. But the Senate’s action to cause 700 more layoffs and its refusal to grow hundreds of additional new jobs only punishes the people: people on the unemployment line; people who need critical services, such as the poor, the sick and the elderly; and people that make our roads safe and keep our children from being abused and neglected.
The rest of the story can be boiled down to this: There is no reason but political ideology for job loss right now. There is no reason to cut critical services. There is no reason to leave people behind as we move forward in recovery.
Significant job growth is within reach of the state Senate and House, if they just grasp it. Most of it can come from private-sector job growth paid for by consumers of tobacco, gambling, gasoline and health care; paid for by all of us, living our lives as we do as consumers and the tourists that visit here.
It’s time to put people, not politics, first.
Diana Lacey is president of the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire.