OFTEN WHEN people vote for their state representative and state senator, they do so while thinking about the changes they want to see to state laws. However, we also have another important role — oversight.
The Legislature works tirelessly to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and for their intended purpose. Much of this work is done by the Joint Fiscal Committee, a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers established to accept and expend non-state funds, like federal coronavirus funds that were disbursed last week to bolster our state’s Meals on Wheels program and make sure our seniors don’t go hungry.
With the hard work of our congressional delegation — Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas — New Hampshire was able to secure $1.25 billion dollars in federal aid under the CARES Act. Now, the most important job of every elected official in New Hampshire is to ensure swift, effective, and equitable disbursement of those funds to help our front line workers, medical providers, communities, small businesses, and nonprofits. The swiftest and most effective means of doing that is the bipartisan Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.
Unfortunately, Governor Sununu has cut legislative involvement and oversight out of this process, has unilaterally decided he would be the sole arbiter of those critical funds. Not only does this violate the state constitution and separation of powers, but it could delay the COVID-19 relief funds from getting to the communities that need it. Governor Sununu’s unprecedented violation of the public trust left us with no choice but to ask the judicial system to step in and require the governor to go through the Fiscal Committee for the expenditure of any federal coronavirus relief funding.
No one’s first choice — or even second choice — was to go to court. We reached out to the Governor on multiple occasions to settle this amicably. But Governor Sununu refused, and he’s left us no choice.
The New Hampshire Constitution is clear. It says that the legislative branch has exclusive authority to appropriate money for executive branch operations, and unambiguously requires that the Fiscal Committee maintain this oversight authority during a state of emergency: “Should it be determined by the governor that a civil emergency exists, the governor may, with the advice and consent of the fiscal committee, authorize such expenditures, by any department or agency, as may be necessary to effectively deal with said civil emergency…”
As legislative leaders, it is our duty to advocate for the people of the state who elected us. We are doing what the people of New Hampshire need us to do to get through this crisis and ensure that every Granite Stater has access to the financial relief they need during this difficult time.
It was also important for us to act right away to try to resolve this dispute now, so that the courts could issue a decision before New Hampshire receives the CARES Act funding at the end of April and so we can make sure it gets to communities as quickly as possible.
Relief to Granite Staters is already on its way. An expansion of unemployment benefits is already in place, including the additional $600 per week stipend from the federal government. Individual stimulus checks are already flowing from the federal government. And the Fiscal Committee is poised to vote to quickly accept and expend any additional federal coronavirus funds that we receive.
Granite Staters are facing unprecedented challenges right now. We believe that it is in their best interest for the Joint Fiscal Committee, an experienced, bipartisan, and accountable committee, to carry out its constitutional role and get Granite Staters the relief they need without delay.