‘The story is how we did it — with real bipartisanship’
Last week, the state’s revenue numbers for June came in, giving us the budget picture for the whole fiscal year. The news was good: We are on track to finish the year on budget, with even a little room to spare.
Since balanced budgets seem so far out of reach in Washington these days, the fact that our state manages to pull it off is a good story in itself. But that’s not the headline here. The real story is how we did it — with real bipartisanship and setting important priorities like education, innovation and mental health.
I have drawn three lessons from my experience with the budget process over the last year and a half. First, with the right leadership, both parties can actually work together and get things done. Second, it is possible to deliver a balanced budget that still focuses on the right priorities. And third, when we balance our budget with the right priorities in mind, people and businesses in this state are much better off.
On the first point, it is clear that there has been a new tone in Concord. Good leadership needs resolve, but it also requires flexibility. The Governor made it clear from day one that she was strongly committed to a clear set of budget priorities, but that she was also open minded to ideas from both parties about how to get there. That got both sides talking, something that doesn’t happen in Washington much at all.
Credit should also go to Senate President Chuck Morse, who at the time was the Republican budget leader. It takes two to negotiate, and Senator Morse was willing to work with others toward a common goal. That’s how you get a budget that passes the State Senate 24-0.
Second, budgets are about priorities. We focused our priorities on ways to grow the economy and help the middle class, not on ideological crusades as we witnessed in the previous Legislature. One of the biggest steps forward was to restore the funding that had been slashed for our state’s colleges and universities. At the same time, we increased aid for scholarships.
We doubled and made permanent the state’s R&D tax credit to foster research that drives new innovations here in New Hampshire. And, we significantly increased investment in community-based mental health services to ensure that we can provide appropriate care for people who need it and alleviating some of the strain we have seen in emergency rooms.
All of that leads to the third point: Budget choices have real consequences, and we are already beginning to see the benefits of a balanced budget built on the right priorities. Restoring college funding led to a freeze on in-state tuition at the university system and an actual cut in tuition at our community colleges. Combined with expanded scholarships, this means that thousands of New Hampshire families are better able to afford college, and our schools are able to attract and keep more qualified students.
The additional resources we put into public safety initiatives meant that we put more state troopers on the road, maintained drug task force teams, and added additional funds for alcohol and drug prevention programs. We were also able to meet one of the priorities that I personally championed, rebuilding and restoring funding for CHINS, the Children in Need of Service program, which is critical to helping our at-risk young people and keeping our communities safe.
There were many other critical pieces that went into our budget success. We passed a bipartisan deal with the hospitals to end a divisive lawsuit and to keep our budget stable and our bond ratings up. We crafted a bipartisan agreement that I helped negotiate to expand affordable private health insurance to 50,000 New Hampshire citizens, while protecting our state funds by using the federal dollars New Hampshire sends to Washington.
The budget isn’t perfect. There is a lot more work to be done. But the bottom line? With the right leadership and a willingness to compromise, we can have balanced budgets, the right priorities, and a real impact on people’s lives. That is something for New Hampshire to be proud of. Washington, take note!
Peggy Gilmour represents Senate District 12, which includes Mason, Greenville, New Ipswich and Rindge.