NH State Finance Budget Committee Hearing
May 2013 – WMUR coverage of the state senate finance committee hearing testimony
WMUR television coverage and on camera interview with Jo Fonda: http://bit.ly/16EAmC3
Public speaks out in favor of keeping programs in place in NH budget
CONCORD – State Senate budget writers looking for suggestions to pare spending within a proposed two-year $11 billion plan came away empty handed Thursday.
However, they received plenty of encouragement to keep in place popular social service programs that Gov. Maggie Hassan and the Democratically controlled House of Representatives already have embraced and made part of their plans.
More than 100 advocates, business owners and consumers of these services sat in Representatives Hall, most of them wearing pink “People Can’t Wait” stickers.
Greg Moore, state director of fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity, was the only one to call for spending cuts during a four-hour public hearing before the Senate Finance Committee that went well into the evening Thursday.
A double-digit increase in total spending over the next two years is unsupportable given the sluggish recovery from the recession, Moore argued.
“The New Hampshire economy is not growing by 16 percent nor do we have family incomes grow by 16 percent,” Moore said. “How can we ask our employers to grow and increase jobs when we’re increasing taxes on the businesses of New Hampshire?”
This message was drowned out by many who told compelling personal stories to underline support for increased spending in this budget over the current one crafted by the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2011.
Jo Fonda, formerly of Amherst, was there to promote restoring an increase in the marriage licensee fee to support domestic violence prevention programs.
Fonda recalled her trauma of 11 years ago in which, as a successful business management executive, she decided to leave her emotionally and mentally abusive husband.
“With every step that I took forward to leave, I was pushed back by his intimidation and the control he had systematically gained over me throughout our 20-year marriage,” Fonda said. “One morning, following a series of disturbing events, I was in a panic that my daughter and I were in imminent danger.”
Fonda did get a restraining order, and with her means, was able to open a secret P.O. box and checking account, but all of that didn’t protect her.
“I wish I could say that was the end of the story and that we were able to go our separate ways,” Fonda said. “Instead, my husband hunted me down for two days, and in a rage, unable to find me and having been served the restraining order, he flew our private airplane into our newly built home in Amherst, burning it to the ground and killing himself in the process.”
Ryan Donnelly, who has a severe, degenerative bone disorder that requires he get around in a wheelchair, attended to promote the first small pay increase in seven years for the personal care attendant who helps him.
“My personal care attendant bathes me, dresses me, prepares my meals and takes care of other personal care needs that I require to get ready for the day so that I can get to my job here in Concord,” said Donnelly, who works for the Granite State Independent Living Association.
Curt Christiansen, of Campton, had dreams of playing on the pro golf tour until a car accident in 2008 had him declared dead at the scene and in coma for two months, after surgeries that required removing part of his skull to reduce the swelling.
Christiansen was there Thursday to support Hassan setting aside more than $24 million in additional spending for those with developmental impairments.
Today, Christiansen has started his own business giving golf instruction to those with similar physical limitations he has.
“Without the supports for the developmental services, I would in no way be doing as well as I am,” Christiansen said.
Other speakers promoted expanding Medicaid to provide health insurance to up to another 80,000 income-eligible adults, and spending to support family resource centers, the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program and substance abuse treatment centers.
But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, already has warned all these prayers may not be answered.
Before the hearing, Morse said the House-passed budget contains a $300 million hole in it, about 80 percent of that he attributes to overestimating how much hospitals would pay the state under a Medicaid Enhancement Tax.
Further, both Hassan and the House support getting another $40 million a year by raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 30 cents but Morse and the GOP-led Senate oppose that.
“The Senate’s intention has been to continue funding to critical access hospitals and be able to restore money to dedicated funds like LCHIP and the Unique Plan that serves under privileged student trying to go to college,” Morse said. “But after hearing the numbers the Department of Revenue presented to our Ways and Means Committee, under the House budget, the funds to do so simply aren’t there. And the Senate is not accepting tax increases.”
Senate tax experts meet next Tuesday and are likely to endorse a conservative outlook for existing revenue growth for this budget, about 2 percent a year.
Morse and the Senate already have signaled to the House how they would close some of this hole, by legalizing gambling at a casino whose owners would kick in a one-time, $80 million license fee.
Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).