Publisher's Note: Time for hard choices
By Jody Reese
Let the good times roll, and we did, not knowing that there would be a price to pay. Now the bills come due and the State of New Hampshire, just like big businesses and home-owners, is facing dire finances.
Big business is slashing payrolls, some home owners are walking away from their mortgages and our state government is trying to balance an increased need for its social services with less income from property and business taxes.
In this week’s cover story we look at the state’s budget woes. There is no easy solution.
The state faces huge increases in spending — 17 percent last year alone — and declining revenue, creating an expected shortfall of nearly $250 million dollars.
Unlike business, the state can’t simply draw a line and cut everything below that line. It’s got commitments — like continuing to pay for jails, state matches of federally funded programs and contracts with employees.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly where the state needs to be looking.
According to our story, the number of prisoners has increased from 300 in 1980 to more than 3,000 now. It’s not as if our state has gotten more violent. The great majority of those inmates are there on drug charges. In a perfect world, we might not look to this group for savings, but given our financial problems perhaps we should look at less expensive ways to punish these offenders.
Another chunk of that increase came from 5.5-percent increases in state employees’ paychecks. Although our state employees don’t make as much as state employees from other states, perhaps we need to look at putting those raises on hold until we can afford them. At this stage, we face state layoffs.
The other big increase comes from social aid. That’s a tougher one to cut because much of those services are required by the federal government. However, we should be looking at how much we compensate or help out people and see if we can lower that for the next few years.
This balancing act is between what we want and what we need, just like at home. You pay to get the furnace fixed but decide not to go on vacation. You choose not to buy a new car, but yours keeps breaking down. Is it really a better deal to keep your old car? What about buying a new used car?
The saying “Penny wise, pound foolish” is important to keep in mind during budget cutting. Will continuing to repair your old car end up costing you more than buying a new one? Will you be stranded on a cold dark highway and wish you had spent a little more on a better car?
The tough reality facing our state government and all of us taxpayers is that we’re likely going to have to live with fewer government services. And it will require tough decisions that few of us will like. It’s to require sacrifice from all sides — state employees, taxpayers (yes, we’ll have to pay more) and those receiving aid (they get less).
There isn’t a right answer for Gov. John Lynch. His path is a tough one that will require balancing all of this.