To the editor:
This week the Democratic-controlled New Hampshire House and the Republican-controlled Senate are in negotiations over differences in the budget. I am a House member, but if I were a senator, I would be looking for a way to pass Medicaid expansion.
From my perspective there are three major differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget.
The House passed a cigarette tax and repealed some business tax cuts passed last session in order to garner about $50 million and avoid massive layoffs.
The Senate chose to reject the cigarette tax and extend the business tax cuts while cutting $50 million in state personnel costs (equivalent to about 700 jobs) out of the budget. Maybe we were cutting fat in 2009, when we cut $25 million in state employee compensation and benefits, or even in 2011, when we cut $50 million from personnel costs. But after $75 million in cuts since the Great Recession, (equivalent to about 1,000 jobs) we are cutting into bone, deep into bone this year.
I believe the Senate is prepared to make its case to the people of New Hampshire that cutting 700 jobs is better than raising the cigarette tax, even though the tax, if raised, would
remain the lowest in the region.
Another major area of disagreement is infrastructure. The House passed a 12-cent gas tax phased in over three years to raise revenue to repair red-listed bridges and thousands of miles of poor roads. The Senate rejected this approach, again because of members’ resolve to oppose any new taxes.
But the highway bill is more than a roads bill, it is a jobs bill — jobs for the workers who repair the roads and bridges, jobs created by new businesses who move to New Hampshire because it offers the infrastructure those businesses need to move their product (think widening I-93 and upgrading the Long Bridge in Portsmouth).