To the editor:
The FY 2012-2013 New Hampshire budget development process seems to now be a distant memory, and it is truly a landmark when a government can ask "how much money do I have" before setting up its budget for spending.
Thank you to the Republican Legislature for this dramatic accomplishment. Even a thank you to Gov. John Lynch, whose previous two budgets increased 25 percent, for identifying restructuring cuts to meet this budget. State government was cut the most at 29 percent; local aid was only cut 4 percent, health and human services was essentially flat at a cut of 1.5 percent. To their credit, the legislators clearly set a top priority in retaining HHS services.
During the process, however, opponents disagreed about specific cuts and good programs were affected, causing real problems for some. Some anger was directed at the Legislature for making the cuts, and there was a feeling that we could do better. But the anger shouldn't be directed at the legislators, but rather at the governor and managers of the various agencies. Let me explain.
My first comment to our government leaders is: "Why isn't $5.2 billion enough? With 1.3 million people, that's about $16,000 per family of four; and with median income of about $60,000, that's a lot of our money for the state to spend. Of course, not everyone in the state contributes, so you can see it's a very big number. What value are we really getting for our money? We can do better.
Second, given a $5.2 billion budget, I will make a bold statement to all parties that we should be able to get back at least 10 percent — $520 million — to allocate to worthwhile programs or (heaven forbid) return to the taxpayers.
Having worked for a large company, we routinely challenged the equivalent of state "agency managers" to cut costs — 10 percent is pretty typical, and could be more — without giving up services. In fact, services often improved because we changed the way we did business. These methods are generally called "Six Sigma" (or sometimes Lean Six Sigma), and need to be insisted on from the Governor on down. It would probably be done during the "agency phase" of the state budget process.
I'll end by answering my own questions: $5.2 billion is way too much and we can do better with supporting good programs. If it takes frustration with cuts to do this, then let's make more cuts — maybe 10 percent each budget cycle — so we can force the government into being more efficient, and thereby restoring the programs we really need.
John P. Matuszewski