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NH Budget Has Everything… Except Money for Public Schools

May 30, 2021

Conservatives generally tend to favor limited government oversight of local issues, limited spending by the government to achieve social goals, and fiscal prudence. Those conservative principles have long been associated with the GOP. But NH’s GOP legislature has re-defined the meaning of “conservative” and public education will suffer the consequences of this redefinition the most. And now public schools find themselves hoping against hope that GOP Governor Sununu, a “classic conservative”, will reject the budget as written and send it back for revisions. 

The budget adopted by the NH House and Senate and now awaiting the Governor’s signature includes a provision that allow New Hampshire parents to use public funds for private school tuition, a de facto voucher program with the glossy label of “Education Freedom Accounts”. It also has a a measure to ban abortions in the state after a fetus reaches 24 weeks, and last, but not least, language from New Hampshire’s “divisive concepts” legislation that would prohibit schools and public entities from teaching that one race or gender is superior to another, and would ban the teaching that a person is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” None of these are “budget” issues in the traditional sense. They are all hot-button legislative issues bundled into a bill that funds the day-to-day operation of the State in conformance with laws that are on the books. There is no law that allows education funds to be spent for religious schools and there ARE laws that restrict such spending. There is no law on the books to ban abortions in the state after a fetus reaches 24 weeks nor is there any plausible link between such a law and the State’s spending plan. There is no State law that forbids schools from discussing “divisive concepts” nor is there any plausible link between such a law and the State’s spending plan. 

At the same time as the State AG is suing to allow the money for American Rescue Act to allow those funds to underwrite a tax cut instead of going to help those who lost wages during the pandemic and need support in the coming months to transition back, GOP lawmakers voted to reduce New Hampshire’s business taxes, its meals and rooms tax, and to gradually eliminate entirely its interest and dividends tax. Basically, the fiscal conservatives are buying into the failed “trickle down” theory of government espoused by GOP since the Reagan era and compounding the problem by cutting revenue sources that are already limited in NH. There is one obvious problem with embracing this theory: unlike the federal government who racked up deficits in the years after GOP-led legislatures at the federal level adopted “trickle down” thinking, STATE legislatures cannot operate at a deficit. If the forecasted business expansion doesn’t materialize as expected, look for deep cuts in the future because as long as the GOP is in charge of the State budget tax increases will be off the table. 

In a commentary piece that appeared in The New Hampshire Bulletin ACLU-NH advocate Jeanne Hruska outlined the horrific elements of the budget headed for the Governor’s desk and tried to divine the reason for the shift in their thinking about the role of government and came to this conclusion: 

The toxicity of Washington has finally reached Concord, and it’s not a good look, New Hampshire. This obsession with culture wars, on censoring speech, and targeting civil rights, it’s ugly. It makes our state look abysmal.

And the failure to adequately fund public schools, to adopt short-sighted tax policy that diminishes revenues in the long run, and the seeming willingness to walk away from federal funds in the name of even deeper tax cuts is worse that “ugly”… it’s irresponsible. At this juncture only Chris Sununu can stop this train wreck of a budget from becoming law. He reportedly likes the idea of implementing the arguably extra-legal school vouchers, opposes the abortion restrictions, and believes the “controversial issues” rider to the budget is an over-reach. Being a true blue GOP conservative, he finds tax cuts appealing no matter how many times “trickle down” economics has failed. Will he stop the train wreck or yield to the know-nothing element of his party? Stay tuned….

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