A Little Good News, Some Mixed News, But Even More Bad News in Concord
by Jeb Bradley
October 16, 2009
The recent release of New Hampshire’s revenue receipts simultaneously offers glimmers of hope while raising even more concerns about the State Budget enacted in June.
First the good news: The “Rainy Day Fund” which is the State’s hedge against economic downturns ended the fiscal year with $56 million more of a cushion than anticipated. Governor Lynch froze new hiring, deferred equipment purchases, and curtailed out of state travel to produce these savings.
Despite the fact that Governor Lynch and Democratic Legislators approved an overall spending increase in 2007 of 11.17% and in 2009 of 10.48%, the Governor’s executive orders curbed the worst excesses of the Legislature’s spending blitz that has increased expenditures from $9.36 billion to $11.5 billion during that time.
This $56 million in the Rainy Day Fund will be a critical one-time buffer if the State loses its NH Supreme Court appeal of the JUA (Joint Underwriting Association) lawsuit. This lawsuit comes from a budget provision attempting to simply “take” $110 million from a fund designed to keep a lid on physician’s medical liability insurance costs. The State’s attempted money grab has already been ruled in violation of both the State and Federal Constitutions by the Superior Court.
The mixed news is that business tax revenues were only 4% lower than expectations. While it is preposterous to call any shortfall good news, in comparison to last year’s business tax receipts that were off by 25%, being 4% below expectations is a slim glimmer of hope. However, it’s also a warning that if the trend continues the State will face a nasty budget deficit.
Despite the good and the mixed news, NH is far from out of the budget woe woods as the bad news dwarfs the good. Other revenue sources are badly underperforming, despite many taxes being increased in the budget. Receipts from the rooms and meals tax, communication tax, and real estate tax are all down by about 9%. The interest and dividend tax is down a whopping 25%. Even tobacco taxes are down slightly. In the three months since the budget was enacted revenues are down a total of $26 million or 6.4%. Should this trend continue the deficit will only grow.
Now that the state employees union has rejected the proposed contract that would have implemented 19 furlough days, Governor Lynch must begin a series of layoffs to save a mandated $25 million. Whether he will run into roadblocks if the union files a grievance for each position eliminated or political roadblocks from his allies in the Legislature – these savings may be questionable.
So with all these budget monkey wrenches, it is certainly understandable that its authors are quick to claim that the national economy is to blame and that revenues are likely to rebound when the economy turns around. But that is a cavalier attitude based on wishful thinking rather than rational evidence.
NH’s unemployment rate just jumped to 7.2% which means nearly 25,000 people have lost jobs this year. As bleak as that is, the national numbers are worse — much worse. Since the federal stimulus legislation was enacted in February, 2.7 million Americans have lost their jobs and the national unemployment rate is at a 26 year high of 9.8%. The human toll of these numbers is staggering for individuals, families and businesses struggling to stay afloat.
Some pundits have tried to argue that things are getting better as only 263,000 Americans lost their jobs in September vs. 741,000 in January. While true, any signs that employers may be thinking of adding jobs in the future is at odds with the evidence. Job losses continue, while overtime and the average length of the work week both fell. Employers don’t need to hire anytime soon and consumer spending which drives our economy continues its retreat.
So NH Legislators who voted for huge spending increases — not to mention the property tax hikes from cost shifting and 61 additional tax and fee hikes in the last two budgets — are desperately praying for a rebound in the economy to produce the revenue they need to balance their budget. Voters should not hold their breath waiting for miracles.
Instead what Democratic Legislative Leaders are planning is a TAX SUMMIT to discuss new and innovative ways to separate taxpayers from their hard earned dollars. Will these leaders recommend an income tax, a sales tax, a tax on mortgage refinancing, an entertainment tax, or new levies on New Hampshire businesses? Every one of these taxes or others could be on the table at a time that 53,330 New Hampshire people are out of work.
After hiking spending 23% in the last two budgets, raising property taxes and 61 other tax and fee hikes one would think that Democratic Legislative Leaders appetite for new and varied taxes would be satiated. Most NH voters are shaking their heads wondering if a SUMMIT to REDUCE SPENDING is too much to ask for. Isn’t it time for the Democrats to turn off the tax hike spigot and focus on fiscal discipline?
As tough as things are for families and businesses across NH, they will get much worse if taxes continue to climb to meet revenue shortfalls. Then we will have to re-title this blog to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”!