New Hampshire faces ‘yucky’ 2021-22 budget prospects

Charlie Arlinghaus

New Hampshire state government is in a fiscal ‘hole,’ says Administrative Service Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus, ‘and it’s probably going to get worse.

“Yucky,” said New Hampshire Administrative Services Commissioner Charlie Arlinghaus in describing prospects for the 2021-22 state budget.

Speaking to the virtual New Hampshire Leadership Summit, hosted by the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, Arlinghaus said the state budget was “in a hole and it’s probably going to get worse,” referring to the $106 million deficit expected to carry over from the current biennium to the next,

In particular, he described the outlook for receipts in December and March from the two business taxes — the Business Profits Tax and Business Enterprise Tax — as “very dicey.”

“The biggest name of the game is uncertainty,” Arlinghaus continued, pointing to the economic impact of the second wave of the coronavirus now underway, which he suggested could add another $50 million to the projected deficit.

On the other hand, he said that there is hope the economy will recover sufficiently to support “a zero budget instead of negative budget,” with “modest cuts,” rather than the deep cuts required amid the recession.

Last year, Arlinghaus said, the Legislature had “too much money. This year, he remarked “instead of fighting over where we spend the money, everybody is going to get nothing and like it.”

Rep. Lynne Ober, R-Hudson, who chairs the House Finance Committee, said the budget “will be balanced. It will be a struggle. I expect quite a fight. I don’t think anybody will get what they want.”

Sen. Lou D’Alessandro, D-Manchester, echoed Arlinghaus – who he called “Sweet Charlie” – in stressing the uncertainties, which he said are “beyond anything I’ve seen since I’ve been in the Legislature.”

He highlighted the importance of federal assistance for state and local governments, among the bones of contention as Congress continued to squabble over the next stimulus package.

D’Alessandro, an architect of the current budget as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, stressed the importance of working together to sustain investment in “health and safety.” Quoting his high school chemistry teacher and turning his listeners to dictionaries, he said that fashioning the budget will require “a sublimation of all the available energies.”

Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, indicated he would begin the process by reviewing the current budget, which was the work of Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

He said he intended to begin with a “look at where the spending wasn’t done, what we had to hold back” in the current budget. “I think that education process is very important,” he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu is expected to present his budget to the Legislature on Feb. 11.

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