Something was missing at state budget hearings

In all the hours of testimony at a Senate hearing, not one person stood up and endorsed the proposed cuts

On May 6, the NH Senate held more than five hours of budget hearings. For several hours, I listened to one citizen after another plead for funding for a host of our state’s needs. Through it all, there was a nagging feeling that something was missing.

Representatives Hall was filled to capacity, as was the House gallery, the anteroom and the corridor outside. Some attendees were escorted to the State House cafeteria to wait for room to open up in the House chamber. More than 1,000 citizens are estimated to have turned out for the hearing.

Yet there was something missing.

Like so many parents of developmentally disabled children, one mother beseeched the committee to reinstate the thin safety net that provides for someone to care for her child while she works each day. These parents pay property and other taxes and save the state tens of thousands, if not millions, of dollars by not turning these adult children over to state care.

But there was something missing.

Folks from chambers of commerce and tourism-related businesses asked for restoration of state tourism promotional dollars, noting a 9-1 return on every dollar invested in promoting an industry accounting for more than 34 million visits and $4.5 billion in spending.

There were students from New Hampshire colleges including the student president of Keene State College who has seen friends drop out due to tuition costs and escalating debt. “I love New Hampshire. I want to stay here and contribute, but my college debt and the lack of affordability of living here will likely result in my leaving when I graduate.”

Many sported neon green T-shirts with the chalk outline of a body on the front bearing the number 321, the number of those who had died in the past year from drug overdoses. They entreated the committee to restore funding for drug and alcohol treatment and prevention to save lives.

Dozens of seniors asked the committee to save ServiceLink, a coordinating agency for seniors, and to restore funding for Meals on Wheels. If cuts result in the need for nursing home care, we currently could not accommodate them with the existing county nursing home structures.

Then I realized what was missing.

In all the hours of testimony, I had not heard one person who stood up and asked for cuts to the budget; not one who implored the committee to tighten our collective belt and eliminate any of the programs being discussed. Not one person demanded fee and tax cuts.

Of the more than 800 signatures on sign-in sheets, 10 were in favor of the budget and the remainder in opposition. Where does the outcry to slash these programs come from? As one woman said to the Senate committee, “We heard loud and clear from the House: You don’t matter to us, your children don’t matter to us. Will you tell us the same thing?”

Is that really what we want to tell the citizens of our state – the vulnerable, our students, seniors, tourism businesses, the homeless – you don’t matter to us. Is that truly the best we can do?

Jackie Cilley is a state representative from Barrington who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2012.

Categories: Opinion