The state’s budget quandaries

There’s little strategy and more politics in the cuts and restorations

As of this writing, the NH Senate is poised to pass its version of the state budget, having restored funds to many programs cut by the House.

Many safety net programs, such as Meals on Wheels, were restored and, after the Senate Finance Committee came up with its proposal, Republicans praised it and Democrats attacked it as being “cruel.” This is business as usual! 

At an interesting discussion held June 2, Charlie Arlinghaus, of the Josiah Bartlett Center, and Steve Norton, of the NH Center for Public Policy Studies, discussed the state of the New Hampshire economy as well as the budget situation. 

Stressing the theme that the New Hampshire economy no longer is the razzle-dazzle economy of the 1980s, and that the “New Hampshire Advantage” is long ago and far away, the commentators indicated that the present budget year has been one of the most confusing and undefined in memory.

They pointed out that no one really knows what is in the budget and it lacks a theme. Further, they indicated that much of the cuts and then restorations did not have too much to do with theory or strategy, and more to do with politics. 

One interesting point they made was that in the case of the university and community college systems, the debate seemed centered on freezing tuition rather than funding programs for education or initiatives that should attract support from legislators. 

Questions from the audience included whether the situation would be different if the Legislature were smaller or the governor’s term were four years, or if other structural characteristics of New Hampshire government were changed.

The answer given by the commentators, and which is seemingly obvious, is that under whatever structure, clear leadership and policy explanations would help the budget process. 

In connection with leadership, the discussion moved to the fact that political campaigns these days seem to be most rewarding to those candidates who generalize, take safe positions and do not make specific proposals or provide specific programs or strategies which leads to the lack of clarity in the process, and that results in little or no real leadership. 

One economic reality described by Norton was the fact that the economic future of New Hampshire seems to be in the Merrimack Valley corridor, from the Massachusetts border to Concord. A real leader would point this out, develop policies to strengthen the economy in that area, make sure the cities, especially Manchester, are vibrant and supported and that the transportation needs of New Hampshire enable these areas to prosper, said Norton.

Political leadership would result in candidates recognizing this fact, and then going around the entire state and explaining it to others, rather than reacting to people in other places saying that fixing roads in Manchester or bringing public transportation to Nashua does not help, for example, Sullivan County or Grafton County. 

It was pointed out that the entire state has supported efforts to help economic development efforts in the North Country and a similar effort should be made to help the economy of the central and core area of the state strategically if New Hampshire is to prosper.

The discussion left this observer scratching his head and wondering why such obvious things are not embraced by politicians and why we remain so parochial when real leadership could be so effective. 

One of the true contributors to New Hampshire, Randy Benthien, died May 22 after struggling for many years with multiple myeloma.

A native of Wisconsin, Benthien graduated from Harvard and Ohio University, and moved with his wife, Carolyn, also a significant contributor to New Hampshire’s life, in 1982.

Carolyn led the Greater Manchester United Way for many years and Randy formed a consulting business, Benthien Associates. That company helped other organizations and individuals by consulting on ways to improve structure, process and interpersonal relations. With a focus on leadership, Benthien Associates has contributed to many not-for-profits, businesses and individuals. 

Benthien was involved in education and served on the Goffstown School Board in his adopted home town. 

Randy and Carolyn Benthien impressed everyone with whom they came in contact with their generosity, sincerity, enthusiasm and just plain goodness. His loss, at age 62, was premature, but his contributions were significant.   

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. 

Categories: Cook on Concord