The tall tale that won Republicans the State House
In 2010, the Republicans came up with a clever story for their campaign. They claimed that four years of reckless spending by Democrats resulted in a 25 percent increase in state spending and a huge deficit. Not one part of this story is true.There was no reckless spending. There was no 25 percent increase. There was no deficit.The proof is in an audited report called the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.Keep in mind that the Republicans controlled state spending for decades, until 2007. The Democrats were in control of the State House for the four budget years from 2008-2011.Comparing the Republican year of 2007 to the Democratic year of 2011, the increase in overall state spending, including federal funds and highway spending, was 17.5 percent, not 25 percent. Most of that increase was simply a reflection of inflation, which ran about 10 percent over those four years. Most of the rest of the increase was increased social safety net spending during the Great Recession, and one-time federal stimulus money that we would have been foolish to turn down.General fund spending in 2011 was nearly 5 percent less than in 2007. Even as inflation was running 10 percent, the allegedly “wild-spending” Democrats spent less in the general fund than the Republicans did in 2007.And when the state closed the books on the 2011 budget year, it posted a surplus of over $17 million.The Republicans rode their story to victory in 2010, secure in the knowledge that no one would be able to check their numbers until now.Republicans told voters they could put New Hampshire’s fiscal house in order simply by cutting out Democratic “fluff.” The reality is that there was no fluff. Instead, the Republicans have cut into the heart of state government.State funding for the university system has been cut 45 percent. Even before this cut, UNH was the fourth most expensive state university for in-state students. New Hampshire students graduate with the highest student loan debt in the nation.State funding for poor people accessing our hospitals was cut by $125 million. Thousands of health care workers have lost their jobs. Lakes Region Hospital cut off 3,500 Medicaid patients from care. Hospitals in Dover and Rochester made similar cuts. Severely disabled people have been denied assistance.They have balanced their budget by unbalancing everyone else’s. State aid to cities and towns was cut by over $40 million, increasing local property taxes.Not surprisingly, there is loud and vociferous criticism of these disastrous budget decisions. The Republican response? Just that the budget is balanced, as if their job is no more than counting beans.Anyone can balance a budget if you are willing to throw people under the bus. The actual job of our legislators is to balance a budget and maintain state services, which is what the Democrats accomplished during their four years in the majority.The question for voters is whether they want a state government that is willing to solve problems and face hard truths, a government intelligent and creative enough to preserve necessary programs while maintaining fiscal responsibility, or whether they are willing to settle for legislators who look no further than the numbers on a spreadsheet.Mark Fernald was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2002. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This op-ed with supporting footnotes can be found at markfernald.com.