Why counties bear the burden

It’s pretty likely that most New Hampshire residents wouldn’t be able to explain the job that their elected state representatives have. Most, of course, will be able to tell you about the reps’ job as a member of the Legislature. But very few would be able to tell you that the lawmakers also represent their constituents as members of their respective county’s legislative body.

Unfortunately – judging by their actions, at least — the reps themselves seem to be clueless about their dual role.

In their attempts to enact a balanced state budget, legislators have once again shifted millions in costs formerly borne by the state onto the backs of county property-tax payers. We say “once again” because shifting costs is a well-established biennial rite of the budget season in Concord.

This year, the representatives have approved a $2.7 billion budget that shifts a whopping $19 million in costs onto the backs of their constituents, the county property-tax payers. This time around the added burden comes in the form of a $5.3 million reduction in state aid to the elderly and disabled and about $14 million in added Medicaid costs.

No one’s arguing that the state doesn’t have problems coming up with the funds to pay for the services it provides. The problem is that lawmakers, in their zeal to pretend they’ve crafted a balanced, responsible budget, have time and again shifted costs onto others, whether it’s municipalities, counties or businesses.

This is not to say that the representatives aren’t completely unaware of what they’re doing by dumping added tax burdens on county taxpayers.

Consider a recent attempt in Hillsborough County, where a majority of the elected state representatives, as members of the county delegation, attempted to approve a $77 million budget without taking a roll call vote. The budget is 4 percent higher than last year’s – a 4 percent increase due in large part to the added costs approved by the reps while they were earning their hundred bucks in Concord.

Not that you can blame the reps for trying to weasel their way out of putting their names on the budget. Considering the times, and ever-increasing property-tax bills, who would?

Besides, another option usually open to politicians wasn’t there for them. They weren’t able to bloviate about what those dunderheads in Concord had done this time.

There was a third option, apparently not taken: They could have looked in the mirror.

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