Late last night, long after normal business hours, the New Hampshire House became the latest state government to pass legislation balancing the budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. The most contentious part of the legislation gets rid of negotiation rights for the state’s 70,000 public employees if their contracts expire before a new agreement has been reached.
The Republican House members pushing the legislation can’t even get their story straight on why the budget needs to be balanced this way. One member cited the $50 million the government will save cutting health benefits from employees when their contracts expire. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Neal Kurk, explained, “Nobody likes to change these kinds of relationships. Nobody likes to do any of the other things that we have to do, but it is the sensible part of a coherent plan to make the budget work.” He and other Republicans are fully aware of how unpopular the provision is: The Speaker pushed the bill up for debate last night, after originally scheduling it for today. He forbid the debate from being registered in the House ledger and kicked constituents out of the gallery.
It’s worth noting that these and other proposed cuts are going on in the state with the second lowest tax burden in the country -- New Hampshire lacks both an income and sales tax.
It seems like the most logical response to such a large deficit would be tax reform, which Republicans have indeed included in their budget plan. Unfortunately, it’s a reform to lower the tax on cigarettes to boost sales and therefore generate more revenue for the state, a gimmick that feels almost as antiquated as union-busting. With studies showing the lower rate could increase the state’s lung cancer rates by 6.6 percent, it’s clear the uptick in tax revenue won’t exceed the delayed burden on the Medicaid and Medicare programs they claim are so costly. If there’s any “coherence” in Kurk’s plan, I’m not seeing it.