Many politicians have a well earned bad reputation among the public. The reason is because they spend considerable time on the campaign trail, telling voters how they will reform government or fix problems, only to get into office and abandon those commitments quickly. Our citizens rightly get disgusted with the "say one thing, do another" approach that turns many of our neighbors away from the process entirely. Their cynicism has been well founded.
Isn't it refreshing then when a group of elected officials do exactly what they said they would do?
With the state budget that comes before the legislature this week, there is a simple theme that everyone should remember: promises made, promises kept. The New Hampshire House and Senate have delivered on the commitment we made last year to live within our means, not raise taxes and fees, stop borrowing and, where possible, target tax cuts to produce economic growth.
Our pledge to the voters was simple - that we needed to stop the out-of-control growth in Concord that was threatening the New Hampshire Advantage and eating into the wallets of our residents. The 25-percent spending increase over the past two budgets, fueled by over 100 tax and fee increases, was destroying the low-tax, limited-government environment that makes our state special and differentiates us from the rest of the states around us.
The voters heard this message and elected a supermajority of representatives who support a smaller, more efficient state government that does what working families across New Hampshire are doing right now; finding ways to do more with less and making the tough decisions to get their spending under control. Our citizens deserve a budget that works as hard as they do to tighten their belts, and that's just what they have received from their legislature.
All of this began by turning the budgeting process on its head.
Instead of figuring out how much the state wants to spend and then torturing revenue projections to meet that figure, as prior legislatures have done, we made a commitment to honest budgeting. The earlier method of "spend first, ask questions later" left New Hampshire ranked as one of the worst states for predicting revenue in the nation, according to the Pew Center. That's no surprise, given that the House tax panel was too often told to inflate revenues to meet exponentially growing spending.
We changed this to a process of getting realistic revenue estimates and demanding that spending be cut to meet these honest figures. Today, we can say that our budget was built by cutting spending, not by inflating tax estimates or increasing taxes and fees. That is a dramatic change for the better.
After we agreed to use reliable revenue figures, the House and Senate had to make the tough decisions to live within our means. It meant cutting a budget by over 11 percent, from $11.55 billion down to $10.2 billion. These were not easy or simple choices. We had to do the hard work of examining each individual program to find areas for savings. In the end, we stepped up and made sure that government tightened it belt, just as our citizens are doing.
We also promised the voters that we would pass tax cuts to help our residents, make our state more competitive and get our economy moving again. We have done that by lowering the tax burden on small businesses to help them grow, by eliminating the car registration hike our citizens have been forced to pay the past two years and by repealing the gambling winnings tax and lowering the tobacco tax to give our small retailers and grocers a greater advantage against other states. With this budget, New Hampshire is making clear that we are open for business and we will lead the region in job creation.
Beyond this, we reduced a number of fee increases that were passed over the past four years. The legislature knows that cutting fees sends an important message that we will stop attempting to nickel and dime our way to more spending to pay for big government.
The budget that the legislature produced keeps our word with our citizens that we will control spending and make our economy strong again. However, this is merely a down payment on our commitment to continue to make New Hampshire the best area for job creation nationally.
This budget is a historic achievement, but we know that there remains much more work to do. This is only the beginning.
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William O'Brien, Republican of Mont Vernon, is the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Ken Weyler, Republican of Kingston, is the chairman of the House Finance Committee.