Political Analysts Deliberately Mislead You About Budget

Charlie Arlinghaus

May 29, 2013

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

New Hampshire’s state budget always looks very different at each step of the process. The Governor, House, and Senate each have a very different approach to the budget whether they are of the same party or not. The final product, whether we have it by the June 30 deadline or not, won’t look like one side or another “won” but rather will resemble a patchwork quilt of changes and compromises. Rejecting gambling one side and tax increases on the other hasn’t caused chaos and isn’t petulant retribution.

In the last week, the House rejected a gambling provision that the governor had used in her budget but the House had taken out of its revision of the budget (recall that the House acts second in the process by taking the Governor’s initial draft and making revisions to it).

Some supporters and some opponents of the gambling bill have both described not having the gambling revenue as somehow blasting a hole in the budget that must be filled. Yet, the current House draft, because they had yet to vote yay or nay on gambling, included absolutely no revenue from gambling in its budget. Likewise, the Senate’s budget deliberations have not included revenue from gambling as part of the budget.

To be fair, the governor contributed to this misunderstanding by continually describing gambling as necessary to fund her spending plans even though the House adopted most of her priorities without using gambling revenue. Nonetheless, it is important that taxpayers understand that no one has been relying on gambling revenue for many months.

There is no giant gambling hole and pretending otherwise is merely politics or ignorance. (There are other potential holes but that’s a different story).

Passage of gambling would most likely have created $80 million in one-time revenue for the next budget that would not have been available in future years. The regular gambling revenue after that would have gone to special projects rather than the state’s operating budget – much of it for roads beginning in 2016.

The next political silliness to emerge last week was the notion that the Senate, by adopting positions it had held for many months, was enacting retribution of some sort for gambling in a fit of juvenile petulance. If anyone believes that they haven’t been paying attention.

Specifically, the Senate majority attacked the gas tax from the moment it was introduced. The gas tax was slipped into the budget precisely because the senate was so unalterably opposed. It is true that one senator thought of saving it until next year but that’s hardly the same as supporting it.

So when Sen. Andy Sanborn moved to postpone rather than keep it limbo until next year was to vote down the gas tax but to also do it in such a way that it wouldn’t be available for budget negotiations. Sanborn – who probably wasn’t being petulant over gambling since he voted against gambling himself – dislikes the gas tax. It’s seems unlikely he was being “juvenile” and attacking the House for agreeing with him. I’m pretty sure he likes it when they agree with him.

The other tax increases the Senate voted down were equally “shocking.” It’s hard to imagine any surprise when a Republican majority who has spent the entire session attacking tax increases votes against tax increases.

But in budget season, politics often trumps reality. The observer trying to figure out what’s happening has to negotiate equally unrealistic statement from political parties and other troublemakers.

There are a host of differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget but gambling revenue isn’t one of them. The two bodies disagree on many issues but so far there is no budgetary bone of contention that one body or the other agrees with but is voting down out of spite.

Next month, the two will meet and hash out differences over tax increases, a $107 million difference in Medicaid tax estimates, Medicaid expansion, managed care, personnel cuts, tax increases, and a host of smaller items.

As those debates continue into the hot summer, there is every chance that the state will struggle to meet the June 30 deadline to finalize the budget – as has happened eight times in the last 80 years. As the spring turns to summer and tempers get shorter we will be treated to caustic press releases bearing little resemblance to the reality of negotiations.

It is a little early now, though, for so many analysts to blithely repeat political spin that is so obviously divergent from reality. They either don’t know what they’re talking about or are deliberately misleading you.