The New Hampshire Senate
Republican Majority Office
The public has a right to know how much money state government spends
August 24, 2014
By Sen. Jeanie Forrester
One of the quirks of New Hampshire’s budget process is that we start writing next year’s budget before we elect the Governor and Legislators who will approve it. State departments are already crafting their spending requests for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately, they are doing so in the dark, without a clear picture of how the current budget is shaping up.
Fiscal Year 2014 ended on June 30th. We knew within a few days that state revenues came in right on target. In fact, the updated revenue figures released earlier this month show that General and Education Trust Fund revenues came in just $3.1 million over the conservative revenue estimates that Senate Republicans insisted on during the 2013 budget debate. That’s 0.1% over the $2.17 billion dollar forecast. Some taxes brought in more than we planned, and some dipped below our estimates, but the overall revenue plan hit the center of the bullseye last year.
That doesn’t guarantee that revenues will be as accurate this year, which runs through June 30, 2015. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate will all keep an eye on revenues throughout the year, aided by the Monthly Revenue Forecast, published the first week of every month by the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services.
Unfortunately, we lack this important transparency on the spending side of the New Hampshire budget. The data is there, but Governor Hassan has so far refused to share it with the public. Governor Hassan has been warning since May that state departments might exceed the FY14 spending levels authorized in the current budget, and has reinstated a spending freeze on out-of-state travel, equipment purchases, and filling vacant state positions that expired last July.
But she has not shared the basis for this concern, or shared with the Legislature whether any state departments overspent their budgets last year. Since the close of FY14, Senate Republicans have been asking to examine the state’s spending records. We’ve formally requested Governor Hassan to provide a department by department update on FY14 spending to the Legislative Fiscal Committee, and she has refused. If we’re going to have the bipartisan cooperation that the Governor claims to value so highly, we all need to have up to date information.
New Hampshire law requires spending reports similar to the revenue reports we read each month.
RSA 9:11 Monthly Reports “Once each month the director, division of accounting services shall make a report to each state agency showing in detail the total amount expended during the previous month and the accumulated amount expended to date from July 1. The report shall also show the total encumbrances outstanding and the balance available for the remainder of the fiscal year.”
State law requires the Governor to know exactly how much each department spends every month. And it authorizes the Governor to reduce expenditures in any department in danger of going over budget.
We simply want to see the same information the Governor has. She keeps hinting that we’re going to have big budget problems, and insists there’s a problem with revenues. Well, we can see the revenues every month, and we know that’s not the problem.
But what about spending? Did any state agencies exceed their budget expenditures last year? Are any in danger of going over budget this year? The Governor insists that everything is fine. She could prove that very easily, and back up her claims of bipartisan problem solving, simply by sharing the monthly spending reports sent out to every state agency.
Passing a balanced budget is important but it’s only the beginning of a long process. Monitoring revenues to make sure we meet our estimates is important too. However the most important part of maintaining a balanced budget is managing department spending. Doing that in a transparent manner helps build trust that the government is being efficient with our tax dollars. Doing that in the dark – or worse, not managing spending and keeping the public in the dark – leads to suspicion, confusion, and potentially to budget deficits.
Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) is Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.