Down in Concord, the House and Senate have just finished the first half of the legislative season, and it has been one of the most productive seasons in a very long time. We passed a balanced budget, worked on a major reform to fix our state’s failing pension system, proposed a Constitutional Amendment to get the courts out of education funding decisions, and proposed an amendment to require a 3/5 majority to pass future tax increases.
Starting from an $895 million deficit, the House passed a balanced budget that is based on realistic revenue assumptions, not on overly optimistic projections, not using one-time money, and not using one credit card to pay off another credit card. This budget spends 6.8% less than the current budget, even though it increases education funding to local communities, and avoids down-shifting that was proposed in the Governor’s budget.
The State’s pension system is one of the worst-funded in the country, having just 58% of what it should have. It is projected to run out of money in 2022. Both the House and Senate realize that we must fix the system to protect pensions of current and future retirees, while not burdening towns with ever-increasing retirement costs. At the same time, we must not and will not change the pensions of current retirees or those near retirement. Active employees will contribute about 2% more to their own retirement. The retirement age for younger employees will be 65 instead of 60. (For police and firefighters it will be 50 instead of 45.)
For nearly 20 years, school funding has been subject to lawsuit after lawsuit. Some small towns have been donor towns while larger, richer towns were receiver towns. Under current law, my town of Sunapee would be forced to write a check for more than $600,000 to the state. We believe that funding decisions should be made by the elected representatives of the people – the School Boards, House of Representatives, and Senate – not by five unelected judges. Accordingly, the House has proposed a Constitutional Amendment (CACR 12) to be presented to the voters in November 12.
During the last four years, the legislature has increased more than 100 taxes and fees, all at a time when taxpayers had to tighten their belts. We believe that it should take more than a simple majority to create or raise a tax. We have proposed CACR 6 to require a 3/5 majority to raise any tax or fee or to issue a bond – just as is the case for many towns when they want to issue a bond.
The budget, pension reform, education funding reform – we have tackled big, difficult, and important problems. During the next two months, the Senate will consider our bills, and we will consider the Senate’s bills. In June we will make final touches before sending them to the Governor.