June 30, 2003, 12:00 P.M.
The New Hampshire House has failed in its attempt to override Governor Benson’s veto of the state budget by only 4 votes. Benson hopes that the Executive Council will order the legislature to reconvene to give him the authority to run the state government without a budget. There are some legislators who will be reluctant to agree to do that, though. The state employees’ union has advised its members to come to work on Tuesday on the promise of payment in the future.
For Democrats, the battle over the state budget couldn’t get any better. The cries of incompetence, arrogance and political ineptitude come not from the Democrats, who are pretty much on the sidelines here anyway, but from the leadership of Benson’s own party. Senate Finance Committee chairman Dick Green (R-Rochester) calls Benson a “spoiled brat” and questions Benson’s competence, stating that Benson is simply “not capable of handling this position.”
Senate Majority Leader Robert Clegg (R-Hudson) is equally candid about how he feels about the Governor, stating that “nothing he says is believable.” Many other major players in the House and Senate agree with House Deputy Speaker Michael Whalley’s (R-Alton) characterization of the Governor’s actions as “reckless.” This is the sort of thing that would tend to delight the Democrats if the consequences of all this foolishness weren’t so grim. The debate carried on by Benson’s critics will resonate throughout his administration and highlights the country-clubby, captains of industry approach that Benson and his Cabletron cronies have brought to the State House, and does not flatter the Governor. The arrogance with which Benson and his appointees threaten to disrupt essential state functions and government operations cannot help but be exposed through the schism that this battle is causing among powerful Republicans.
The consequence of this budget fight is damage to essential government services. There are certain costs that must be borne by the government. There is simply no other responsible party under our system. Benson wants to cut another $60 million from the $8.8 billion budget passed by the legislature. His opponents say that this money would come from Medicaid and other programs for the poor. In the meantime, the federal government has provided New Hampshire with $84 million in emergency aid, which the Governor would like to put away for a rainy day. Benson chooses to save, not spend, this federal aid money and is demanding that $60 million be cut out of the budget passed by the legislature. At the risk of beating this cliché to glue, Its raining now Governor, and the ensuing flood is going to gobble up a lot of poor folks who don’t own golf courses, and who have never been on one except to cut the grass.
Asking State workers to return to their jobs, even without a continuing resolution is the height of arrogance. Even Mel Thompson didn’t due that in 1977, the last time a budget was vetoed by a governor. That time it took until September to reach an agreement, but a continuing resolution was passed. May state workers will be cash strapped, and prolonging this fight will hurt them further. Several weeks without a paycheck might well deplete a lot of families’ rainy day funds and they will have Governor Benson and his supporters to thank.
Budgets are always about choices – what to fund, what to leave out. What will the legislature choose as it wrangles over a new budget this summer? Will it deplete agency budgets across the board, or will it take the $60 million out of particular programs? Now that the House has failed to override the Governor’s veto, Benson’s ship of state is about to run hard aground. The cost of sustaining his veto, and the ensuing fight over the new budget will be high because of the very real effects of further cuts on every aspect of state government, and on those among us who are consigned to travel in steerage class.