Misplaced Priorities Hurt Our Economy

New ranking shows folly of GOP’s plan

With the release of its annual “Top States for Business” rankings last week, CNBC confirmed a growing fear in New Hampshire: Unprecedented budget cuts and misplaced Republican priorities are damaging our state’s economy.

According to the study, New Hampshire’s ranking dropped in infrastructure, transportation, and education – all areas that received devastating funding cuts in the GOP’s state budget. New Hampshire’s overall “economic” ranking suffered the biggest drop of all, plummeting from 10th to 34th nationwide.

More important than individual numbers, however, these rankings undercut the central Republican message of this term.

Republican leaders have defiantly argued that their budget cuts and legislative priorities were good for New Hampshire’s economy, an argument that increasingly flies in the face of independent analyses.

Before Republicans took control of the Legislature, New Hampshire had an economic strategy that was working. Democrats worked with Gov. John Lynch throughout the recession to keep job losses at a minimum, and heading into the 2010 election New Hampshire held the lowest unemployment rate east of the Mississippi River.

By working with the governor to enact the Research and Development Tax Credit and to implement new jobs programs such as NH Working and the Job Training Fund, Democrats created a business-friendly environment that led national economists to credit New Hampshire as a leading state in the economic recovery.

Unfortunately, we are losing that forward momentum since the 2010 election. Because of the majority’s misplaced priorities, New Hampshire is no longer a leading state in the economic recovery.

Our unemployment rate has dropped only 0.7 percent since the 2010 election, less than half the national average. Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and 33 other states have added jobs at a faster rate since Republicans took control, leaving New Hampshire an embarrassing 37th in job growth.

Instead of continuing to focus on jobs, Republicans spent their energy on Tea Party priorities like expanding gun rights, weakening public education and labor unions, and meddling in women’s reproductive health.

The leader of this misguided effort was House Speaker Bill O’Brien, who drew the ire of business groups this spring when he risked the Research and Development Tax Credit by insisting on amending it with an already-defeated abortion bill.

When Republicans did turn their focus to economic issues, they only made matters worse.

The GOP state budget slashed over $250 million in aid to hospitals, directly causing more than 1,000 layoffs in the health care industry last summer.

The budget slashed university system funding by nearly 50 percent – the largest cut of any state in U.S. history – causing more job loss and forcing significant tuition hikes that are putting New Hampshire colleges out of reach for prospective students, our future skilled workforce.

And even with tobacco revenue down $20 million since last year, the House majority leader has said he would still have cut the cigarette tax.

Given the financial strain that budget cuts to health care, infrastructure and education place on business, it’s hardly surprising that New Hampshire’s economy has sputtered.

What is frightening is the GOP’s promise to double down on their failed policies if re-elected this fall. Despite the job losses that would follow, O’Brien wants to cut another $400 million from the budget if he returns as speaker next term.

Like the economists who conducted CNBC’s “Best States for Business” study, Granite Staters know that quality infrastructure and an educated workforce are critical elements to a growing economy. If New Hampshire is to regain its role as a national leader in economic development, the Legislature we elect this fall needs to share those values.

Rep. Terie Norelli of Portsmouth is the Democratic leader of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.