The Focus Shifts To The Granite State

Now that we've made it past the first of the year, the focus here in New Hampshire turns in two directions: the upcoming Presidential Primaries and annual town/state budgets. Of the two, the primaries are receiving the most attention by both the populace and the media.

With the New Hampshire primaries scheduled for January 10th, the media attention has been cranked up to “11”. The various presidential wannabes have been spending every free moment in the Granite State, minus time in Iowa in preparation for tomorrow's Iowa Caucuses. (The one exception seems to be Jon Huntsman, who sees New Hampshire as the key to his moving forward.) There will be one last 'big' debate amongst the GOP candidates on the 7th, with national coverage by ABC.

It's going to be intense for the next eight days.

The lesser of the two events, the annual battle of budgeting for the towns also start in earnest. Not that there hasn't been a lot of behind the scenes work on assembling proposed budgets for the various departments and schools.

Here in my small town the town and school budgets have been undergoing a lot of scrutiny by the board of selectmen, school board, and the budget committee. Everyone wants to cut spending, but of course it's always “someone else” who should cut their budgetary requests. It's never a pretty process and at times emotion can get in the way of logic and reason. When a position is cut in one of the town departments, many of us realize it means that someone we know, perhaps a friend, will lose their job. (That's happened to a friend of mine in the planning department. Her full time position - with benefits - was cut to part time. She couldn't justify staying there under those conditions and left for another job.) In some cases open positions have been eliminated for the time being, leaving some departments short staffed. But those are the choices that have to be made in order to keep spending in check when everyone is having a difficult time making ends meet, particularly those on fixed incomes within our town.

Once the various boards and committees have done their thing it will be up to the voters in each town to vote on them, either at town meeting or during the town elections in March. (A few towns hold their town meetings in April or May.) Towns with a board of selectman/town meeting form of government fall in to two categories: traditional town meeting and SB2.

The traditional town meeting is usually held in some time in March, and all registered voters are encouraged to attend. The voters will discuss and vote on all of the articles presented on the town warrant, some covering budgetary items and other with changes in zoning ordinances (assuming a town has any zoning at all). A second town meeting, usually called the school district meeting, deals will warrants pertaining to the towns school expenditures.

SB2 towns do things a little differently, with two different sessions for both the town and school portions of the warrants. The first session deals solely with discussion and amendments to the town and school warrant articles. The second session of each meeting takes place on election day in March, with the voters deciding whether to approve the various warrant articles discussed the previous session.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems, but they seem to work pretty well. In any case, the tax money that will be spent in the upcoming fiscal year is vetted by the very people that will be paying those taxes. (There are a few taxes which the town voters have no control, those being the county and state assessments levied upon them to run county operations and for some education funding, respectively.)

The state will be dealing with some supplemental budget items during the upcoming legislative session (the state runs on a two-year budget cycle). Sometimes adjustments are made if there's an unexpected expenditure needed to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes it's the other way around, with some line item that was approved but never implemented, meaning there are surplus funds that can go to other purposes to fill shortfalls someplace else. Sometimes the surplus goes towards the state's so-called rainy day fund, a savings account that can be used to fill revenue shortfalls under very specific circumstances.

All we can do is hope they folks in the state capitol don't go on some kind of a mindless spending binge. But then it does help that the GOP holds supermajorities in the state Senate and Executive Council and a majority in the state House.