In a recent editorial, Democratic State Senators Deborah Reynolds and Lou D'Allesandro attempted to explain to the citizen's of New Hampshire why they felt it was appropriate for the State to seize 110 million dollars from the Joint Underwriting Association Fund. They argued that since the State created the fund in the public interest, any excess funds belong to the State. Citing that this is being done, "for the public good," both Senators endorsed the actions of the State and the Governor. To better understand how this has come about, we need to go back to June of this year when the democratically controlled Legislature, along with Governor Lynch, passed a state budget that could potentially devastate the economic well-being of NH.
The JUA was established by the State of NH pursuant to administrative rules issued by the NH Insurance Department in 1975. This fund was created because by the mid-1970s physicians throughout New Hampshire had great difficulty purchasing affordable medical malpractice insurance. This had a dramatic effect on New Hampshire consumers and health care providers who experienced a lack of needed health services. Successfully implemented, this fund has experienced both deficits and surpluses over a thirty year period.
In response to the state's difficult economic times (After increasing spending levels by 6% while states are cutting their budgets an average of 2.5%), the democrats decided to seize $110 million from the JUA Fund to balance excess budgetary spending for 2009, 2010, and 2011. In response, the JUA filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that the State of New Hampshire was unlawfully taking the money from a fund that it had no legal rights to. In July, the Belknap County Superior Court blocked the State from seizing the monies from the JUA Fund indicating that the confiscation of private funds in this manner was unconstitutional. The state responded by appealing the decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. The state argued that any charitable group that is exempt from taxation, such as the JUA, is liable to state government. Therefore, the fund's "excess" assets were subject to government taking whenever the State saw fit to do so. The State appealed the Superior Court's decision, and oral arguments begin mid-month.
The Senate Republicans warned Speaker Norelli, Senate President Larsen, and Governor Lynch that the passage of a budget dependent upon $110 million that belongs to the members of the JUA would be devastating to the economic well being of this state. Governor Lynch endorsed this budget, signing it into law knowing that these precarious proposals would be subjected to lawsuits endangering the budget as a whole.
True government leadership would have held the line and spent only what was necessary, just as thousands of New Hampshire citizens have. True leaders understand that they are stewards of the people's money, and that the people expect them to lead by example. If democratic leadership had held the line on spending, as Republicans suggested, there would have been no need for the money in the JUA Fund and hence, no costly lawsuits.
In a recent press conference, Senate and House Republicans called on Governor Lynch to work with the Republicans and take an initiative towards a "Plan B" budget which would be designed to handle a impending fiscal crisis if the Supreme Court denied the state's taking of privately held JUA funds. While developing his proposed budget last fall, Governor Lynch directed each department head to submit their cost-saving recommendations for their departments, keeping in mind that they had to fall within 97% of the current year budget levels. We agree with the Governor that the Commissioners are in the best position to make these types of recommendations when developing an alternative plan. We believe that the Commissioner's suggestions are a good place to begin when planning a fiscally responsible budget.
Republicans have not heard from Governor Lynch, nor has he revealed his "Plan B" to New Hampshire's citizens. Adopting a wait and see attitude is not the way to handle this impending fiscal crisis. We have an opportunity to work together to come up with an appropriate budget. Republicans understand the need to work together to guide the state through these tough times. We understand that only by doing so will we come up with a plan based on lower spending, so that we can weather these difficult financial times. We also understand it requires all of us working toward the same goal.
Senator Reynolds and Senator D'Allesandro stated in their editorial that, "this is exactly why state lawmakers are elected, to benefit their constituents as a whole," and we agree. We are elected to make good decisions on behalf of our constituents, and to be fiscally responsible with the State's money. We need to remember that when we are sworn into office, we swear to uphold the constitution. Let's all come to the table together and work to create a budget that meets the needs of all NH Citizens, is constitutionally sound, and reflects New Hampshire's long standing tradition of fiscal responsibility.
By: Senator Sharon Carson
Senator Sharon Carson is serving her first term as State Senator for District 14. She is a member of the Election Laws and Veterans Affair Committee and the Executive Departments and Administration Committee.