SB 342 is terrible

The Fast News section of the April 26th Cabinet had a short item that appeared to be a press release from Sen. Gary Daniels regarding Senate Bill SB 342, which he sponsored. If enacted, the bill will modify the definition of a default budget for SB2 towns such as Milford.

The concept of a default budget was created as part of the SB2 voting change to ensure that voters at the ballot session have an alternative to the proposed budget if they disagree with the proposed budget. Voters might decide that the proposed budget is too high or too low, and want to turn it down. If they turn it down, then the default budget is the alternative that is enacted. The default budget is intended to be a budget that is at a level that approximates the level of service provided by the previous year’s budget, and it can be higher or lower than the proposed budget depending on the choices that are made in the proposed budget. The definition for the calculation of a default budget is found in RSA 40:13 IX 9b). It should be calculated solely based on the previous year’s budget, without consideration of the changes proposed in the new budget.

Senator Daniels omitted from his press release the main intended consequence of SB 342. This bill changes the calculation of a default budget by removing “…salaries and benefits of positions that have been eliminated in the proposed budget.” The consequence of this change is that voters can no longer turn down proposed budgets for being too low, but only for being too high, since salaries and benefits are the driving cost items in budgets.

A hypothetical but realistic scenario that could ensue if this bill passes is as follows. Suppose there was a year when the proposed budget had a very high percentage increase, perhaps due to large increase in benefits costs that may happen someday. There are usually less than 100 people that attend the deliberative session, and a small group of people (perhaps 40 or 50) could form a majority that voted to decrease the high proposed budget by eliminating 50 positions in the district and gutting everything to lower costs. If this bill is passed, then these positions would also be eliminated from the default budget. The voters at the ballot session would no longer have the choice as to whether they wanted to have a high tax increase and a good school district, or whether they wanted to have a modest tax increase and a gutting of the school district. Their choice would be eliminated.

We need to leave the ballot session voter with the option of the proposed budget or a default budget that is similar to last year’s budget. SB 342 is terrible bill and should be defeated in the House.