In 2011, the Republican House and Senate presented Democratic Gov. John Lynch with a budget he strongly opposed, but he allowed it to become law without his signature.
“In considering whether to veto the budget bills or allow them to become law, I have two major considerations: Could a veto result in a better budget for the people of New Hampshire, and what are the potential consequences of a veto for our people,” Lynch explained.
Lynch quickly realized vetoing the budget would do more damage than good and he did what was right for the people of New Hampshire and let it become law.
This is the path Gov. Chris Sununu should have taken after he received the $13.3 billion two-year operating budget approved Thursday by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate. Instead, late Friday afternoon he vetoed it.
In our view, vetoing the budget will not result in any improvements. In fact, a veto reopens the entire process and could result in Democrats reintroducing their top priorities of paid family medical leave and modifying the capital gains tax, which they removed after Sununu said he would veto the budget if those two items were included.
Far more important, we believe delaying implementation of the many excellent measures contained in this budget, which Sununu agrees with almost entirely, hurts all the people of New Hampshire; its most vulnerable citizens struggling with physical and mental health challenges, families in crisis, property taxpayers begging for some relief, school districts starved of resources, even the very businesses Sununu said he is trying to help.
Sununu said he vetoed the budget because it does not authorize a third reduction in four years of business profits and business enterprise taxes. The state has already implemented two rounds of business tax cuts, which have resulted in New Hampshire having the lowest business tax rates in New England.
Democratic budget writers believed if they compromised on their two top priorities, family medical leave and the capital gains tax modifications, Sununu would compromise and agree to freeze the third round of business tax cuts. But he dug in on the business tax cuts, despite the budget's many other benefits to the state's businesses.
While businesses are happy to receive tax cuts, many told a commission studying business taxes in 2014 that their priorities when considering whether to expand or relocate are energy costs, an educated workforce, transportation and the overall cost of doing business.
Businesses also asked for, and received, reforms in this budget that put the state tax code in conformity with the federal code and prevent double taxation on services performed in New Hampshire for out-of-state clients. These tax reforms will also be delayed because of Sununu's veto.
In recent decades, budget vetoes have not worked out well for New Hampshire governors.
In 2015, we were critical of Gov. Maggie Hassan when she vetoed the budget presented to her by a Republican-controlled Legislature for the same sorts of thin, partisan reasoning Sununu used to justify his veto. Then, as now, we wrote: "New Hampshire would have been better served had the governor let the budget become law without her signature ..."
Hassan vetoed the budget, delaying funding for vital services such as opioid addiction treatment and recovery. In the end, the business taxes she cited to justify her veto remained in the budget and Hassan’s credibility was badly damaged.
If Sununu wants more evidence that vetoing reasonable budgets hurts governors, he can look to a Republican predecessor, Gov. Craig Benson, who made a big show of vetoing the budget created by his fellow Republicans in June 2003, going so far as to create a giant veto stamp and holding a press conference to crow about it.
“A mere two months later Benson cut and ran, by signing into law a budget that contained even higher spending than the budget he had vetoed,” wrote the New Hampshire Business Review.
Benson was also the first governor since 1926 not to be re-elected to a second term.
Our bipartisan editorial board has twice endorsed Sununu and we believe he truly wants what’s best for the state, which is why we cannot understand his veto. His veto message is a generic political statement that sheds no light.
We urge the governor to work in good faith with the Legislature to end this budget impasse as quickly as possible. That course of action is not just good politics, it’s what’s best for the people of New Hampshire.