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By Jake Berry November 3, 2012

Democrat Maggie Hassan's budget votes targeted by Republican Governors Association

With the election now days away, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ovide Lamontagne has been busy trying to paint challenger Maggie Hassan as a serial tax-and-spender.

This month, he found some help from the Republican Governors Association, which joined the fight for New Hampshire’s corner office by airing a series of ads that highlight Hassan’s spending history during her time in the Senate.

"After pushing 33 tax and fee increases as Majority Leader, (Maggie Hassan) was voted out of office," a narrator charges in the ad, "Hiding," released this month on New Hampshire airwaves.

"She likes high taxes for us," the ad concludes. "New Hampshire doesn’t."

Throughout the campaign, Lamontagne has cited a higher number. In daily emails to the press, he accuses Hassan of supporting "nearly 100 taxes and fees to help pay for her massive 24 percent increase in state spending.".

Last month, we looked into the 24 percent claim, ruling it Half True. So, we decided this time to look into the taxes and fees.

Lamontagne campaign officials declined to release their list of nearly 100 increases, which covered Hassan’s three two-year terms in office. Instead we looked at the governors association figure, which targeted her two years as Senate Majority Leader.

We approached the association, which pointed us to the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in Concord, N.H.

In July 2009, the Bartlett Center, a conservative-leaning think tank, released an analysis of the state’s 2010-11 biennium budget. Hassan served as Senate Majority Leader at the time, during which the effects of the recession set in around New Hampshire. And, under her guidance, the Senate approved the $11.5 billion spending bill in June 2009, sending it on to the governor’s desk.

According to the Bartlett Center analysis, the budget, which went into effect July 1, 2009, included 35 new or increased taxes and fees, projecting to raise state revenues by about $306.4 million over the two-year budget.
Bartlett Center researchers didn’t develop the numbers themselves, but instead based them on research from the Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant, Arlinghaus said this week.

The nonpartisan budget assistant, charged with aiding the Legislature in its budget process, tracked the numbers in its review of the 2010-11 spending plan, and though the state numbers differ slightly from Bartlett Center, they remain in the ballpark.

In its assessment, the budget assistant reported that the 2010-11 spending plan, supported by Hassan both in its initial form and in the final version, included 33 total tax and fee hikes, the same number cited by the governor’s association ad.

But it also contained some big cuts, which the ad neglects to mention.

At the time the 2010-2011 budget was being written, Hassan and other legislators were warned state revenues were going to come in at 2005-2006 levels, leaving a gaping financial hole that needed to be covered through a blend of cuts and tax increases. The cuts contained in the budget included millions in reductions to state aid to communities, a freeze on out-of-state travel, a freeze on equipment purchases, and the elimination of 1,000 jobs-- 200 of which were occupied, among others.

On top of the loss in revenue, there was also an increase in expenses facing the state as more people sought government assistance. Budget writers also looked to tax and fee increases, some of which were sizeable. For example, the increase to the state rooms and meals tax was projected to raise $62.4 million for the state over the two years, and the increase to the tobacco tax projected to add $59.2 million.

Meanwhile, other increases were much less impactful. An increase to the driving records fees projected to add about $240,000, and an increase to the license fees for pilots, engineers and captains, among others, projected about $8,500.

Even Arlinghaus acknowledged in the Bartlett Center report, "Using just the number of increases is an imperfect measure."

Supporters of the 2010-11 budget applauded it for keeping state spending in line in the face of the struggling economy. But, as the recession continued to hit and state revenues came in lower than projected, legislators re-opened the spending plan to find further savings.

Over the coming months, legislators voted twice to amend the budget, reducing government spending by a total of $233 million. The budget adjustments included several increased taxes.

They amended the tobacco tax to include smokeless tobacco products, and they increased the marriage license fee, as well as the charge for selling animals and birds, which were projected to raise about $3 million between the three, according to Jeffry Pattison, the state budget assistant. But, they also voted to close a state prison and cut other state programs on the way to the $233 million savings, Hassan campaign manager Matt Burgess wrote in an email to PolitiFact NH.

PolitiFact noted previously that although total state spending increased about 20 percent during Hassan’s time in office, the funds spent from taxes and fees, which legislators have the most control over, actually went down slightly.

Our ruling

As the lead Democrat in the Senate, Hassan voted twice in 2009 in favor of the 2010-11 budget -- a spending plan shown by the nonpartisan budget assistant to include 33 tax and fee hikes, as claimed in the governors association ad.

The statement is numerically accurate, but it ignores all of the major cuts Hassan and other Democrats made to the budget, like eliminating state jobs and reducing state aid to communities. The state was facing a huge hole in its budget due to the sputtering economy, which simultaneously lowered revenues and increased the need for expenditures.   

On top of that, the ad fails to acknowledge that Democrats reopened the budget and further reduced government spending by $233 million.

And to say Hassan "likes high taxes" is a gross oversimplification that ignores the financial realities facing the state at the time.

We rate the claim Half True.

Our Sources

Republican Governors Association, "Hiding," October 24, 2012

Email interview with Mike Schrimpf, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, October 31, 2012, "Republican Lamontagne paints opponent Hassan as tax-and-spend liberal," October 12, 2012

Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, "A Rising Tide of Taxes and Fees," July 2009

Interview with Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, October 31, 2012

N.H. Office of the Legislative Budget Assistant,"House Bill 2 Tax and Fee Increases," June 22, 2009

Interview with Daniel Barrick, deputy director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, October 31, 2012

Email interview with Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Maggie Hassan, October 31, 2012

New Hampshire General Court, Vote #93, June 3, 2009

New Hampshire General Court, Vote #104, June 24, 2009

Interview with Jeffry Pattisan, N.H. legislative budget assistant, Nov. 2, 2012

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Democrat Maggie Hassan's budget votes targeted by Republican Governors Association

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