Tales from the Budcomm – It is now on its way to make “No means NO!” mean something again

Summary: This is an Act that remedies a technical problem within the current Municipal and School District budget process that allows Governing Bodies (Selectmen, School Boards) to transgress the fiscal policies of Budget Committees and votes of the Legislative Bodies (e.g., local voters). Current law and regulations allow Governing Bodies to effectively overrule those budgetary approvals at the General Ledger line level by transferal of monies at the Departmental of Revenue Administration MS-Form level.

For my entire time on my budget, I always thought that “No meant no” during the time that NH local SB2 approved Budget Committees are constructing the budgets (both town/Municipal” and the School District budgets) that will be presented to the townfolk at Town Meeting (which for SB2 towns would be at the ballot box). If the BudComm members decided that a line item was insufficient, it could be raised.  If the BudComm felt that a line item had too much money allocated for it, it could reduce that amount.  And if the BudComm felt that the amount was a complete waste of taxpayer money, they could zero out that particular line item (“No means NO!”) and felt that the Governing Body (Selectmen, School Board) could not spend a cent on that “Purpose”.

Turns out I was wrong – but I now have a solution in LSR 2019-0573 HB:

“Relative to municipal and district committees” – my non-partisan attempt to correct this “technical oversight”. It really isn’t a Right issue or a Left issue – it is more in protecting all of the hundreds or thousands of volunteer hours spent by those either appointed  or elected to their BudComms.  It’s purpose is to make sure that when in making their fiscal policy, the BudComm can no longer be overridden later.  How?

To recp:

Most NH voters that live in towns where they have adopted SB2 which changes the traditional NH Town Meeting to one split two meetings (the Deliberative Session, where budgets are discussed and modified, and then the actual Voting on the budgets and any warrants), it is the BudComm that takes the proposed budgets from both Governing Bodies, reviews, scrutinizes, debates, possibly modifies them, and then presents the two budgets to the voters.  Those budgets are NOT the School Board’s or Selectmen’s – it is the BudComm’s.  The Selectmen and School Board only propose their operating priorities / policies for the town / school district; it is the Budcomm that sets the fiscal policy (which is then either accepted, rejected, or modified at the Deliberative Session).

After the final votes are taken, the Governing Bodies and the BudComm members have to sign off on forms created by the NH Dept of Revenue – they are known as MS-Forms.  Effectively, the “lines” on these forms are “roll ups” – they aggregate all of the line items that the BudComm poured over.  Fr’instance, if your DPW budget runs a couple of hundred GL (General Ledget) account line items, only the total would show up on the MS-Form.  The DRA considers this to be a “Purpose” (and that a term that is legally defined in NH law). So $x,xxx,xxx can be appropriated for the Purpose of maintaining the town roads. And as necessary ( or from a rejiggering of “priorities”), the Selectmen can then transfer any of that overall total to anything they want provided that they do not exceed that bottom line total.

Oh, so this is where my LSR comes in (which will be turned into a bill and hopefully be passed by the NH House, the NH Senate, and then signed by the Governor).  One could also add to that “as necessary or rejiggering” the word “spite”. Or “just plain outright ignore”.  Which they can do legally because they are not bound to the GL account line items at this time, only to the MS-Forms.  In doing so, BudComms are handed the message “go pound sand”.

Which is not right at all. Thus my LSR which changes RSA 32 which regulates the Budget Committee and how budgets are created. In short, it doesn’t change the current process except for adding ONE form created by the BudComm that would be included with the MS-Forms are submitted to the DRA finalizing the budgets. It would list those line items in which monies cannot be expended for a given “Purpose” and negate the broad transfer capabilities now in the RSAs.

Summary:

This is an Act that remedies a technical problem within the current Municipal and School District budget process that allows Governing Bodies (Selectmen, School Boards) to transgress fiscal policies of Budget Committees and votes of the Legislative Bodies (e.g., local voters). Current law and regulations allow Governing Bodies to effectively overrule those budgetary approvals at the General Ledger line level by transferal of monies at the Departmental of Revenue Administration MS-Form level.

RSAs to be amended:

RSA 32:5 VI.

Upon completion of the budgets, an original of each budget and of each recommendation upon special warrant articles, signed by a quorum of the governing body, or of the budget committee, if any, shall be placed on file with the town or district clerk. A copy of the Budget Committee Exceptions Report (above), signed by the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Budget Committee, will also be place on file with the town or district clerk(s). A certified copy of each document type shall be forwarded by the chair of the budget committee, if any, or otherwise by the chair of the governing body, to the commissioner of revenue administration pursuant to RSA 21-J:34.

RSA 32:10 (b):

Records shall be kept by the governing body, such that the budget committee, if any, or any citizen requesting such records pursuant to RSA 91-A:4, may ascertain the purposes of appropriations to which, and from which, amounts have been transferred; provided, however, that neither the budget committee nor other citizens shall have any authority to dispute or challenge the discretion of the governing body in making such transfers unless such transfers begin or end in a GL line level account enumerated in the “Budget Committee Exception Report to the MS-Forms”.

RSA 32:11

Such application shall be made prior to the making of such expenditure. No such authority shall be granted [until a majority of the budget committee, if any, has approved the application in writing] if such a Purpose / GL line level account is explicitly enumerated on the “Budget Committee Exception Report to the MS-Forms”. If there is no such Report or enumeration therein, then such authority shall be granted when a majority of the budget committee, if any, has approved the application in writing. If there is no budget committee, the governing body shall hold a public hearing on the request, with notice as provided in RSA 91-A:2.

Severability: If any part is found to be unconstitutional, the remaining sections will remain in force.

To take effect: This Act will be in effect immediately after passage.

Financial Impact: none to minimal is foreseen (e.g., DRA either confirming the sample form / creating one by itself, writing the instructions for it, and posting it on their website).

And for the Liberals that might be up in arms, this SHOULD also act in reverse – that if the BudComm RAISES a GL account line item, it would also be listed on the “Budget Committee Exception Report to the MS-Forms”  and basically tell the Governing Bodies that you WILL spend for this line item’s purpose in full. And yes, I was part of a BudComm that did exactly that – we raised amounts because we felt that it was the proper fiscal policy to do so (e.g., take an about-to-be-discarded DPW F-350 and spend the money to “make it usable” and properly outfit it as our Fire Forestry truck – a far better thing that to have waited to spend FAR more on a brand new truck (and it lasted an additional 8 years at a much lower Total Cost of Ownership).

My NH House Reps, Glen Aldrich and Harry Bean, (elected as part of the Frugal Four that I wrote about earlier this year) are the prime and cosponsors at this time – my thanks to them as well as any others that would sign on later.  I am also hoping that a NH State Senator would also sign onto an equivalent one from that side as well.

Thus, my bleg – I would appreciate any help from you, our dear readers, in asking your Representatives to add their names to this.  Or, if you ARE a Rep or Senator reading this, I would ask for the same!

Skip
by Skip

Co-founder of GraniteGrok, my concern is around Individual Liberty and Freedom (and how Government is taking that away from us). My fight, from a Conservative (with small “L” libertarian leanings) and evangelical Christian perspective, is with the Progressives that are forcing a collectivized and secular humanistic future upon us. As TEA Party activist, citizen journalist (and pundit!), my goal is to use the New Media to advance the radical notions of America’s Founders back into our culture again.