Oh, the Shame!

“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.” — Will Rogers

According to a recent report, “Taxachusetts” now has a lower business tax burden than NH. For decades, we have ridiculed Massachusetts for its high taxes. Now it seems that our business tax rates are even higher than theirs. Among the six New England states, NH is outranked by both Connecticut and Massachusetts for low business taxes.

Did you know that the share of state taxes paid by businesses is almost 60%? In Massachusetts, businesses pay about 35% of the state’s taxes. NH businesses pay the fourth highest percentage of state taxes in the entire country.

With businesses paying so much of our taxes and employing most of our people, shouldn’t we want more businesses, hiring more employees, paying more taxes? Sadly, Governor Hassan and House Democrats have done nothing to encourage businesses to move to or expand in NH. Of the 180 Democrat bills passed by the House, not a single one makes NH more attractive for business.

Some 20 years ago a Democratic Presidential candidate remarked that “You cannot be pro-jobs and anti-business at the same time. You cannot love employment and hate employers.” Today’s Democratic politicians often seem to be anti-business and to hate employers.

NH House Democrats this year have passed some 30 bills that make life a little more difficult, a little more expensive for businesses. None of those bills alone will kill a business, but together they will make some businesses decide, “It’s just not worth it. Too much hassle, too much risk.” Collectively, they create a “Closed for Business” sign around NH.

There were some bills that were ever so slightly pro-business. Democrats sponsored some; Republicans sponsored many more. But all of those pro-business bills were killed. 

Did you know that a convenience store that sells beer and wine is mandated to keep $3,000 of groceries in stock? A bipartisan proposal would have removed the mandate and let stores stock what their customers wanted rather than what politicians wanted. That bill was killed. A few days later a seacoast paper reported that a gas station was fined $250 for not having the requisite amount of groceries on hand.

I can’t help wondering how many inspectors we taxpayers are funding to travel around from store to store counting how much groceries each has in stock. Is that really a good use of taxpayers’ dollars? How about letting the business owner stock what he thinks his customers want? If he thinks they want to buy hamburgers and hot dogs along with beer, then let him stock those items. If he thinks his customers want nothing more than wine and cigars, then so be it. Let the customer be king, not the politicians.

In a recent poll, 74% said we are still in a recession. It’s no wonder: Employment is miserable. GDP growth is pathetic. Median family income is down for four straight years. If you are like most people, you think our representatives should be working to help the economy grow and create more jobs. The Democrats down in Concord have not been doing that, nor have they made any effort to fix the problems with ObamaCare such as people losing their hospitals, their doctors, their plans, and seeing 35% increases in their premiums and deductibles.

So just how have the Do-nothing Democrats been spending their time? You might say they have been rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They have no concept of the big problems ordinary people are facing, so they have made piddling little changes to our laws. They have passed bills to establish thirteen new committees, to add members to some advisory councils, and even to support voting rights in Washington, DC.

The Democratic House passed a bill to tax paint $0.75 per gallon. They tried to ban children under 18 from using tanning facilities even with permission of their parents. That bill seemed headed for passage until members realized the absurdity that young girls would be able to get an abortion without parental consent but would not be able to get a tan even with parental consent.

What else have the Democrats spent time on? Two social issues come to mind. They tried twice to restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners, while doing nothing about criminals. The first bill took more than an hour of debate but in the end was decisively killed by more than 2:1. The second bill also took more than an hour of debate. The vote was closer but the measure was again defeated.

Another hot button for Democrats is voter identification. They offered four separate bills that would make it easier for out-of-state persons to vote fraudulently in NH. They like to claim that there is no voter fraud but how can you find fraud if you don’t look for it? Last year, North Carolina strengthened its voter ID laws; this year they are investigating some 800 cases of apparent fraud, and another 35,000 cases of possible fraud. 

Come November could we please elect representatives (and a Governor) who will work on the economy and jobs?

‘Taxachusetts’ has lower business tax burden than NH

A new report by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center says that Massachusetts actually has a lower business tax burden than most states, including New Hampshire. Regionally, NH is behind both Connecticut and Massachusetts for combined business and local taxes.
Nationally, NH is fourth highest for the share of total state taxes paid by businesses. NH businesses pay 59.4% of all taxes. In Massachusetts, they pay about 34.5%.
If we want a growing economy, creating more jobs, then we must find a way to make NH more attractive to businesses.

Great article by Rand Paul

One of Rand Paul’s strengths is that he connects well with his audiences. This article is addressed to college students but has a good message for all of us.

The federal government now attempts to micromanage American life at practically every level.

The government tells you what kind of lightbulbs you can buy, what kind of toilet can be in your home, how much water can come out of your showerhead. Privacy is seemingly an antiquated notion, with government snoops able to access third-party records, such as phone records, e-mails, financial records, and pretty much any other personal information they want, without a judge’s warrant.
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America has drifted away from the constitutional principles of limited government, separation of powers, and individual liberty.
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We need to do a better job of communicating why big government is the problem—why it is bad for the economy, freedom, and a restrained, yet strong, foreign policy.
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conservative solutions are tangible too. We’re not just saying no to more government. Our proposals will lead the way to more prosperity, more stable families, political decisions made at the local level, a dollar that holds up in a global marketplace, an education system that puts students and parents first, a vibrant culture supported by religious institutions, and opportunities for young people like you to grow and lead America into a renewed age of freedom.
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Our political opponents and the media like to portray conservatives as unconcerned about the poor, senior citizens, and minorities. Nothing could be further from the truth. But we need to do a better job of communicating the promise of conservatism, not simply the failures of liberalism. We advocate not for special privileges for “the rich” but rather for a flourishing economy that lifts everyone up, creating millions of jobs and lessening the burden of taxes and government regulation.

We need to shout to anyone who will listen, “More freedom and less government means more jobs, more wealth, and a better life for everyone.” Despite the trillions of taxpayer dollars spent on bailouts and “stimulus” plans over the past several years, the economy hasn’t fully recovered from the Great Recession.

One in six Americans lives in poverty, more than at any other time in the past several decades. This is unacceptable.
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Decentralization of power is the best policy. Government is more efficient, more just, and more personal when it is smaller and more local. By decentralizing government, we strengthen communities, allowing people to depend on and care for one another, rather than on some distant, incompetent bureaucracy masquerading as defender of the common good. This is a message we need to do a better job communicating.

Read the whole thing.

Poll: Record high number oppose ObamaCare

A record high number of registered voters (59%) oppose ObamaCare and a record low number (36%) favor it. Interestingly, the increase in opposition comes from Democrats and independents. 30% of Democrats, up from 22%, oppose the law. Among independents, 64% (up from 53%) oppose it.

Some apparent reasons for opposition to the law include the fact that majorities think the new law will increase their taxes (63 percent), increase their insurance costs (62 percent) and increase the federal deficit (56 percent).

Meanwhile, just one voter in five thinks Obamacare will increase the quality of their health care (19 percent).  More than twice as many expect the quality of their care to get worse (39 percent) and another 37 percent think it will stay the same.

  • By 42%-27% voters think that Obama’s policies have hurt, not helped, the economy
  • A whopping 74% feel as if the country is still in a recession
  • By 55%-30% they think cutting taxes and reducing regulations would help the economy
  • 55% vs 37% think that long-term unemployment benefits discourage people from trying to find work
  • A majority (52%) think the government should provide unemployment benefits for at most one year

Some good news from the elections

Republicans did well in many unexpected places:

GOP sweeps Erie County (NY)

County Republicans scored an election sweep Tuesday, winning control of the County Legislature while retaining the offices of sheriff and comptroller in the Democratic stronghold of Erie County.

In New York, Republicans re-elected county executives in Westchester and Nassau Counties, captured the mayoralty in Binghamton and a majority of the county legislature in Erie County for the first time since 1977, and won a special election for the state Assembly in Suffolk County.

The common denominator of winning Republicans in the Empire State was opposition to taxes and championship of small government.

In Connecticut, Republicans had an extraordinary Tuesday as they swept the shoreline of the Nutmeg State and won mayoral races in such blue-collar Democratic bastions as Bristol, Meriden, and New Britain.

“You could say ‘a star is born’ in New Britain, which has a Democratic voter registration edge of 6-to-1,” state Republican Chairman Jerry Labriola, Jr. told Newsmax. He was referring to 26-year-old Erin Stewart, who unseated Democratic Mayor Tim O’Brien in one of the biggest upsets anywhere in the nation Tuesday.

Colorado income tax hike lost big. An almost $1 billion tax increase “on the rich” and “for the kids” (i.e. for the teachers’ unions) lost by almost 2:1. Supporters spent about $10 million to the opponents’ $11,000.
Even in Virginia there were some silver linings. You probably know that the Republican was outspent more than 2:1, that there was a faux-Libertarian (funded by a Democrat), who took many more votes than the margin of difference. You may not have heard that the Republican won the Independent vote and won married women.
To the extent that Virginia says anything nationally, and it’s easy to over-interpret it, it says that even an outspent and outgunned candidate leading a divided party can make serious headway just by pounding a single issue: Obamacare.
  • Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe
  • Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money

Democrat Gov. Shumlin (VT) says that the McAuliffe race will be the model for 2014. Republican strategists replied:

that they wouldn’t be concerned if Democrats used the McAuliffe model in upcoming elections, noting that he lost married women, health care voters and independents while outspending Cuccinelli by a wide margin to win the election by just 2.5 percentage points.

Down in Concord

“Politicians are interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.” — P.J. O’Rourke

Every so often someone writes yet another column asking “Why can’t Republicans and Democrats get along? Can’t they talk to each other, work together, find a compromise?” The short answer is “We do, most of the time.” A second answer is “There are times when we should not.”

The simple truth is that NH legislators do work together, are very civil to each other (with rare, though well publicized, exceptions), and often become life-long friends. Anyone who says otherwise either has not observed first hand how the legislature works or is trying to make a political point. All too often, it is a mixture of both. Someone starts a narrative about the mean old nasty so and so party, repeats it over and over again, then people with no first hand knowledge come to believe it. (After all, politicians never lie.)

Let’s start with some anecdotal evidence, then some numbers. Earlier this year I went down to Concord to testify against a bill. It happened that one of my former colleagues, a very left Democrat, also testified against that same bill and he happened to go first. Later, when I testified, I remarked that this was the first time in two years that he and I had agreed on a bill. Later, we met out in the hall and laughed together. We encouraged each other to convince other members of our two parties. (The bill was eventually defeated with a bipartisan vote.)

Last session, a hard left Democrat and a hard right Republican worked closely together on a particular bill. Coincidentally, the two were geographically on the far left and far right sides of the state. They both worked very hard to pass their bill; they managed one of the rare instances of overturning a committee recommendation on the House floor. I was happy to work with both of them on that bill. Later the two of them worked together on another bill.

Now let’s look at some numbers. This year the House and Senate passed 281 bills. A full 188 of those bills, were passed by the House on the Consent Calendar. For those who may not have read my previous columns, suffice it to say that bills on Consent have all but unanimous support. Two-thirds of all the bills that were passed, were unanimous. (And of the bills that were killed, many, perhaps most, were also unanimous.)

So any time you hear complaints about legislators being mean and nasty to each other, not working together, please realize that it is almost always someone trying to stir up trouble for partisan advantage. The truth is that they DO work together, usually in a collegial, respectful atmosphere.

But there are times when they should not compromise. Suppose a Democrat and a Republican decide to drive down to New York City. For those who are geographically impaired, NYC is mostly South and a little West of us. Now let’s suppose that the two politicians approach an intersection. The Democrat wants to turn left and head North; the Republican wants to turn right and head South. Should they compromise and head East?

On some issues the division is just as stark as the choice between driving North or South – it makes no sense to compromise on East.

Republicans, generally speaking, want to cut taxes; Democrats want to increase taxes. This year Democrats pushed hard for an increase in the gas tax of 15 cents. They later offered a compromise of 12 cents. Why should Republicans compromise on any increase at all, when what we really want is to reduce taxes?

Democrats for the most part want bigger, more powerful government. Republicans want smaller, limited government. How can the two sides compromise when they are such opposites? (Historically, Republicans have compromised on a little bigger here, a little bigger there – which is one reason many people think there is little difference between the two parties.)

Affordable health care is a nice goal. The two parties have opposite solutions. Democrats thought the solution was to write a 2,000+ page bill, write tens of thousands of pages of regulations, hire 10,000 IRS agents. Now even many of the original supporters realize that Obamacare is a train wreck in progress.

Republicans know that the solution to more affordable, higher quality health care is a free market, with many providers competing to find the best solution at the best price. This approach has proven to work and is working today in those places where government regulations allow it.

Some Democrats call for compromise on so-called “gun safety.” What they fail to understand is that the criminals don’t obey the existing 10,000 laws and won’t obey one additional gun law. Republicans understand that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Republicans believe that self-defense is a fundamental right, that a woman has the right to choose whether to carry a handgun to protect herself against a rapist. Would Democrats compromise and allow any woman for her safety and the safety of her children to carry a concealed weapon without a permit?

Democrats and Republicans do compromise on a large majority of bills, but on some issues they cannot and should not compromise.

Down in Concord

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. — Indira Gandhi

Just like high school or college kids making up for lost time, the House leaders (Democrats) finished the budget process with a late, late, late night session. After wasting most of Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, the budget conferees met Wednesday at 9 am and did not finish until Thursday in the wee hours of the morning, 3:42 am to be precise.

The short story is that the House is to be congratulated for persuading the Senate to agree to all of the Senate’s demands. That’s right, the final budget is pretty much the Senate (Republican-led), not the House (Democrat-led), budget.

Observers tell me that the Democrats opposed this budget up until the very end when they caved. Senior leaders, including representatives of the governor, were holed up behind locked doors for hours apparently searching for a way out. There was even talk that they would reject the budget and go for a Continuing Resolution (CR) while they tried to negotiate a better budget. In the end, “the House acceded to the Senate” on almost every issue.

House Democrats are trying to put the best spin on it. The Democrat chairman of the House Finance Committee wrote that they “… produced a balanced and fiscally responsible budget investing in the priorities of the people of New Hampshire without increasing taxes or fees. … there is a great deal for us to be proud of in this budget.” But the fact is that the budget is almost entirely what was passed by Senate Republicans, which every single Senate Democrat voted against.

The Governor “applauded the bipartisan budget agreement” even though it is virtually identical to the Senate Finance Committee budget, which three weeks ago she slammed for (so-called) “deep cuts”, “nothing short of devastating”, and a “fiscally irresponsible approach”. Now she labels that same budget as “fiscally responsible” (which it is) and praises the restored funding (added by Senate Republicans).

Why do so many politicians not tell the truth? Either they lied weeks ago when they decried the Senate budget as terrible, or they are lying now when they say it is great. Perhaps both. (How do you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.)

I would have more respect for them if they admitted, “We don’t like this budget. We wanted to spend much more money; we wanted to eliminate some programs and create other programs. We agreed to the Senate plan because we didn’t have a good alternative. Our only fallback was a Continuing Resolution, which would have given us even less money to spend.”

But politicians like to take credit for everything – even if they had nothing to do with them. If they told the truth now and admitted they don’t like the budget they couldn’t take credit for it.

Democrats cannot be happy about this budget. Total spending is $400 million less than the Governor requested, $300 million under what the House Democrats approved.

This budget has zero tax or fee increases. Democrats had proposed numerous new taxes or fees. They voted overwhelmingly (155-35) for a beer tax; they didn’t get it. They really, really wanted a massive increase in the gas tax; they didn’t get it. Ditto an increase in cigarette taxes. They proposed to delay scheduled business tax decreases; the Senate nixed that idea. Democrats passed increases in the Salt Water Fishing license fee and the Marriage License fee; Senate Republicans removed them.

Democrats included a provision letting the Governor raid 400 dedicated funds to spend the money elsewhere. Senate Republicans said no.

Senate Republicans added funds for LCHIP (the Land Conservation and Heritage Improvement Program) and for the UNIQUE scholarship program. The Senate increased State Aid Grants for water treatment projects. Democrats now try to take credit for these increases.

Democrats reduced funding for Charter Schools and put in a moratorium. Senate Republicans fully funded them and removed the moratorium. House Democrats repealed the school choice scholarship program passed last year. Senate Republicans killed that bill and removed a parallel provision from the budget.

Democrats had been emphatic about expanding Medicaid as part of Obamacare. The Speaker of the House, Terie Norelli, had declared that without Medicaid expansion, “I do not know if I could get the votes in the House to support the budget.” As late as Wednesday afternoon, conference Chairwoman Wallner said there would not be a budget agreement unless the Senate budged. The Senate replied that this issue was too important to rush into without a thorough study, they called her bluff and the Democrats folded.

In addition to the budget bills, there were 22 other bills reported back by conference committees. The changes appear to be slight and the bills seem uninteresting. There were eight bills where House and Senate conferees could not reach agreement. These bill also seem uninteresting; few will mourn their loss.

On Wednesday, July 26, the House and Senate will each meet to vote on conference reports. It is very likely that all will be passed and go to the governor for signing.

Yes, the IRS scandal IS a big deal

Peggy Noonan writes that “nothing can damage us more as a nation than what is happening at the Internal Revenue Service.”

What does it mean when half the country—literally half the country—understands that the revenue-gathering arm of its federal government is politically corrupt, sees them as targets, and will shoot at them if they try to raise their heads? That is the kind of thing that can kill a country, letting half its citizens believe that they no longer have full political rights.

 

Best and worst states for business

The ten best states for business are all run by Republican governors. Chief Executive magazine surveyed 736 CEOs and asked them to grade the states on a variety of indicators such as “taxation and regulation”, “people’s general work ethic and education attainment”, “perceived quality of education and public health facilities, as well as the affordability and quality of real estate, the transportation system and related environmental factors.”

The four worst states for doing business: California, New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts are all run by Democrats. Not surprisingly, companies and people are moving out of those states and moving to states that offer better opportunities.

Not so coincidentally, the four poorest cities according to a Census Bureau report – Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Milwaukee – are all run by Democrats and have been for as long as fifty years.

Medicaid does not improve health

“Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes.” That is the conclusion of a 2-year study of 12,000 adults just reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Oh, Medicaid coverage did have some effects: “it did increase use of health care services” and “reduce[d] financial strain” – on the participants that is. It greatly increased financial strain on us poor taxpayers who had to pay the bills. And for what? Measures of physical health showed no significant difference between the adults on Medicaid and those not.

Medicaid is the single largest expense in New Hampshire county budgets. Translated to my town’s property taxes, it costs Sunapee taxpayers roughly a million dollars per year.

Some in New Hampshire suggest that we should expand Medicaid as part of ObamaCare. It would cost us many hundreds of millions of dollars on top of already huge expenses. This report that Medicaid does not improve physical health should quash that idea.

 

The Coming ObamaCare Shock

As ObamaCare is rolled out this year and next, tens of millions of Americans will be shocked. Even Democrats who wrote and/or voted for the unpopular law are worried.

  • Sen. Max Baucus called it a “train wreck.”
  • Sen. Jay Rockefeller described it as “beyond comprehension.”
  • Henry Chao, an official in charge of implementing it, was quoted as saying “I’m pretty nervous . . . Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.”

Insurance premiums will soar for millions of people, even after the government subsidies. Some young adults with individual health insurance will see a 46% increase. Small-group premiums are expected to increase by 13%-23% on average. Some of those may face a 90% increase.

Five million people will see major changes in their policies. Three million will lose their existing insurance. Six million will pay hefty fines. Millions more will see their hours reduced to under 30 hours per week so companies can avoid the insurance mandate and fines.

In total, it appears that there will be 30 million to 40 million people damaged in some fashion by the Affordable Care Act—more than one in 10 Americans. When that reality becomes clearer, the law is going to start losing its friends in the media, who are inclined to support the president and his initiatives. We’ll hear about innocent victims who saw their premiums skyrocket, who were barred from seeing their usual doctor, who had their hours cut or lost their insurance entirely—all thanks to the faceless bureaucracy administering a federal law.

Down in Concord

“Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” — Otto von Bismarck

The House and Senate have just over 200 bills left to deal with by the end of June. The House has the easier job with just 89 bills in committee. The Senate has 114 in committee; three of those are the big budget bills.

Almost all of those bills have had public hearings. In the next two weeks there will be some 30 more public hearings. Of the seven hearings in the House, it is hard to find a one that might be interesting to any of us around here. Is there anyone eager to testify about a bill that changes “district court” to “circuit court”?

The Senate hearings are not particularly interesting either. Does a bill “establishing a right of discovery to a carrier’s investigation of claims in workers’ compensation cases” excite anyone?

The Senate does have three bills that probably will interest large numbers of people. On Tuesday, May 7, there is a public hearing on the massive gas tax increase. You may recall that it was initially proposed as an 83% increase in the gas tax. When that news spread around the state, they trimmed it way, way back to a mere 67% increase. They said it would all be used for roads and bridges but their budget spends even LESS on the department of transportation then current law provides. Word from the Senate is that the gas tax is dead on arrival.

The Senate will hold its public hearing on the budget on May 9th in the late afternoon and evening so working stiffs will be able to attend without having to take time away from work.

There is one bill in the House that is consuming thousands of man-hours and might be accepting public input for another week or two. The gambling bill, SB 152, is being considered by a special joint committee of Finance and Ways & Means. They already had their regular public hearing but now they are divided into three subcommittees, each taking more input.

The Regulations subcommittee “will focus on the bidding process, regulations, oversight, accountability and enforcement.” We heard at the public hearing that it will not be possible for the rules and regulations to be written and approved before the bill’s stated deadline for choosing the winning bidder.

The subcommittee on Revenue “will address all issues related to revenue generation and loss, specification of casino size and composition to achieve maximum revenue, and allocation of revenues designated for specific purposes.” Proponents say the casino would be high-end but opponents note that compared to the costs of casinos in other states, the bill does not require the casino developer to spend anywhere near enough money.

The third subcommittee, Community Impact, “will explore impacts on municipalities, counties and the state including job creation, impact on existing businesses, traffic and highway maintenance, public safety and other social costs.” Proponents minimize the social costs. Opponents say that it will cannibalize sales from existing restaurants, hotels, and theaters.

Closer to home, the Sullivan county commissioners will meet Monday, May 6. According to published reports their proposed county budget will increase property taxes by $400,000. The next step in the budget process is for the Executive Finance Committee (EFC) to review and amend the budget proposal, then for the full county delegation to meet, possibly amend, and vote on the budget.

Why do I mention the county budget in a column about state legislative happenings? Most people don’t know it, but our State legislators are also county legislators. The thirteen Reps from the various districts in Sullivan county are the legislative body for county government. The commissioners are the governing body, analogous to town selectmen. They recommend a budget but the State Reps, analogous to a town’s voters, are the ones to approve the budget.

Last year, the commissioners recommended a budget that raised taxes by 2%. The county delegation consisting of 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted instead to cut taxes. It will be interesting to see if this year’s delegation, now controlled by Democrats, will go along with a tax increase or whether they will cut taxes. Given that almost every Democrat in the House voted to raise multiple taxes, I would be surprised if they vote to cut taxes in Sullivan county.

Down in Concord

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” — Pericles (430 B.C.)

Down in Concord it is another quiet week. There are 47 bills with public hearings in the House or in the Senate. Most probably are not interesting to most people. I found four that are mildly interesting.

On Tuesday morning, the Senate has public hearings on two firearms bills. HB 135 restricts your right to defend yourself, your family, and your community. It says that if someone attacks you with deadly force, you may not use deadly force to defend yourself, if you can run away. So if you or your daughter is a young nurse walking through a dark parking lot, and a would-be rapist pulls out a knife, you should try to run away instead of pulling out your pistol. I expect a large crowd to oppose the bill.

The second firearms bill is HB 388, which says that if a thief steals a weapon from your house, you are not responsible for any damage the bad guy does with your weapon. That bill passed with a strong bipartisan vote in the House. The crowd on hand to oppose HB 135 probably will stay to support HB 388

Wednesday the Senate hears HB 595, which would repeal changes to photo identification requirements of voters that was passed just last year. By wide margins, voters approve of the requirement for a photo ID, so there might be a good crowd opposing this repeal bill.

Thursday the House Fish&Game committee will hold a public hearing on SB 122, establishing a commercial shrimp license. We have survived all these many years without needing a shrimp license. Thursday we will learn why some people think we really need yet another license.

…..

Some time ago a friend asked why I spend time on politics. Well, the fact is that politicians can have an enormous impact on our well-being. It’s not so much that they can do good but that they can do great harm. As Walter Williams puts it, “In general, presidents and congressmen have very limited power to do good for the economy and awesome power to do bad. The best good thing that politicians can do for the economy is to stop doing bad. In part, this can be achieved through reducing taxes and economic regulation, and staying out of our lives.”

A report from the government’s Small Business Administration estimates that the cost of federal regulations is $1.75 trillion. That works out to about $15,000 per family. Are you getting your money’s worth?

It wasn’t regulations that made us the greatest country on earth. It was freedom – the freedom for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, and Steve Jobs created entire industries that provided good jobs for tens of millions of people.

Today there are so many regulations that FedEx could not get off the groundSubway RestaurantsHome Depot, Whole Foods, and Wynn casinos might not exist at all if they had started in today’s regulatory environment.

Together these companies have over 800,000 employees. How much worse would our economy be without those jobs? without the goods and services they produce? How many of tomorrow’s giant companies are being killed today by excessive regulations?

An old American adage declares that “To err is human, but it takes a politician to really screw things up.” They certainly have screwed things up. The latest jobs report was just one more example. Almost half a million people gave up looking for a job. The labor force participation rate is the lowest since 1979.

Poverty is the worst since the mid-1960s. The number of people collecting food stamps is at record high levels. Median family income is down for four straight years.

The current so-called recovery is the worst in 70 years. Per capita income and employment are lower than they were at the start of the recession. If this economy had been merely average, we would now have a GDP per person more than $4500 higher and we would see more than 14 million more people employed.

Why do I spend time on politics? Because it matters. Bad economic policies produce the conditions we now suffer. Good policies produce growing economies.

Canada’s conservative government adopted principles of lower taxes, smaller government, and more decentralization of federal government powers. For the first time in history, the average Canadian is wealthier than the average American.

There is one set of economic policies that has worked every time it has been tried. Year after year, around the world, among the fifty states, one simple policy has produced greater prosperity, better life expectancy, a cleaner environment, and more human rights.

That policy is economic freedom.

That is not just theory or ideology; that is history. Nearly 20 years of analyzing 183 countries has consistently shown that more freedom produces higher per capita income, longer lifespans, and more “happiness”.

Sadly, the United States’ rank in the Index  of Economic Freedom has dropped every year since 2006. We have fallen from “Free” to “Mostly Free”.

For a better economy, we need to elect politicians who support property rights, limited government, less regulating, and free markets. It works every time it is tried.

Down in Concord

“Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.” — Dick Armey

There is an old fable about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains that this is simply its nature.

It seems that it is the nature of Democrat politicians to raise taxes and fees. Taxpayers, especially those of us with lower incomes, are the ones who get stung. The Democrats previously passed five bills to increase taxes or fees. As part of their budget they increased six other taxes or fees.

Democrats increased by 25% a tax on fuel oil. They made permanent a “temporary” tax increase they originally passed in 2009 that doubled boat registration fees. They raised a license fee for youth skill camps by 300%; increased the cigarette tax by 30 cents per pack; and increased the gas tax by 67%. On all of these bills Democrats voted more than 90% in favor of an increased tax or fee, Republicans voted more than 90% against the tax or fee increase.

The Democrats’ budget delays for a year – and nobody should be surprised if next year they delay it again – a business tax reduction dealing with loss carry-forwards. That change would have been especially useful for high-tech R&D firms. Don’t we want more such companies to come to NH? Their budget similarly delays two other business tax reductions.

They increased the fee for a marriage license and the fee for a saltwater fishing license. They stung property tax payers by downshifting costs for the county nursing homes. Which brings to mind one other change that will sting county property tax payers. The House Democrats and the Governor have indicated that they will adopt expanded Medicaid. This will cost the state tens of millions of dollars, and will also cost the counties millions of dollars. The counties lose money on every Medicaid patient – more patients means more losses, which the county property tax payers have to make up.

On a normal day, the House deals with about 30 bills. Last Wednesday it had only the three budget bills to deal with, but it still took almost all day. What took most of the time was debating 16 separate amendments to HB 2, which has all of the changes to law necessary to make the spending numbers legal. For example, current law says that not less than 73% of the Highway fund will go to the department of Transportation. The Democrats wanted to spend only 67% of the fund on actual highways, so they wrote in HB 2 a section which says that it is okay for them to break that part of the law.

The first proposed amendment was to delete the downshifting of county nursing home expenses. The Democrats are shifting $11 million in expenses from the state to the counties. The cost to property tax payers of Sullivan county will be approximately $400,000. Republicans opposed downshifting; Democrats voted for raising your property taxes.

The Governor and House Democrats want to spend more money than the state will collect in revenue. They propose to make up the difference by raiding so-called “dedicated” funds. These are funds set up for a specific purpose. E.g. a part of the motorcycle license fee is intended to be used for motorcycle safety training and nothing else. Democrats want to use these funds as piggy-banks to pay for all sorts of other things. Their budget authorizes the Governor to raid any and all funds as she deems appropriate.

Republicans proposed to mark just one dozen of these dedicated funds as off-limits. Money in those funds could be used only for the specific purpose for which people paid the fee, not raided for unrelated purposes. These dozen funds were intended for such purposes as: dam maintenance, the 911 system, unemployment compensation, the Land and Community Heritage Investment trust Program (LCHIP), and search and rescue. Fifteen Democrats crossed over to vote with the unanimous Republicans but they fell just one vote shy.

Other amendments would have deleted the three increases in business taxes, deleted the increased license fee for saltwater fishing, reduced the 30 cent increase in the cigarette tax to 20 cents. Republicans were concerned that such a large increase in the cigarette tax would hurt small businesses near the borders where people from neighboring states come to save money. Republicans almost unanimously voted for lower taxes and fees; Democrats almost unanimously voted for higher taxes and fees.

It should be no surprise to anybody that the Democrats have new taxes, higher taxes and fees, and that they have much higher spending. It is mildly surprising that they have absolutely no new spending on roads and bridges. They sold the new gas tax on the basis that it was needed to repair our crumbling infrastructure. But their budget actually spends LESS on the department of Transportation than last year’s budget spent. It’s almost as if the Democrats didn’t really believe their own talking points.

Down in Concord

“Politicians and diapers have one thing in common: they should both be changed regularly… and for the same reason.” — unknown

Last week the House finished all of its bills except for the three big budget bills. Two bills, HB 135 and HB 617, received lengthy debate as expected.

By a narrow margin of 189-184, the House passed HB 135, restricting the right to defend self, family, and community against deadly force. Sullivan County Republicans Grenier, Rollins, and Smith voted to protect your rights; Democrats Cloutier, Gagnon, Gottling, Irwin, Lefebvre, O’Hearn, Schmidt, and Sweeney voted to restrict your rights.

HB 617, increasing the gas tax by 67% – the largest tax increase in state history – was passed on a mostly party-line vote. Both sides agreed that we should spend more money on roads and bridges. Republicans argued that the Highway Fund has more than enough money if we would simply spend it on actual highways rather than diverting one-third of it to agencies that have nothing to do with constructing and maintaining our highways. Every Sullivan County Democrat voted for the tax increase. Republicans Rollins and Smith voted against the tax increase.

The House has finished all but three of its bills. Those three are the big budget bills, HB 1 and HB 2, which deal with the operating budget, and HB 25, which does the capital budget. When I say “big” I mean both literally and figuratively – HB 1 is about 800 pages long. Total appropriations are more than $11 billion, or 10.2% higher than the current budget.

The operating budget is divided into two parts. HB 1 is a giant spreadsheet. (As of this writing it is available only as a PDF file. Later it will be downloadable as an Excel file.) If you suffer from insomnia, trying to read all of those numbers should put you to sleep. By contrast, HB 2 is lots of words. It has changes to the law to allow money to be spent the way HB 1 says.

Current law may say one thing about how money is to be spent, but if the budget writers want to spend it differently, they just add a section to HB 2 to make it legal for them to break the law. A typical example is Sec. 2, which states “Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, … revenue sharing with cities and towns shall be suspended for the biennium”. The word “suspend” appears 23 times in HB 2; “notwithstanding” appears 44 times.

When debating HB 617, the massive gas tax increase, Democrats promised that all the new money would go to roads and bridges. The proposed HB 2 budget bill illustrates how easily the budget writers can break a promise. They just add a short paragraph saying that a section of law is suspended for the biennium.

Interestingly, the proposed budget does not spend any more money on roads and bridges. In fact, it spends LESS. The  department of Transportation (DOT) portion of the Highway Fund is reduced from $222 million in the current budget down to $192 million in the proposed budget. Total DOT spending from all funds is down from $567 million this year to less than $551 million next year. Yes, that’s right. After telling us how important it is to spend more money on roads and bridges, they propose to spend less money in their new budget. Tell me again why taxpayers have to cough up MORE money for the new gas tax, when the Democrats plan to spend LESS money. More and more it appears that they want the new gas tax not to improve our highway infrastructure, but to pay for all sorts of other programs.

There is (at least) one other way the budget writers break past promises. They grab money that was promised to be used for a specific purpose. Within state government there are hundreds of programs that collect fees to pay for particular activities. These moneys are supposedly dedicated to a particular purpose separate from all other general government activities. One prominent example is the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP). A $25 fee on mortgage transactions is intended to fund land and historic conservation. For five years, when money was tight, that money was moved out of the dedicated fund to the general fund to balance the budget.

Two years ago, the budget writers had the decency to transparently specify in the budget that they were taking money from LCHIP for the general fund. This year the budgeteers don’t say what dedicated funds they will raid. They delegate to the governor authority to choose which funds to raid to come up with $22 million to “balance” the budget.

The new budget was passed by the House Finance Committee just two days ago. It has been visible to the public for not much more than one day. As people have more time to scrutinize, no doubt we will learn even more troubling details.

The Finance Committee will hold a public briefing on the two big budget bills. I don’t want to suggest that their budget is a joke but the briefing is on April Fools’ Day.

On April 3rd, the full House will vote on these three budget bills, then during the next two months the Senate will amend – perhaps extensively – the House budget.

Massive new gas tax not needed

The claim by Reps. Carson et al. (letter, March 19) that their votes for an 83% increase in the gas tax were necessary to fix our deteriorating infrastructure is just plain wrong.

Oh, their intentions are good – my town of Sunapee could dearly use more money for roads – but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The bill they voted for does not do what they say it will.

The fact is that HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. Their rhetoric simply does not match reality.

Their massive tax increase does not mean there will be an increase in spending on roads and bridges. The budget writers can always find a way to divert money elsewhere. The proposed budget actually diverts $28 million away from the department of Transportation (DOT). When their budget spends LESS money on roads and bridges, why should struggling taxpayers put MORE money into the highway fund?

There is an alternative, a way to send more money to towns and cities, and to spend more money on roads and bridges, without a huge tax increase. The first step is the budget writers should stop diverting money away from DOT. Before taxpayers are forced to spend a dime more on new taxes, make sure the old taxes are spent the right way.

The Highway Fund collects more than $270 million per year via the current gas tax and vehicle registration fees. That would be more than enough money to maintain and improve our highway infrastructure if it were all spent on actual highways. The problem is that a full $80 million per year is siphoned off and spent on things that have nothing to do with building or maintaining roads and bridges.

The proposed budget allocates just 67% of the Highway Fund to the DOT. (Current law says that “no less than 73%” should go to DOT, but budget writers simply change the law when they want money to go somewhere else. That is exactly what they could do with the new gas tax despite promises to the contrary.)

Without raising the gas tax a penny, instead by reallocating and prioritizing spending, the legislature could raise more money for roads and bridges. The legislature should increase the DOT’s allocation of existing highway money to 80%, 90%, or a full 100%.

Currently, $30 million goes in block grants to towns and cities. The legislature could increase that amount to $35 million. That would actually be more money to municipalities than the new gas tax would produce.

Those two changes – dedicating Highway Fund expenditures to actual highways, not diverting to other agencies, and increasing the block grants to localities – those two changes would provide more money for roads and bridges than the new gas tax would. There is simply no need for higher taxes.

But what about all those other agencies currently funded with gas tax money? They are a little more than 1% of the whole budget. Let them find money in the rest of the budget. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending.

The new tax lets our legislators avoid making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. If they won’t cut other spending then the net effect of new taxes is to provide more money for low priority items.

(Printed in InterTown Record, April 2, 2013.)

The economy still stinks

Mort Zuckerman has the numbers and a good line: “What the administration gives us is politics. What the country needs are constructive strategies free of ideology.”

February’s unemployment rate was reported as 7.7%, but that is misleading:

  • the number unemployed for six months or longer went up by 89,000
  • the average duration of unemployment increased by 1.6 weeks
  • the percentage of people in the workforce dropped to its lowest in 30 years

The economy grew by only 1.5% in 2012. The total growth for the last three years is the slowest recovery in 70 years.

Obama’s 2% increase in payroll taxes will take about $110 billion out of worker’s pockets. His health care taxes will take another $30 billion.

Down in Concord

“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” — Frederic Bastiat

Bastiat’s maxim was on display at the regional public hearing in Claremont last Monday (March 18). With a few exceptions, the participants were saying, “Please government, take money from everyone else so that my favorite program might live.” Sooner or later, they might understand another Bastiat quote: “People are beginning to realize that the apparatus of government is costly. But what they do not know is that the burden falls inevitably on them.”

At the hearing, I spoke against the new gas tax. I did not speak well, but apparently people did understand that I oppose the massive increase in the gas tax because the existing highway funds would be enough if even 83%, not to mention 100%, of the highway funds were dedicated to roads and bridges instead of having a full one-third diverted to things that have nothing to do with building and maintaining our road system.

The House began the year with 604 bills. To date, 234 have been killed, 207 were passed and will go to the Senate, 127 were retained in committees for more work in the Spring and Fall. The House will vote on 32 bills next week. The three big budget bills and a related resolution are still being drafted. The committees will make their budget recommendations by Thursday next week for floor action on April 4.

Last week the House met in session on both Wednesday and Thursday to act on 69 bills. It killed some good bills and some bad bills, passed some good bills and some bad bills. Most bills are fairly innocuous and of little interest to most people. There were three bills (at least) that many people might find interesting. The House killed HB 665, a casino gambling bill, by a bipartisan 4-1 vote. It passed HB 573, medical marijuana, by a similar bipartisan vote. By a smaller, but still bipartisan, 3-2 margin, the House passed HB 621, making possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana a violation instead of a misdemeanor.

Next week the House will vote on 32 bills. Many of these bills went to a first committee, then passed the House, and were referred to a second committee. Having passed the House once already, they likely will pass the House when they come back for a second vote.

One bill that no doubt will be debated is HB 135, requiring would-be victims to try to retreat from an assailant before they are allowed to use a weapon to defend themselves, their families, or their community. There have been many instances of an armed civilian stopping a gun massacre before it became a massacre. If they had retreated to save themselves, those incidents would have turned into full-blown massacres. E.g. a woman in church killed a shooter who was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammo. Under HB 135, she would have had to escape to safety instead of using her handgun to save the lives of dozens of church-goers.

Another bill to be debated is HB 617, the largest tax increase in state history. Republicans will oppose it as unnecessary; we should just stop diverting $80 million each year away from the department of Transportation (DOT). Before the House takes even more money from struggling taxpayers it should ensure that the existing gas tax is used almost entirely for roads and bridges and not spent on agencies that have nothing to do with building and fixing our highways.

Proponents of this massive tax hike claim that we need it to fix our “crumbling” infrastructure. But HB 617 won’t repair a single bridge nor pave a single mile of road. It does not spend a dime on roads and bridges. It is a taxing bill, not a spending bill. With their arguments they are trying to tie together taxes and spending but the two are separate. The legislature could spend the exact same amount on roads and bridges with or without HB 617. For instance, they could allocate 100% of the highway fund to DOT, and that would actually put more money into DOT than the new gas tax would.

Conversely, the legislature could raise this new tax, and still not spend a dime extra on roads and bridges. Even if they keep their promise to put all the new money into roads and bridges, they could divert all the old money into state police and courts, welcome centers, etc.

Even if people favor the new spending, that does not mean we should accept the new taxes. If roads and highways are high priority, that means that something else must be lower priority. Let them cut lower priority spending – e.g. send less money to rich faculty and administrators in the university system.

The new tax lets them get away without making the hard choices as to which items are higher/lower priority. The net effect of a new tax will be more money available for low priority items.

And finally, the House Finance Committee will hold a budget briefing on the two big budget bills. I don’t want to suggest that the budget will be a joke but the briefing is on Monday, April 1st.

Down in Concord

“You have to have a sense of humor if you follow politics. Otherwise, the sheer fraudulence of it all will get you down.” — Thomas Sowell

This series of columns began with a quote usually attributed to Mark Twain: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” It turns out that Twain may have used the phrase but the original author is Judge Gideon J. Tucker.

In any event the quote is just as true today as it was 150 years ago. And next week the New Hampshire General Court (the official name of our legislature) is in session two days rather than the usual one. At this time of the year, the House and Senate have had public hearings on almost every bill – the exceptions are mostly budget-related bills – and the committees have voted and made recommendations. Now the full House (and Senate) votes on the committee recommendations.

Interestingly (at least to political nerds such as myself) this week there are multiple instances of committees failing to make recommendations. On five bills, the committee could not reach agreement – there was a tie vote. Clearly, the votes were at least partly non-partisan. It will be interesting to see if the full House votes will be partisan or will be mixed.

My goal with these columns has been to do something a bit different. Many columns, newsletters, and articles will tell you some of what the legislature did do last week in Concord. I want to tell you more about what it will do next week, and tell you early enough that you can affect the outcome by appearing at public hearings or contacting your representatives.

This week I can’t do much of that because the usual stuff is not happening down in Concord. There are practically no public hearings, and very few committee meetings. Your voice has the greatest impact early on. By now it is harder to change minds. Oh, there may be some close votes where contacting your representatives could affect the outcome. More likely, you will hear explanations as to why they have decided to vote the way they will.

“Practically” no public hearings. As it happens there is one important public hearing next week – and it is right in Claremont. The House Finance Committee is holding a regional public hearing Monday, March 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, 111 South Street. I plan to attend and to testify against the proposed 83% increase in the gas tax.

The Governor’s proposed budget takes money away from roads and bridges at the same time Democrat legislators say we need to spend more money on roads and bridges. They propose to increase the gas tax 83%.

Hey, if they are going to spend LESS money on roads and bridges, why do they need MORE money from struggling taxpayers?

The Democrats’ proposed budget takes $28 million away from the dept. of Transportation (DOT), where it could be used to fix roads and bridges.

Under current law, 73% of the Highway Fund – money we already pay in the form of gas taxes and vehicle registrations – is supposed to go to the  DOT. The Democrats’ budget sends only 67% of highway money to the DOT. Money that should go to constructing and maintaining roads and bridges instead goes to the dept. of Safety, i.e. the State Police.

If the law says that 73% of the Highway Fund is supposed to go to the DOT, how can the Governor break the law and send only 67% to the DOT? The answer is that the budget writers will pass a law that says that it is okay to break the law. That is the kind of thing that sneaky legislatures do year after year to let them spend money the way they want to even if the law says spend it a different way.

Democrat proponents of the 83% increase in the gas tax say that all of the new money will go to roads and bridges. But that is a shell game. Even if they keep their promise about the new money, we see that they are already diverting $28 million of old money. How does it help our roads and bridges to put more new money into the fund, if more of the old money is taken out of the fund to spend on state police and other agencies?

Before we let them take even more “new” money from struggling taxpayers, let’s tell them to stop diverting the “old” money away from roads and bridges. If they just obey current law and dedicate 73% of the current highway fund to roads and bridges, that would be an extra $28 million. If they dedicate 83% of the old money to the DOT, there would be no excuse for new money from their proposed 83% tax increase.

Let’s tell our Representatives to stop siphoning old gas tax money out of the Highway Fund before telling us to put new gas tax money into the fund.

That is what I plan to do on Monday, March 18 –  testify at the public hearing in Claremont. Please join me in opposing the largest tax increase in state history.

NH budget hearing in Claremont

The House Finance committee is holding five regional budget hearings. One will be in Claremont, Monday, March 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, 111 South Street, Claremont.

If you oppose the 83% increase of the gas tax then attend the hearing and say so.

If you think that the Highway Fund should be spent on actual highways, not on things that have nothing to do with fixing and maintaining roads and bridges, then go and say so.

If you think that the budget should assume realistic revenue estimates, and that it should be balanced without hypothetical casino revenue, then go and tell your Representatives.

If you want to balance out the many special interests requesting more spending for their particular programs, then show up and testify.

Testifying is easy. Hey, if I could learn to do it, then anyone can.

Down in Concord

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
— P. J. O’Rourke

Due to the cancelation of last Wednesday’s session (February 27), not much has changed since my previous column. There are very few hearings next week and none is particularly interesting.

In last week’s column I wrote about HB 617, raising the gas tax by a whopping 83%! The House will vote on 3/6 so there is time for you to contact your representatives and oppose this tax increase. They likely will respond that our roads and bridges badly need maintenance, but that answer is a non sequitur. It is not necessary to increase taxes; what is needed is to set priorities to use our existing taxes for road maintenance. The new taxes – amounting to $1 billion over the next decade – allow them to spend more money on other programs. I have more to say about the gas tax below.

Last week, I forecast that four gun bills, two bad ones, two good ones, would be recommended Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) by the committee. I have heard that is what happened although not by the numbers I guessed. The official sources do not yet show the committee report, so I can’t verify the unofficial report.

HB 544, repealing the prohibition on a state health exchange (part of Obamacare) and HB 606, relative to community rating, both had public hearings last week and are scheduled for Executive Session, Tuesday 3/5. I expect the committee Democrats to approve the bad HB 544 and to kill the good HB 606.

We still don’t know much more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget because she has not delivered her draft of HB 2, which is an essential part of the budget process. By law it was due on February 15. (Repeat.)

Due to the lighter amount of information this week, I am breaking format to include an op-ed I wrote against the gas tax.

Gas tax not needed

If Rep. Campbell and Gov. Hassan were seriously interested in finding more money for roads and bridges, they would find it right in front of their eyes, without having to dig into the pockets of struggling taxpayers. It’s right in Hassan’s budget proposal. The Highway Fund has about $241 million. Hassan’s budget allocates just 67% of that money to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The other one-third of the fund goes to things having nothing to do with constructing or maintaining roads and bridges.

Current law (RSA 9:9-b) requires that not less than 73% of Highway Funds shall be allocated to the DOT. Hassan takes only 67% – she starts out by underfunding roads and bridges, considerably below what the law requires. What the legislature and Governor should do as Step 1 is to allocate 100% of the Highway funds to the DOT. That would be a dramatic increase in money for fixing and improve our highway infrastructure. There would be no need for a massive increase – almost doubling – of the gas tax.

From the Democrats’ perspective the problem with using the Highway Fund only for highways – actually using a fund for its intended purpose – is that it removes any excuse for increasing taxes. They would have more than enough money for their stated purpose – constructing and maintaining our roads and bridges – so they would have to find some other excuse to increase taxes.

More and more it appears that Campbell’s major goal is to get more money – almost one billion dollars – in the hands of government rather than leave it in the hands of struggling taxpayers. In a now infamous letter to fellow Democrats, Campbell describes the gas tax as “the gift that keeps on giving.” The tax will provide “bonus monies” such as $658,000 annually in General Fund revenue, $1,251,000 for Fish & Game, and $593,000 for DRED/Trails. These are not appropriate recipients of gas tax money.

If Democrats truly believe that spending more money on Fish and Game and on DRED trails is a high priority, then let them work with the money currently available from hard-working taxpayers, let them show their priorities in their budget. Find lower priority items where they can reduce spending and then they can spend more on high-priority items.

The last time Democrats controlled the New Hampshire House, they greatly increased spending, then raised more than 100 taxes to pay for it. Now that they are back in charge, it seems they still want to spend more and more money, then raise taxes to pay for it. That seems to be their only tune. Many of us will be watching how they want to spend the taxpayers’ money and what priorities they set in the budget.

Obamacare raises taxes, costs jobs

“If you were looking for a textbook example of a blundering government enacting a law that raises health care costs, destroys jobs, curtails innovation and hurts patient care – you’d come up with the medical device tax,” said U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, of [Pennsylvania’s] 15th congressional district.

Are life-saving medical devices some sort of evil that warrants their own tax? Obamacare treats them that way. It imposes a 2.3% tax on revenues – not profits – of companies that make medical devices.

Already medical device firms across the country have begun laying off thousands of workers in anticipation of the added cost of the tax.

Down in Concord

“Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago.”
— Will Rogers

To date, the House has passed 50 bills – some good, some bad. It has killed 53 – some bad, some good. That leaves only about 490 House bills left to consider. And then the House will consider Senate bills and vice versa.

For legislative nerds such as myself, there was one fun outcome. HB 136 (sponsored by a Democrat) proposed to increase the pay for State Reps to attend meetings of the county convention. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government unanimously recommended in favor of this bill, and further recommended that it be placed on the Consent Calendar.

What, pray tell, is the Consent Calendar? I’m glad you asked. Every week, generally on Thursdays, the House Clerk publishes a calendar of legislative events for the following week. (You can see them at http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/house/caljourns/default.htm.) The three main sections of the calendar are the Consent Calendar, the Regular Calendar, and Committee Meetings.

Items on the Consent Calendar are considered non-controversial, not needing further debate, and are handled with a single voice vote for the entire group of items. Bills on the Regular Calendar are subject to separate debate and separate votes. Any one Representative may “pull” an item off of the Consent Calendar and have it discussed at the end of the Regular Calendar.

HB 136 was pulled off of Consent by a Representative who was not comfortable with the idea of Reps voting themselves a pay increase while voting for budget cuts in their counties. After several Reps spoke against the bill, it was defeated on a roll call of nearly 2-1 (116-228).

It is rare for a bill to be pulled from Consent, even rarer for the full House to overturn a committee recommendation. So the defeat of this bill – well deserved – was fun to see. It may be the last time that happens this year.

The House thankfully killed HB 168, which would have increased the beer tax, and killed CACR 2, which would have led to increased taxes. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it also killed CACR 1, which would have made it harder to increase taxes.

Also not surprisingly, the House killed HB 323, which would have given workers the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Should people be forced to join a union in order to work for the state government?

By a narrow margin (186-165), mostly on party lines, the House passed HB 185, which increases by 25% a tax on fuel oil. The bill now goes to a second committee, where there is a (slim) possibility the tax can be killed. Most bills go to just one committee, then to the House floor, and then if passed, to the Senate. Bills that raise or spend money go to a second committee. HB 185 first went to the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. Now that it has been approved by the full House, it goes to the Ways & Means committee, then back to the House for a second vote.

Four bills from last week’s column will get floor votes on Wednesday, February 20. HB 330, which would have allowed a county income tax almost surely will be killed. That is the only good news. HB 335, which would have blocked an increase in the tobacco tax, probably will be killed on a near party line vote. Republicans oppose a tax increase because it will particularly hurt the poor, and because it will hurt business in towns close to the borders, where neighboring states’ residents come to shop.

Democrats oppose HB 335 and oppose HB 354, which would have reduced the Business Enterprise Tax, because they think with higher tax rates they will get more money for them to spend. They don’t realize that slightly lower taxes now can encourage more businesses to open or expand in NH, thus increasing tax revenue in the future.

HB 370 would repeal school choice for lower income families. The current Education Tax Credit allows businesses to donate money to a scholarship organization, and then take a partial credit against their business taxes for their donation. The scholarships are targeted toward families with below-average income. Recipients can send their kids to a public charter school, to a different public school, or to a private or parochial school.

Democrats proposed HB 370 to repeal the Education Tax Credit. For a party that claims to believe in a woman’s right to choose, the Democrats oppose a woman’s right to choose what school to send her children to. They think the government should make that choice for her, based solely on her zip code, not on what is best for her children. They claim that the program costs money that should be spent on public schools, but the fiscal analysis shows that repealing the program will actually cost the state money.

The repeal probably will pass the House on a party line vote. If you believe in lower-income families having more choice about which school is best for their children, there is still time for you to contact your Reps and ask them to oppose this bill.

The week of February 19-22, there will be another 113 public hearings, and the House will vote on 74 more bills. Here are some of the more interesting hearings:

Tuesday, 2/19 10:30 in LOB (Legislative Office Building) room 201 – HB 617, increasing the gasoline tax and registration fees. Anyone who wants to testify can just show up and sign in, then wait your turn.

Wednesday, 2/20 9:15 LOB 102 – SB 183, repealing photo ID for voting.

Thursday 2/21 10:00 in Representatives’ Hall, HB 290 and then HB 609, both having to do with carrying firearms. They obviously expect a very large turnout to have scheduled Reps’ Hall instead of a normal LOB committee room.

HB 290 would prohibit unlicensed persons from openly carrying a pistol or revolver in a public building. The sponsors clearly don’t understand this simple truth: law-abiding citizens obey the law, criminals ignore the law. Criminals don’t openly carry weapons; they carry concealed without a license. This bill would take defensive weapons away from the good guys and do nothing to take guns away from the bad guys.

HB 609 would allow the voters of each school district to authorize licensed school employees to carry a concealed weapon on school property. We all hope that the occasion will never arise where a criminal intent on mass murder makes his way into a school, but if the unthinkable happens, would you want a licensed school employee to be able to stop the murderer? This bill does not mandate concealed weapons; it lets the voters of each district make that decision. This is local control as it should be. One other point – some bad guys will be deterred just by the thought that some adults might be armed, even if in fact nobody is actually armed.

In the coming weeks we will learn more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget. Already it is apparent that her revenue estimates are unrealistically high. Legislators will have to make some hard spending choices that she avoided making.