Friday, March 20, 2015

Bills, Bills, Bills

The legislature is back from a week of hiatus, and they’re getting back to business. A lot of proposed bills were dealt with this week, and the committees are busy hearing more.

One of the many good things about NH is our unwillingness to frivolously amend the state constitution. Every legislative session numerous amendment bills are filed, and most of them never go anywhere. This week, the House voted that CACR 1 was inexpedient to legislate. CACR would have amended the constitution to stipulate that a 3/5-majority vote would be required to increase taxes or fees, or to authorize the issuance of state bonds.

This is model legislation, from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate funded organization for conservative legislators. ALEC drafts model legislation for its members to try to pass in their own states. CACR 1 was sponsored by Rep. Jordan Ulery, who is the NH State Chair of ALEC. ALEC’s goal seems to be to ensure that taxes are not raised and state legislatures are hamstrung. It is telling that Rep. Ulery couldn’t muster up a single co-sponsor for his bill.

The House voted down HB 350, which would have created a commission to study the impact of the property tax on NH residents, businesses, municipalities, and the economy. The commission would have written a report. Just a report. A non-binding report.

 The very idea of this commission was so frightening to the Republican majority that they voted against it 213-143. This is the same party that thinks that eliminating collective bargaining and business taxes is going to entice companies to move to NH. Companies thinking of locating here will be bringing employees – employees who will be interested in the cost of housing, property taxes, and education. NH has the 11th highest housing costs in the country. That the property tax might be a deterrent is apparently not worthy of consideration, especially if you’ve been beating the wrong drum hard and loud for decades. All of our local Republican state representatives voted against the commission.  

Republicans do have a long-standing resentment against education in all forms, but especially public education, and perhaps that’s why the idea of a STUDY was so abhorrent. HB 302, a bill to require a public hearing prior to the submission of a grant application by the Dept. of Education was also defeated. The goal was clearly to make life more difficult for the Dept. of Education by forcing them to bow and scrape before the legislature before they could go about their business.

HB 438, a bill to exempt proprietorships from taxation under the business profits tax was defeated soundly, in a roll call vote of 254-54. This bill would have cost the state an estimated $17 million in revenue next year.

A number of bills attempting to make voting easier or more difficult will be dealt with this year. HB 627 is a bill to eliminate same day voter registration. The bill stipulated that voters could register at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Dept. of Education. This would have undoubtedly been a real treat for the perennially underfunded and understaffed agencies, but the bill went down in flames. HB 185, an attempt to bring back straight ticket voting was also defeated. The supporters of this bill said that filling in a whole ballot was too difficult and time consuming. HB 652, a messy and confusing bill, would prohibit undeclared voters from returning to undeclared status after an election. It was defeated.

The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has voted to retain HB 582, a bill to eliminate the concealed carry permit for a pistol or revolver. The committee wants to further study the issue. The Senate recently passed a bill repealing the requirement for a concealed carry permit. Non-residents pay a $100 fee for a permit, so it is estimated that this will cost the state nearly a million dollars in annual revenue. Supporters of these bills tell us that NH is one of the safest states, which is why we need this bill. NH has required a permit for 90 years (since 1923), and somehow managed to become one of the safest states. The MOAR GUNZ crowd isn’t big on logic. My other favorite is “criminals won’t obey the law.” If that’s the case, why should we have any laws?

SB 30, a bill to provide state backing for a $28 million loan to the developers of the Balsams has been retained in committee for further study. There is some question about the financing of the project.

Developer Les Otten had an independent economic impact study done that is worth reading. We would all like to see the Balsams open again, creating jobs for people in Coos County. It’s a landmark, it’s part of our history, and we want it brought back. The plans, however, are a mite grandiose.

The study generates some fanciful expectations, like the idea that wealthy people will buy 50 percent of the residential units and relocate to the area. The plans for the Balsams are lovely, but anyone who thinks that the wealthy will be dying to move to a place where there is one bad road and questionable telecommunications access and infrastructure is living in fantasy land.

I encourage readers to go to the House on a Wednesday and observe the voting session. Many voters seem to vote purely on the basis of partisan affiliation. Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to what their elected officials do in Concord, or how they behave in the House chamber. It is an eye opening experience for anyone who hasn’t been there.

The NH General Court website is a treasure trove of information. You can look up legislators, look up bills, read the House and Senate calendars to see what’s coming up for a vote and what bills will be in committee during the upcoming week. Both the House and Senate voting sessions are live streamed for both audio and video. The chances are excellent that you’ll get the audio. The video, not so much.

As spring approaches, so does work on the budget for this biennium. This is something that will affect us all – so we should all be paying attention.  


Anonymous said...

Great piece again Susan, many thanks. Also, thanks for the link and you are correct, for us NH'ites this is a vital site for all information. I moved up here many years ago from RI and found it cheaper, property taxes and all. I always tell people, that everything in our world is relative. In other words, what we think is exorbitant in property taxes is counterbalanced by other less expensive costs to us citizens. Life here is still much cheaper than states like MA, RI, CT and NY. Even ME has some very high taxes and many Mainers tell me it is not a cheap state to live in. We must pay our way wherever we live in our world and there are things as individuals we can do to lessen our dollar output such as living more frugally, not buying so many high priced toys, vacations etc. and paying attention to quality of life and being good citizens rather than being consumers.

Anonymous said...

Though doubtless very sincere, the things claimed by Anonymous, are best presented with statistics not personal feeling and anecdotes. Here's one I like, in NH about 62% of the expense of government is supported by property taxes. With the elderly, lacking income, this makes a hugely unfair burden. One critical side effect here is that any attempt to raise any taxes causes squealing and gnashing of teeth from the most pained group. It is thought that we have no income tax but that is actually false. If you are retired, most of your income comes as dividends and interest, both of which are taxed in an ultimately non-progressive way.