In the last decade, New Hampshire’s population grew at the slowest rate in a century, signaling that generations’ worth of astounding economic and cultural gains could be put at risk.

New Hampshire’s population grew by 4.5% from 2010-2020, the lowest growth rate since the state had 2.9% growth from 1910-1920. 

It marked the first time since 1920 that the state’s population growth rate has fallen below 5%.

The decline follows a 43% drop the previous decade and represents the fourth straight drop in population growth recorded by the Census. 

New Hampshire enjoyed double-digit population growth in each decade of the second half of the 20th century. But the rate began falling in the 1980s and has been in sharp decline since the 1990s.

2010-2020: 4.6%

2000-2010: 6.5%

1990-2000: 11.4%

1980-1990: 20.5%

1970-1980: 24.8%

1960-1970: 21.5%

1950-1960: 13.8%

Vermont’s population grew by just 2.8% in the last decade, down from 8.2% in the 1990s. New Hampshire is at risk of following Vermont’s path toward population stagnation. Both states already rely on immigration, rather than births, for population increase.

For decades, New Hampshire has prided itself on its pro-growth economic policies. Keeping taxes low and government small helped make our state the economic marvel of New England. Even without a large port or a cluster of elite research universities, we grew rapidly while states with better natural resources struggled. 

But New Hampshire’s focus on tax rates has left the economy vulnerable in other ares. As the state was chasing growth, local governments were trying to limit it.

Local governments have succeeded in choking off the state’s once robust population growth. That threatens the state’s economic future because the real secret to a vibrant economy is innovation, and innovation comes primarily through people sharing ideas.  

To simplify, it’s not the size of the population itself that matters as much as the size of the market. New Hampshire’s slower population growth is a problem because it is constraining the growth of the state’s economic marketplace.  

You just have to look at the help wanted signs posted everywhere to see the severity of the problem. 

“Larger markets induce more research and faster growth,” as economist Paul Romer put it.

New Hampshire has done a tremendous job stimulating increased market activity by focusing on pro-growth economic policies. But low taxes cannot be the sum of our pro-growth agenda. When creating the conditions for a vibrant marketplace, low taxes are just one factor. 

A vibrant market needs policies that allow innovation and investment, but it also needs people to do the innovating and investing. 

Local regulations that severely restrict the construction of new housing are not the only factor contributing to the state’s lower population growth, but they have played a significant role.  

Using U.S. Census data, we calculated the growth in housing units in New Hampshire in each decade going back to 1940. You can see the huge drop starting in the 1990s. 

2010-2020: 3.9%

2000-2010: 12.4%

1990-2000: 8.6%

1980-1990: 30.4%

1970-1980: 37.5%

1960-1970: 25.2%

1950-1960: 17.7%

1940-1950: 20.5%

Until the 1990s, the growth in the number of housing units was larger than the state’s population growth. In two of the last three decades, the population growth has been larger than the growth in home construction. 

That has produced a huge shortage of housing. The housing shortage is not only driving up home prices and rents. It’s constraining population growth. 

This housing shortage is reducing the supply of available workers, which is hurting the very businesses that legislators have worked so hard to help. (See all the help wanted signs.)

It’s also constraining the growth of the state’s economic market. It doesn’t do much good to help a business create a new job if, with the other hand, you make sure there’s no one around to fill the job.  

In the long run, the local regulations that have created a de facto cap on population growth will work against the tax cuts and regulatory reforms that brought us the tremendous growth of the last 70 years. 

Policymakers need to understand that creating a vibrant, innovative marketplace requires more than just keeping taxes and spending low. Artificially limiting the number of market participants shrinks the market and hurts the whole state.  

The Center for Disease Control’s plainly unconstitutional eviction moratorium, begun in the Trump administration and continued by President Biden, is much more than a presidential abandonment of the rule of law. It’s a rejection — and reversal — of the very foundation on which James Madison based all government power — private property rights. 

And the problem it’s trying to solve would be much less of a problem were it not for other government restrictions on private property. 

Government in the United States exists to protect individual rights, including the right to property. In fact, Madison believed that government itself was justified primarily for the purpose of protecting property rights. 

As Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is to “secure these rights” — the unalienable ones endowed by man’s creator. 

Madison, explaining his thinking in 1792, wrote that protecting property rights was the very foundation of government. 

“Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own.”

Madison believed that people had property rights not just in physical objects they owned, but in their ideas, their beliefs, and their labor. The Constitution secures rights to free speech and religious worship because each of us has a property right in our own conscience and our own faith. Our ideas and our thoughts are a form of property on which government can have no claim, he believed. 

Protecting these individual rights from violation by other individuals or groups was the very purpose of government, Madison wrote. And violating property rights was inherently unjust.  

“That is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.” 

The eviction moratorium is just such an arbitrary seizure. It appropriates private property for public purpose, and does so both illegally and unnecessarily. 

The federal and state governments have had other, less intrusive means of achieving the eviction moratorium’s goals. The obviously correct method is to pay landlords, not to appropriate their property. 

To this end, the federal government has made $46.55 billion in rental assistance available. Being the federal government, it has ineptly managed this aid, most of which remains undistributed. But the government can’t argue that its own bureaucratic incompetence is a justification for illegally appropriating private property. 

Today, many arguments for extending the moratorium rest primarily on leftist political theory, not public health. The idea is not that evictions will spread COVID, but that they are an evil in and of themselves because they allow people with power and money to exploit people who have less power and money. 

This, however, is Madison’s very definition of unjust government, that being one in which property “is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest.”

Whether it exists for public health or “social justice” reasons, the eviction moratorium is an unconstitutional Madisonian nightmare. 

And, as with so many government “solutions,” it is a property rights violation issued to correct a problem caused by previous property rights violations. 

America’s primary housing problem is not that the country has too many “greedy” landlords, but that the country has too few of them. 

The vast majority of landlords in the United States are not corporations, but individuals, Census Bureau data show. As the Pew Research Center put it last week:

“Landlords aren’t a homogenous group of faceless corporations. In fact, fewer than one-fifth of rental properties are owned by for-profit businesses of any kind. Most rental properties – about seven-in-ten – are owned by individuals, who typically own just one or two properties, according to 2018 census data. And landlords have complained about being unable to meet their obligations, such as mortgage payments, property taxes and repair bills, because of a falloff in rent payments.”

It’s not big companies that provide so much American rental housing, but individuals who buy or build properties for investment purposes, often to provide a retirement income. And this entrepreneurship is suppressed by government.  

For decades, local governments have systematically constrained rental housing through a variety of private property restrictions. Knowing that people left free to use their property as they see fit would voluntarily build duplexes, apartments, and small rental homes, governments nationwide have banned or severely curtailed such construction. 

From rent control laws to bans on boarding houses and accessory dwelling units, localities have intentionally discouraged people from becoming landlords. Without such property restrictions, rental housing would be much more plentiful, rents would be much lower, and landlords would much have less power over tenants. 

Competition for tenants drives prices down and services up. Limiting the supply of landlords reduces that competition, which pushes rents up and services down. 

As is often the case, a seemingly intractable problem some say can be solved only by unprecedented government intervention was in fact caused in the first place by unwise government intervention and would be largely remedied simply by removing government restrictions that created the problem in the first place. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New Hampshire last year, it’s unlikely that even the cleverest among us thought, “You know, this is going to turn people against local housing ordinances.”

Yet here we are in the summer of 2021, and housing is tied with COVID as the No. 2 concern of Granite Staters, according to a July University of New Hampshire poll. 

Granite Staters are most concerned about “jobs and the economy,” with 26% naming it their top concern, according to the July 26th poll. Ten percent of respondents cited “housing” as their top concern, tying it with COVID-19 for second place. 

That’s a five-fold increase from last July, when 2% of respondents named housing as their No. 1 concern. 

Surely this is related to the huge spike in home and rental prices that has made finding a place to live in New Hampshire feel like a Mad Max-style battle for a vanishingly scarce resource. 

Granite Staters aren’t quite donning leather outfits and fighting each other with home-made weapons over apartments and houses. Yet. But the stories from the real estate front lines aren’t pretty. Bidding wars have priced all but the best-financed families almost entirely out of the home and rental markets. 

Old timers tell stories of bygone days when high school graduates could get an apartment soon after landing their first job, and homes could be bought by people who didn’t own yachts and condos in Barbados. 

Children shake their heads, refusing to believe that such a Shangri-La ever existed. 

“Tell me, grandfather, of the time you rented an apartment without having to sell an organ on the black market.”

But the numbers don’t lie. As we noted last month, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has gone up 24% in the past five years. The median home price in New Hampshire just surpassed $400,000.

The record rise in home prices and rents has left people feeling helpless, frustrated and angry. They’re watching their housing dreams evaporate before their eyes, and they know something is wrong. They might not know what, but they sense that this wouldn’t happen in a normal market.

And they’re right. The COVID-fueled surge in demand has collided with a NIMBY-fueled housing shortage. The result has been record price increases that the market can’t correct because the numerous local ordinances that caused the shortage remain in place.

For a recently reported example, see the excellent New Hampshire Sunday News story on some of the cases taken up by the new Housing Appeals Board. 

A Francestown couple wanted to subdivide some of their own property so their children could build homes on it and all of them could live together on the family land. People have been doing this in New Hampshire since colonial times. But the town refused to approve the changes. 

The family took the case to the Housing Appeals Board, which ruled in their favor in three months. A similar case took about 20 months to go through the court system. 

Stories like this are common, and they raise serious questions about the way we regulate housing in the “Live free or die” state. When you can’t even build a home for your own children on your own land, is it really your land anymore? 

Towns increasingly act like all land belongs to the community, not to the property owners. In the Francestown case, officials wouldn’t approve the family’s proposal in part because the officials thought the land would look better with more trees. They demanded the family replace trees that had been previously — and legally — cut. 

This kind of regulatory overreach is how the state wound up with a housing shortage.

Things are so bad that housingmight be at the point where Stein’s Law kicks in. 

“If something cannot go on forever, it won’t,” economist Herb Stein mused. Housing prices cannot rise forever. At some point, people will demand solutions. We seem close to that point.

Our poll in May found that people are willing to relax local housing regulations in exchange for lower prices. A majority (51%-29%) support relaxing local regulations so developers can build more rental housing, and a plurality (45%-34%) support relaxing local regulations so developers can build more homes. 

The pandemic has exposed numerous unnecessary and harmful regulations, from prohibitions on telemedicine to bans on sidewalk dining. Local anti-housing ordinances can be added to the list. 

People want more housing, and rolling back bad ordinances is the way to get it. The only question is, who will have the political will to push for changes?  

In an unexpected twist, New Hampshire has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as the only New England state that does not allow delivery cocktails.

In Boston, Bangor and Burlington, you can order a Cuba Libre with your delivery dinner. But not in Bartlett, or anywhere else in New Hampshire.  

Dozens of states — including the rest of New England — allowed restaurants to include beer, wine and cocktails in delivery orders when COVID-19 emergency orders closed restaurant dining rooms. New Hampshire allowed beer and wine, but not cocktails. 

When emergency orders were lifted, every other New England state extended cocktail delivery until the middle of next year or later. 

Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island allow delivery cocktails through at least the first quarter of 2022. Vermont’s allowance runs through June of 2023. Connecticut’s expires in June of 2024. 

They are among 30 states that have allowed restaurants to deliver cocktails, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Fourteen states granted temporary allowances, and another 16 passed laws to make delivery permanent.

Only three states that allowed cocktails to go during the pandemic — New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — did not extend those emergency measures. 

Maybe in the next legislative session, the “Live free or die” state can catch up with the rest of New England on deregulating mixed drink delivery. 

New Hampshire’s severe housing shortage continues to drive prices to record highs and put rentals and single-family homes out of reach for many families. 

  • The median price of a two-bedroom rental in New Hampshire has risen 24% in the last five years and 43% since 2011, reaching a record high of $1,498 a month (including utilities) this year, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s annual rental survey has found. 
  • The median price of a two-bedroom rental rose 6% last year, and the price for all rentals rose 7%. 
  • In Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties, the median rent is more than $1,600 a month (including utilities). 
  • The vacancy rate for two-bedroom apartments is down to 0.6% and the rate for all units is 0.9%. (A healthy vacancy rate is around 5%.) In every county, the vacancy rate is below 1% for two-bedroom units and below 2% for all units. No New Hampshire county has had a vacancy rate above 4% for all units since 2017. 
  • The percentage of New Hampshire two-bedroom rental units considered affordable to the median-income renter household (meaning the household would spend no more than 30% of its income on rent) is just 13%.
  • Single-family home prices are also hitting records. The median home price in Rockingham County hit $509,850 in June. Statewide, it hit $409,000.
  • In 2012, homes spent an average of more than 125 days on the market. In June, homes spent an average of 18 days on the market. 
  • In 2012, there was a more than 10-month supply of inventory for single-family homes. In June, it was down to 1.2 months. 

 The state’s housing shortage is not new. It’s been a well-known problem for decades. It has persisted despite numerous state-level efforts to address it. But those efforts, often focused on housing subsidies or task forces, have made little impact. The Housing Appeals Board, the most promising recent reform, just started its work this year. And its focus is on enforcing existing laws and rules to ensure that local governments don’t overstep their legal authority.

The shortage persists, and has become worse, because it is largely a product of local regulations that restrict housing development. Local ordinances often outlaw small homes on small lots, severely restrict mixed-use development, and make it nearly impossible to build multi-family buildings even in areas where they are allowed. 

The cumulative result over many decades is a massive shortage of housing. Estimates vary, but the shortage generally is pegged at approximately 20,000 housing units. The newly formed New Hampshire Council on Housing Affordability identified a critical need for 13,500 housing units by 2024. 

Whatever the actual number is, filling the need will be no less challenging than it has been in recent decades — as long as local governments continue to needlessly restrict new home construction and deny needed developments at the urging of a handful of anti-housing activists. 

New Hampshire’s six-year run of business tax cuts should have made the state’s corporate income tax rate the second-lowest in New England. But a funny thing happened along the way. New Hampshire was joined by an unexpected rival. 

When the succession of cuts began in 2015, New Hampshire’s Business Profits Tax (BPT) rate was 8.5%, making it the third-highest corporate income tax in New England. Only Maine’s 8.93% rate and Connecticut’s 9% rate were higher. 

After the passage of the current state budget, New Hampshire’s BPT rate is down to 7.6%, a 10.5% cut in six years. (Legislators cut the Business Enterprise Tax by 27%.)

That makes New Hampshire’s rate lower than the top rate in Vermont (8.5%), Maine (8.93%) and Massachusetts (8%). 

But Connecticut, beset with fleeing businesses and a dwindling population, took measures to stop its own bleeding. It reduced its corporate income tax rate from 9% to 7.5%. 

Rhode Island’s rate has remained at 7% the entire time.

(Maine and Vermont have graduated corporate tax rates. Maine’s lowest corporate tax rate is 3.5%. Vermont’s is 6%.)

Because Connecticut lowered its corporate income tax rate by 1.5 percentage points, New Hampshire’s rate wound up moving down only one place, rather than two, among the New England states. 

This helps to illustrate an important point. States don’t act in a vacuum. 

Businesses aren’t trapped inside any jurisdiction’s borders. It’s a free country, and they can move if they find another location more hospitable. Which they sometimes do. Just ask California.

If each state could erect its own iron curtain, just imagine how high corporate and personal tax rates would be. 

But because it’s a free country, states sometimes find it in their best interest to lower rates to make themselves more attractive. 

That’s why Connecticut and New Hampshire weren’t the only places to lower corporate tax rates in the last six years. A few examples:

  • New York lowered its rate from 7.1% to 6.5%. 
  • Washington, D.C., dropped its rate from 9.4% to 8.25%. 
  • Florida cut its rate from 5.5% to 4.4%. 
  • Iowa slashed its rate from 12% to 9.8%. 
  • North Carolina cut its rate in half, from 5% to 2.5%. 

Some lawmakers prefer to ignore other states and pretend that corporate tax rates are simply a lever for raising revenue from existing businesses. Raise the lever, raise the revenue. Lower the lever, lower the revenue.

But people inside and outside a state’s borders react when those levers are raised or lowered. That’s a big reason why state tax rates change. 

This year, five states states have reduced business tax rates. Ten states have reduced individual income tax rates. The total number of states to reduce either business or individual income taxes is 11, not 15, though, as some states reduced both. 

Some notable examples:

  • Indiana decreased its corporate income tax rate from 5.25% to 4.9%
  • Idaho reduced its corporate income tax rate from 6.925% to 6.5%, retroactive to Jan. 1.

These follow numerous changes made last year, from Arkansas eliminating its top income tax bracket to Tennessee eliminating its tax on interest and dividends to New York eliminating and Illinois reducing its capital stock tax.

It’s true that some states raise rates. New Jersey added a new top corporate tax rate, going from 9% in 2015 to 11.5%. Of course, New Jersey also has earned the title of “Most Moved From State” for three years running (and it’s particularly good at losing higher-income people). In a free country, mistakes will be made. 

And in a free country, states compete for people, entrepreneurs and businesses. 

Freedom made New Hampshire an economic marvel. Recognizing that people are free to live wherever they want, state policymakers for decades have focused on making the Granite State as attractive as possible.

It has worked beautifully. New Hampshire’s economic growth has surpassed every other New England state’s, and the national average, since the late 1970s.

With a booming economy came a growing population, which has enhanced the state’s quality of life and kept New Hampshire from becoming Vermont — a dying state that pays people to move there. 

When people are free, there’s a limit to how bossy a state can be. And there are rewards for offering people more personal, political and economic autonomy. 

New Hampshire has figured this out. Other states are catching on, just as technology has made Americans more mobile than ever before.

The competition is not over. It’s just beginning. 

Since the beginning of February, unvaccinated individuals have accounted for 99% of New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases and 98% of deaths, according to state data. The numbers indicate how extremely effective vaccines have been at fighting COVID-19 in the state.

From February 1 through June 23, the state recorded 33,703 COVID-19 cases, according to the state’s Joint Information Center, part of its Emergency Operations Center. Of those, only 349 involved people who had been fully vaccinated. That’s 1.03% of the total.

During the same period, 236 people have died from COVID-19. Only five of those were fully vaccinated. That’s 2.1% of the total.

Only 15 fully vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in New Hampshire,  according to the Joint Information Center.

Because of the way the state tracks hospitalizations, an exact percentage breakdown for hospitalized patients is not possible. The state records whether a patient was hospitalized at the time the case was reported to the state, but not whether hospitalization was required later. However, the state does track how many vaccinated people have required hospitalization for COVID-19 at any point. That number has totaled only 15. 

The Joint Information Center sets February 1 as the approximate date by which Granite Staters began to become fully vaccinated. 

A University of New Hampshire poll released Thursday reports that 25% of Granite Staters say they probably or definitely will not get the vaccine. 

Among that group, 56% say they don’t believe it will be effective at stopping them from getting COVID. 

The state data show that, contrary to this view, the vaccines are highly effective at reducing the risk of infection, serious illness and death from the coronavirus. 

The state figures also are similar to national data released last week. An Associated Press analysis of COVID-19 data from May found that 99.2% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were among unvaccinated people. 

The difference between the 99% and 98% rates for New Hampshire cases and deaths, respectively, is not statistically significant, Beth Daly, chief of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said. (Dr. Daly’s comment was received after press time and was added to this story after publication.)

“The numbers are not really statistically different because you are comparing a small number (236) to a larger one (33,703).

“This is an issue of small numbers when you compare a denominator of tens of thousands to a denominator of just a few hundred. The confidence interval of 5 divided by 236 is from <1% to 5%, so the 1% observed in the calculation of 349 divided by 33,703 is not statistically nor meaningfully different from the proportion of deaths.

“To say it another way,  the proportion of vaccine breakthrough infections is statistically the same/no different from the proportion of vaccine breakthrough deaths. They are also not substantively different.”

 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear New Hampshire’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Massachusetts rule taxing non-resident remote workers. The decision puts remote workers anywhere in the world at risk of having their incomes permanently taxed by the state where their employer is located. 

“It’s hard to see a limiting principle that would restrain states from taxing remote workers going forward, particularly given the Biden administration’s brief to the court arguing that states have the authority to do that,” Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy President Andrew Cline said. 

The Biden administration argued in a brief to the court that because remote workers benefit from government services provided to their employers, a “telecommuting employee’s physical location thus need not map precisely onto the location of the governmental services needed to support that employee’s work.”

Massachusetts’ rule was intended to be temporary for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. However, six states already have permanent rules that tax the incomes of telecommuters who work from home for their own convenience. The Supreme Court’s decision to let Massachusetts’ rule stand not only keeps these rules in place, but could encourage the further expansion of remote worker taxation.

New York, Connecticut and four other states have what are known as “convenience of the employer” (COTE) rules that tax remote workers’ incomes if they work out-of-state for their own convenience, rather than out of necessity. 

Under these rules, if a remote worker has to work in another state, his or her income is not taxed. But if the worker chooses to work in another state purely for his or her personal convenience, the income is taxed. Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania had COTE rules before the pandemic. The Tax Foundation has a good COTE explainer here

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear New Hampshire’s case leaves such COTE taxation of remote workers intact. But it also has the strong potential to encourage blanket remote worker taxation under the Biden administration’s theory that states may tax any employee of a company located within their borders because state services benefit both the company and all of its employees.

The Biden administration’s brief could even prompt local governments to tax remote worker incomes. It specifically mentioned local services such as roads and fire protection as justifying the taxation of remote workers. 

Refusing to hear New Hampshire’s case does not mean that the issue is settled, Edward Zelinsky, professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City, told the Josiah Bartlett Center. 

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court would not hear this case but the Court’s denial is the beginning not the end of the process,” Zelinsky said. “It will now be necessary for individual taxpayers to start their own challenges to New York’s and Massachusetts’ unconstitutional taxation of remote workers. I am confident that these challenges will soon begin.”

Professor Zelinsky has sued New York over a similar remote taxation policy. He filed an amicus brief in New Hampshire’s case. The states of Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa and New Jersey also filed briefs supporting New Hampshire. 

Writing in March for the American Bar Association, two Louisiana attorneys argued that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on remote taxation is needed because the increasing prevalence of remote work is likely to generate more competition among states for revenues generated by the incomes of remote workers. 

“If states continue to struggle with declining tax revenues in 2021 and 2022, there will likely be even fiercer competition for those tax revenues between states where the employer and its primary offices are located and those whose residents, prior to the pandemic, regularly commuted to those states for work.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed the 2022-23 state budget that the Legislature passed on Thursday. Here are three key takeaways for those looking for a quick take on the state’s two-year spending plan. (We did a longer summary here.)

  1. TAX CUTS     With this budget’s business tax rate reductions, legislators have reduced the Business Profits Tax by 10.5% and the Business Enterprise Tax by 27% since 2015. Raising the filing threshold for the Business Enterprise Tax from $200,000 to $250,000 provides further tax relief for small businesses. These modest changes should help New Hampshire become more economically competitive. Though the state is rated as having a top ten business tax climate, it still has high corporate taxes. New Hampshire’s combined state and federal business tax burden is ranked 15th in the country by the Tax Foundation and lately has ranked higher than Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. 
  2. EDUCATION FREEDOM ACCOUNTS     The budget makes New Hampshire the 10th state to adopt an Education Savings Account program. The bill’s Education Freedom Accounts would let families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level use their state adequate education grant to open a savings account for approved educational purchases. The Josiah Bartlett Center’s analysis projects that approximately 966 students would use an EFA in its first year and 2,335 in the second year. Local school district enrollment would decline by a projected average of 2.65 students (0.8%) in the first year and 6.63 students (2%) in the second year. Taxpayers would save approximately $1.85 million in the first year and $4.8 million in the second year. 
  3. SPENDING     The budget reduces the General and Education Fund baseline spending by about $172 million, or 3.1%. Budget writers increased from 22% to 30% the portion of Meals and Rooms Tax revenue that goes to local governments and created a dedicated fund for this purpose. Reserving this $188 million in revenue for local governments makes it unavailable for state use in the future, effectively lowering General Fund baseline spending. The budget ratchets state baseline spending down a bit after a decade of spending increases.

The final House-Senate compromise added to this year’s state budget was a deal to give the Legislature more power during a declared state of emergency. This was an issue of heated debate, as many legislators thought the House and Senate needed a more active role in governing during a state of emergency. The compromise doesn’t go as far as some House members wanted, but it does enhance legislative authority in some important ways.

The Legislature’s existing emergency powers

Under existing law (RSA 4:45), both the governor and the Legislature have the power to declare a state of emergency. The Legislature can exercise this power by passing a concurrent resolution of both the House and Senate.

Once a state of emergency is in effect, the Legislature has the power to terminate it by passing a concurrent resolution in each chamber. 

One might have thought that the Legislature was powerless to act once an emergency had been declared. That is not the case. If a majority of legislators believes a state of emergency is no longer justified, or never was, it can convene and vote to end the emergency at any time. 

If the Legislature votes to end a state of emergency, the governor has the authority to declare “a new emergency for different circumstances.” That is, once the Legislature has ended a state of emergency, the governor cannot declare the same emergency for the same reasons again. Any new emergency would have to be based on “different circumstances.”

What the Legislature doesn’t have the authority to do under existing law is repeal a specific emergency order other than the emergency declaration itself. This was a big frustration for some House Republicans during the COVID-19 emergency. It also doesn’t have a process in place for reviewing states of emergency. It can convene itself at any time, but there is no calendar or schedule in place to generate periodic reviews automatically. 

Emergency powers enhanced in the budget

The Committee of Conference amendment rewrites RSA 4:45 to enhance legislative emergency powers in three specific ways.

  1. It requires the governor to notify the House and Senate of “impending” emergency orders “as soon as practicable” and to “provide a description of such orders.” This notification requirement ensures that legislative leadership will be informed prior to a declaration of emergency.  
  2. It gives the Legislature the power to terminate “any emergency order” in addition to the emergency declaration. This creates essentially a line-item veto for the Legislature. The General Court can keep a state of emergency in place but rescind any particular emergency order it doesn’t like. Currently, its only option is to repeal the state of emergency itself. Under the proposed change, legislators could partially co-manage an emergency by negotiating with the governor over the orders it would like to see. With the power to repeal any order, lawmakers would have a significantly increased say in what orders are made. 
  3. It requires the governor to call a legislative session 90 days into a state of emergency, and then every 90 days for the duration of the emergency if it lasts longer than the first 90 days. At each of these sessions, the Legislature is required to vote by concurrent resolution on whether to terminate the state of emergency. This forces a legislative vote every 90 days on whether to maintain or repeal a state of emergency.

These changes are not as comprehensive as some House members would have liked. But they elevate the General Court’s role during a state of emergency from spectator to co-manager.