Rising gas prices have prompted calls for a state gas tax holiday. Though a gas tax holiday would provide some immediate relief from high prices, the cost would have to be paid later, possibly through higher taxes or deteriorating road conditions. 

In New Hampshire, the gas tax is not a general tax. It’s a user fee. Part 2, Article 6-a of the New Hampshire Constitution requires that it be used exclusively for road construction and maintenance.

State gas tax revenues have not kept up with inflation this century. In the fiscal year ending in June of 2000, total unrestricted gas tax revenues were $116 million. That would equal $182 million in 2021 dollars. But in FY 2009, unrestricted gas tax revenues were $131.6  million before falling back to $116.5 million in FY 2021. 

While the state’s population grew by 13% since 2000, gas tax revenues have remained essentially flat in nominal terms and have fallen in real terms. 

Because the gas tax is a user fee, a holiday would stop charging people for use of the public roads for its duration. But it wouldn’t stop the wear and tear on the roads. If that funding is not made up later, the state would have to forego repairs and maintenance, replace the lost revenue with higher taxes or transfers from somewhere else, or find some way to reduce costs. 

Given current inflation, it’s not clear how the DOT would reduce costs, leaving the other two options as the most likely long-term effects of a gas tax holiday. 

Legislators have floated the revenue transfer idea. But two proposals to do that were rejected this week in the House Finance Committee. The first would have had motorists fill out a rebate form to receive checks from the state. Motorists would have had to keep their gas receipts. 

The costs of administering that scheme prompted the amendment to be replaced with a plan to send every owner of a registered motor vehicle a $25 check for each vehicle. The cost was estimated at $40 million. The money would come from the general fund, not the highway fund, so it wouldn’t be a gas tax rebate. It would simply be a check from the state to help people cover the cost of paying for fuel. 

At this week’s prices, $25 wouldn’t cover even half the cost of filling a 12-gallon gas tank.

Such one-time tax rebates are not good tax policy. They don’t have the kind of stimulating effects that tax rate cuts do. 

“The tax code should not be used like an appropriations bill to dole out benefits, effectively putting a chicken in every pot,’” as the Tax Foundation put it in a 2001 policy brief. “The primary purpose of the tax system is to raise revenue, not to micromanage the economy with subsidies. It should create a level playing field in which individual and business decisions are made to achieve the best economic outcomes.”

In this case, the general fund should not be used to dole out benefits. It should pay for necessary public services. 

If the state has a surplus of federal COVID money or other one-time revenues, it would best be used to cover state obligations that are difficult to cover with recurring revenues, such as reducing the shortfall in the state pension system. 

If the state has an ongoing surplus of recurring revenues, it should consider another tax rate cut.

As the Tax Foundation has pointed out regarding a federal gas tax holiday, it would do nothing to change the underlying causes of gas price increases and could create other problems.

Though it sounds like a nice way to give consumers some short-term relief, a gas tax holiday is not sound policy.  

Republicans in the Legislature are pushing to lower New Hampshire’s Business Profits Tax by one tenth of one percentage point, from 7.6% to 7.5%. This tiny change would make New Hampshire’s rate the same as Connecticut’s. We would then be tied for the second-lowest top corporate tax rate in New England. (Rhode Island’s rate is 7%. Maine and Vermont have graduated corporate tax rates.)

But of course, there’s a fight over it.

 

New England Top Corporate Tax Rates

Maine: 8.93%

Vermont: 8.5%

Massachusetts: 8.0%

New Hampshire: 7.6%

Connecticut: 7.5%

Rhode Island: 7%

 

Democrats oppose the rate cut, saying it would cost the state $8.5 million a year. That number comes from the Legislative Budget Assistant’s (LBA) fiscal note on House Bill 1221, the bill to reduce the rate.

That’s a tiny amount in the $13.5 billion state budget. It’s also probably wrong, as the LBA doesn’t measure the impact tax reductions will have on human behavior. The office simply calculates the reduction in revenue based on the assumption that a lower rate will automatically bring in less money. 

As we’ve pointed out, the business tax rate cuts implemented since 2015 have not reduced state revenue, as the LBA had predicted. 

“In 2017, the Office of Legislative Budget Assistant projected that the additional business tax rate reductions passed in 2017 would cause an $11 million reduction in business tax revenues in FY 2019. Business tax revenues came in $151.6 million above plan that year.”

Even if the 0.1% rate cut allowed businesses to keep an additional $8.5 million a year of their own money, the state would hardly notice. It’s awash in business tax receipts it didn’t plan to have.

As we reported in January, business tax revenues surpassed budgeted amounts by $649.6 million from the 2012-2021 fiscal years. 

So far this fiscal year, business tax revenues are $91.5 million (18.5%) above plan and $121.3 million (26.2%) above the prior fiscal year. 

The other talking point used against the proposed cut is that it will benefit only, or primarily, out-of-state corporations. That’s misleading.

New Hampshire has a single, flat Business Profits Tax rate. All businesses that pay taxes pay the same 7.6% rate. That includes everyone from the mom-and-pop store to Walmart, Target and BAE Systems. 

As of this tax year, any business with gross income of at least $92,000 pays the tax. (Prior to this year, the threshold was $50,000.)

There were 170,000 registered businesses in good standing in New Hampshire in 2019, and 76.3% of them paid no BPT. That’s by design. (The number will increase this year, as the filing threshold was nearly doubled.)

Democrats claim that BPT rate cuts are for “out-of-state corporations” because businesses with headquarters outside New Hampshire pay 60% of all BPT taxes collected. What they don’t say is that those companies represent a very small portion of all BPT-filing businesses in New Hampshire. 

Out-of-state companies made up only 5.7% of BPT filers in 2019, according to the state Department of Revenue Administration’s 2021 annual report. So 94.3% of companies that made a Business Profits Tax filing were based in New Hampshire.

We asked the DRA to break down the numbers by payers instead of filers, as some filers don’t have a tax liability. These previously unpublished numbers show that New Hampshire companies make up the vast majority of BPT payers.

Out-of-state corporations made up only 10.6% of BPT payers in 2019. The remaining 89.4% of businesses that paid BPT in 2019 were New Hampshire-based businesses.

And many of them are small businesses. Proprietorships, which are defined by the state as any unincorporated business owned by an individual, paid only 3.6% of BPT revenue collected in 2019 but made up 20.1% of BPT payers. Partnerships made up another 19.6%, fiduciaries 1.7%, and corporations rounded out the rest at 48%.

Contrary to the opponents’ talking points, just shy of 90% of the businesses that would benefit from a BPT tax cut are headquartered in New Hampshire.  

New Hampshire-based businesses pay a smaller share of the total amount collected because they’re smaller companies with relatively smaller profits. But because they’re smaller, rate cutes can be more meaningful to them than to large national or multi-national businesses.

This tax cut would move New Hampshire into a tie for the second-lowest top corporate tax rate in New England. And it would do so at little to no cost. It’s kind of surprising there’s even a fight about it.

In a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine, Gov. Chris Sununu has ordered all Russian booze removed from the shelves of New Hampshire’s state liquor stores. No more of Vlad’s vodka for you. 

When it comes to state-run liquor stores, the government has total control over not only the products, but the layout, location, design, staffing and all other details. What might surprise Granite Staters is just how much the government controls such matters among food and beverage options in the private market as well. 

The commercial and cultural landscape in which we operate everyday is shaped in powerful ways by government regulations. A quick look at two popular trends of recent years helps show how.

Not long ago, New Hampshire had no small craft breweries. It wasn’t because New Englanders were hostile to locally made beer. Vermont had a nationally renowned craft brew culture for decades. New Hampshire lagged behind because outdated state laws did not allow small breweries here. 

After laws were changed several times to allow smaller and smaller brewing operations, craft breweries exploded across the state. But breweries are still constrained by absurd regulations. 

For instance, breweries classified as “beverage manufacturers” rather than “brew pubs” may not operate their own restaurants. They may only contract with third-party vendors for food, including food prepared and served on-site. 

Beverage manufacturers may sell beer samples on-site. But brewery owners say state regulators require them to use separate points of sale for those samples. Because beer served for drinking on-site is a “prepared food,” it is subject to the rooms and meals tax. Beer served in cans and bottles for consumption off-site is not. So regulators have required breweries to sell these items at two different cash registers, brewers say. 

House Bill 1556, introduced by Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, would end this absurdity by letting breweries sell samples at the same register where customers buy bottles and cans. 

And beverage manufacturers may operate one — and only one — off-site retail outlet. That outlet must be able to produce beer. House Bill 1039, introduced by Rep. John Hunt, R-Ringe, would remove the production requirement so the retail outlet could be a simple store. 

Food trucks are popular partners for local breweries. They attract customers without the brewery having to open its own restaurant. (And beverage manufacturers use them to comply with the law requiring third-party food vending.) But regulations make it hard for food trucks to operate in New Hampshire.

As gourmet food trucks have emerged in cities across America, the trend has faltered in New Hampshire because of the way food trucks are regulated here.

The whole point of food trucks is that they’re mobile and can go where the customers are. But food truck owners who want to roll between, say, Portsmouth, Concord, Manchester and Nashua have to pay to be licensed in each municipality. 

That means paying multiple municipalities to conduct similar health and safety inspections. Then, once in town, another set of location restrictions dictates where, when, and how food trucks are allowed to operate. 

House Bill 1595, introduced by Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, would improve this system by creating a single state-wide food truck license issued by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Municipalities would still get to use zoning and other ordinances to dictate where, when, and how food trucks can operate. But health and safety inspections and licensure would move to the state level.

In response to increased food truck demand, other states have begun passing similar laws. Rhode Island, Washington and Arizona have state-level food truck licensure.

HB 1595 would add New Hampshire to the short but growing list of states that have food truck freedom. But the bill received an “Inexpedient to Legislate” (kill) recommendation from the House Commerce Committee. 

Among committee members’ stated reasons for opposing the bill is that it would take revenue from municipalities and add a small cost (for a single staffer) at the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

New Hampshire has 175 licensed food trucks, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. A state food truck license would reduce financial and paperwork burdens, resulting in more food trucks. That would help our rapidly aging state attract more young people, and help our businesses attract more employees during this severe labor shortage.

But that probably won’t happen this year because some legislators think maintaining local food truck licensing revenue is more important than stimulating entrepreneurship and improving the quality of life of Granite Staters. 

Given the choice between losing a few thousand dollars in local licensing revenue (not remotely enough to trigger tax increases), or gaining more taco trucks, we’re pretty sure the vast majority of Granite Staters would go with the taco trucks.

This summer, when you wish there were more food trucks in New Hampshire, or that you could have fresh chili on the hot dog you just bought from that push cart vendor (sorry, it has to be pre-made chili in a single-serving package), you’ll know that it’s not because people don’t want to provide you that service. It’s because regulations make it harder than necessary for them to do it. 

 

The great P.J. O’Rourke vacated the premises last week. 

He should’ve whizzed through the pearly gates at the wheel of a red Italian sports car in excess of whatever Heaven’s speed limit is. (Is it really Heaven if it has speed limits?) 

But the glorious, glamorous exit was not to be. It was just a run-of-the-mill, regular guy way to go. Cancer.  

Lung cancer’s death rate has fallen by nearly half since 1992. But that wasn’t fast enough. And, sadly, you can’t outrun cancer in a Ferrari 308GTS, though P.J. tried. 

Writing funny is hard. That’s why the humor section of the local bookstore could fit on the first shelf of the first case in the philosophy section. You really think Americans want to buy 10 times more philosophy books than joke books? Have you ever met an American? 

Americans love humor. But there aren’t enough good humorists to satisfy the demand. P.J. was the best of the best, and he made it look easy, the way Stephen Curry makes hitting threes look easy. 

His obituaries in mainstream publications called him conservative or libertarian, as if that were what made him stand out. Funny how they never label left-wing humorists or comics left-wing. 

What made P.J.’s work stand out is that it could be placed with honesty, rather than irony, in both the humor and philosophy (or at least current events) sections of the bookstore.

Gandalf wasn’t a conjurer of cheap tricks, and P.J. wasn’t a teller of cheap jokes. He was a serious ponderer of big ideas who happened to be consistently, genuinely ROFL funny. Unlike some who wrote about big ideas in earnest, he actually understood them. 

“Parliament of Whores” and “All The Trouble In The World” and so many others are classics not just because they’re funny, but because they’re true. P.J. did his homework. He didn’t crack jokes from the comfy chair in his beloved old farmhouse. He actually went places and talked to people and reported facts and read important books.

When he distilled the essence of American libertarianism with the witticism that “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys,” it wasn’t a cheap laugh. It carried the punch of a well-placed shot from the U.S.S. Louisiana. 

Thumbing the pages of some of his books last week, I realized that it wasn’t through college textbooks that I was introduced to a lot of the great economic and political thinking of the last three centuries. It was through P.J.

Reason magazine dubbed him history’s greatest popularizer of libertarian ideas, and that’s probably right. 

He believed in the dignity of the human individual, even the ones that are fat, drunk and stupid. (Especially the ones that are drunk.) He believed that government always and forever must work for the people. He once said his ideal government would function like jury duty. It would be run by regular folks who didn’t really want to be there and couldn’t wait to get back to their lives. 

That affection for the little guy is why his writing resonated with so many people, even those who didn’t share his distaste for government and the political class. At the core of O’Rourkeism was an enduring allegiance to the sovereign individual, along with a burning disdain for anyone who would presume to rule people rather than represent them.

He lived those beliefs, too. Though he was the coolest, most popular right-of-center writer of his era, a genuine star, he interacted with everyone as though he were just a middle-class barfly from Toledo. 

Being a good, free-market-loving Granite Stater, P.J. got involved with the Josiah Bartlett Center, for which we were always deeply grateful. He spoke at two of our events and lent his name to our fund-raising efforts. He didn’t have to do that. We’re not sure how he even had time to do that. But he thought it was important, so he lent a hand. That’s the kind of guy he was.

The world would be a better place were all humorists as funny, all citizens as public-spirited, and all voters as wise as P.J. O’Rourke. Human nature won’t allow for such a world. But thanks to P.J., the world we have is a little more fun, a little kinder, a little smarter, and a little more tolerant. And really not very much drunker. 

P.J.’s columns at The Atlantic

Car & Driver’s obituary

Matt Labash’s tribute

John Podhoretz’s tribute

Kyle Smith’s tribute

Matthew Continetti’s tribute

New Hampshire’s severe housing shortage was decades in the making. Like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey, local governments gradually tightened zoning restrictions to the point that they began choking off the lifeblood of communities.

A shrinking supply of new homes and apartments has contributed to the state’s slowing population growth rates and dwindling school populations. And it has driven housing prices to record highs.

From 2011-2021, the median home price in New Hampshire rose by 96% (NH Association of Realtors). From 2016-2021, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment rose 24%.

As this was happening, housing policy remained largely the domain of our fellow policy wonks such as the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority and the New Hampshire Association of Realtors. Like them, the Josiah Bartlett Center has written about the growing mismatch between housing supply and demand for years. 

As we head into 2022, it’s clear that this has changed. This month, the housing crisis had a cultural breakthrough at long last. It is one of the biggest topics of conversation in New Hampshire. 

Housing is officially having “a moment.”

  • Polls from the UNH Survey Center have shown housing to rank among the top three issues with New Hampshire voters for two years in a row.
  • Though home prices and rents have been rising for decades, the rapid increases of the last two years have attracted the attention of journalists. The housing shortage now has easily identifiable middle-class victims, and that has generated a steady supply of human interest stories focusing on the economic hardships caused by the price spikes.
  • The Granite State News Collaborative’s “Invisible walls” investigative series into New Hampshire’s history of exclusionary zoning has been picked up by multiple media outlets throughout the state. Data journalist Johnny Bassett has shown how local zoning ordinances shaped communities in profound ways, creating hardships for lower-income families. 
  • Housing is such a hot topic of conversation that legislators are acting. Lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills this session to address housing issues. Those include proposals to restrict local zoning powers, allow short-term rentals, and create a separate housing court similar to the state’s family court. 
  • Leaders in municipalities that had long been considered hostile to new development — such as Portsmouth, Nashua and Manchester — have begun touting how many new housing units their communities have approved in recent years. 
  • The ultimate sign that housing has moved from the policy wonk backwaters to the mainstream of political discourse was Gov. Chris Sununu’s announcement last week of his InvestNH Housing Incentive Fund. Smart governors don’t waste valuable State of the State time on issues they view as politically unpopular. That the governor is committing $100 million in American Rescue Plan funds to address the housing shortage, and unveiled it in a major political announcement, indicates that the state’s most popular politician considers fixing the housing shortage to be a winning issue politically. 

At the start of 2022, the housing shortage is becoming widely recognized as New Hampshire’s most important economic policy issue. Not long ago, calling the inadequate housing supply the single greatest impediment to New Hampshire’s future economic growth would draw quizzical looks. (We speak from experience.) Now, that statement draws a lot of nods.  

We don’t expect that 2022 will be the year New Hampshire solves this problem. It will take years, even decades, to build the tens of thousands of additional housing units New Hampshire needs. But it does appear to be the year that a critical mass of Granite Staters made the connection between excessive land use regulations and the housing shortage. 

This was always the first necessary step on the way to fixing the problem. We seem to have taken it at last. 

“It is far easier to concentrate power than to concentrate knowledge. That’s why so much social engineering backfires….” 

— Thomas Sowell

In New Hampshire, Republicans tend to think of themselves as opposed to government regulations, especially ones that can be called “social engineering.” And yet Democrats don’t have a monopoly on such efforts. 

A recent example is House Bill 1469, which originally would have prohibited banks from using so-called “social credit scores.” An amendment improved the bill by tightening its prohibitions, but it remains a solution in search of a problem. 

The idea is that the state must protect individuals and groups from financial institutions that attempt to “discriminate” based on “ideological, philosophical, or political views and opinions.”

Yet in seeking to protect some rights, the bill violates others. 

It states that financial institutions may not “advocate for or cause adverse treatment of, any person, business, or organization in their business practices” for various political, ideological or philosophical reasons “unless such action is necessary for the physical safety of its employees.”

This wording would go well beyond prohibiting banks from turning away customers whose politics bank officials might dislike. It would constrain the ability of financial institutions to advocate or support particular charitable causes, make public statements on a range of issues, and even manage their own brand and contractors.

Such efforts to micromanage corporate business practices usually come from the political left. They create no fewer problems when they emerge from the right.

Republicans might see this overreach more clearly if it comes in a familiar form. House Bill 1538, for example, would mandate that laborers on public works projects be paid the prevailing wage. 

The assumption that legislators know enough to pick the correct wage for construction projects differs little from the assumption that legislators know enough to micromanage the business practices of financial institutions. 

A longstanding bipartisan example of legislators using power to replace others’ judgment is the state’s driver’s education mandate. This is not a classic market intervention, as setting the requirements for using public roads is appropriate government rule-making. But this law nonetheless involves legislators mistaking power for knowledge and wisdom. It doubles as a protection for a particular industry to boot.   

New Hampshire requires that minors take an approved driver’s education course before getting a driver’s license. The mandate is based on three presumptions: 1) there is tremendous value in driver’s education courses; 2) the public is too unwise to recognize this value; 3) legislators have enough expert knowledge to justify imposing this requirement on the public. 

None of these presumptions is true. 

Going back decades, so many studies on this topic found that driver’s education offers no significant safety gains for young drivers that this was long the conventional wisdom. The research is mixed, however, and some studies have found benefits. The trouble is that evaluating programs is difficult, and limitations on the quality of research have made it hard to determine a definitive answer. 

And yet the state forbids minors from getting a driver’s license without first taking an expensive course of questionable value. 

Ultimately, if a student can pass the state’s driver’s test, it shouldn’t matter who taught the student to drive. The test itself should be the ticket to a driver’s license. Yet the only legal pathway for a minor to get a license is through a professional driver’s education program.

House Bill 1208 would fix this disconnect between the research and the law by giving parents who possess a driver’s license the option of teaching their own children to drive.

It wouldn’t end private driver’s education instruction. It would just give families the option of providing it themselves rather than hiring someone else to do it. Teens would still have to pass the state driver’s exam. That seems reasonable given the cost of these programs and the lack of conclusive evidence that they make roads significantly safer. 

Not all regulations are harmful, of course, and sometimes legislators do make well-informed decisions. But as these examples illustrate, the impulse to impose a preferred outcome seldom comes with enough knowledge to conclude that the imposition is wise. 

Join us on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 6 p.m., for a lively, candid discussion about the Seacoast region’s housing market and the opportunities for regulatory solutions to our housing supply and affordability crisis, organized by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

Jason Sorens, Director of the Center for Ethics, will summarize the findings of his statewide residential land use regulation study before drilling down on specific Seacoast communities to show how housing costs have changed, and what the consequences have been for workers and families in the region. What can the region’s municipalities do to free up home-building from regulatory red tape?

Following Sorens’ presentation, Andrew Cline (President of the Bartlett Center) will moderate a panel discussion with local experts. Panelists include Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern, Sarah Wrightsman (Coordinator of Community Engagement at New Hampshire Housing and former Executive Director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast), and Darren Winham (Town of Exeter’s Economic Development Director).

 

Details:

Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel

250 Market St.

6 p.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022

 

This event is supported by New Hampshire Housing, New Hampshire Association of Realtors, and the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

 

Register here to attend in person (Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel)

Register here to attend virtually

 

Panelists:

Jason Sorens is Director of the Center for Ethics in Business and Governance at Saint Anselm College. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2003 and a B.A. in economics and philosophy (with honors) from Washington and Lee University in 1998. He has researched and written more than 20 peer-reviewed journal articles, a book for McGill-Queens University Press titled Secessionism, and a biennially revised book for the Cato Institute, Freedom in the 50 States (with William Ruger). His research has focused on fiscal federalism, U.S. state politics, and movements for regional autonomy and independence around the world. He has taught at Yale, Dartmouth, and the University at Buffalo and twice won awards for best teaching in his department. He lives in Amherst, New Hampshire.

Andrew Cline is President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. Before joining the Bartlett Center, he was a communications consultant and a newspaper editor. He spent 14 years as editor of the editorial page of the New Hampshire Union Leader, where his work won him two New Hampshire Press Association Editorial Writer of the Year awards. A USA Today contributor, he has been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, National Review, and The Weekly Standard. He was appointed chair of the State Board of Education in 2017.

Deaglan McEachern was elected Mayor of Portsmouth, NH in November 2021. He was elected to the City Council in 2019 and was the co-creator in 2020 of the Citizen Response Task Force to help local businesses cope with the economic impact of the pandemic. Previously he had co-founded Seacoast Business Owners with his wife Lori to help small businesses in the area thrive. He serves on the Advisory Board of SOS Recovery, a community recovery program that is on the front lines of substance misuse treatment. McEachern works in the technology sector, managing New England for Yext Inc, a publicly traded software company. Before working in the technology sector, McEachern spent 10 years on the United States rowing team.

Sarah Wrightsman is the Community Engagement Coordinator at New Hampshire Housing. Prior to joining the team at New Hampshire Housing, Wrightsman was Executive Director of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast and the Housing Coordinator for the Regional Economic Development Center, which serves southern NH. Wrightsman is a graduate of Leadership Seacoast’s class of 2019 and Leadership New Hampshire’s Class of 2021. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Wrightsman was selected for the Union Leader’s 40 Under Forty list in 2020, and featured in New Hampshire Magazine’s 2019 “It List,” named a “10 to Watch” winner by Seacoast Media Group and Catapult Seacoast, and named “Civic Leader of the Year” by Stay Work Play and NH Public Radio in 2018. A resident of Newmarket, Wrightsman is the co-host and co-founder of the New Hampshire-based podcast, Creative Guts.

Darren Winham is the Economic Development Director for the Town of Exeter, NH. Winham has worked in economic development around the country for 21 years, previously serving as the Business Development Specialist for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Chief of Economic Development and Housing for Lassen County, CA, Energy and Construction Lead for the Employment and Training Administration at US DOL in Washington DC, and Economic Development Director in Barre, VT. Winham is also the owner of DarWin Dynamic Solutions, EconDev Consulting, and a Partner at Argos Data and Development.

 

New Hampshire’s booming economy continues to fill state coffers with excess cash drawn from business taxation, with impressive numbers posted each month. But a longer look back illustrates the stunning sums businesses have contributed to the state budget in the past decade. 

From Fiscal Year 2012 through Fiscal Year 2021, business tax revenues exceeded budget projections by $649.6 million — or 100.1 percentage points. 

That is, over that time businesses gave legislators an additional $649.6 million to spend beyond what lawmakers had budgeted. 

State Fiscal Year 2022 began last July, and so far the trend continues.    

Since the start of the fiscal year in July, business tax revenues are $109.5 million (27.9%) above the prior fiscal year and $72.7 million (16.9%) above budget.

Add this to the total from FY 2012-2021, and business tax revenues have come in over budget by $722.3 million since FY 2012. 

To get an idea of just how much larger state business tax revenues are today, consider that in FY 2012, Business Profits Tax revenue from July-December totaled $140.5 million. 

Adjusted for inflation, that $140.5 million would be approximately $166 million in 2021.

Actual BPT revenues for July-December of 2021, however, were a record $381.2 million — 240.7 million (171%) higher than in 2012.

Combined BPT and BET revenues in the first six months of FY 2012 were $231.7 million. 

In the first six months of FY 2022, they were $501.8 million, a 216.5% increase.

The historical context shows that state is playing with house money, so to speak, when it comes to business tax revenues. It shows further that additional small reductions to business tax rates are not only affordable, but fully justified. 

The state has taken in nearly 3/4 of a billion dollars in unanticipated business tax revenue since 2012. Claims that tiny rate reductions will bankrupt the state or devastate essential services are laughably unfounded. 

Business tax rate reductions that began in the 2016 fiscal year did not cause business tax revenue to fall below previous levels, as critics had predicted. Then-Gov. Maggie Hassan said the rate cuts would reduce business tax revenue by $90 million. Instead, business tax revenues were $132.8 million (23.4%) above plan in FY 2016. 

From FY 2012-2021, business tax revenues came in below budget for the year only twice: in 2014 (before the start of the business tax cuts) and in 2020 (when businesses were hit by the pandemic). The huge gains in other years more than made up for those relatively small declines (2% and 13%, respectively). 

Businesses in New Hampshire have fed the state budget astonishing sums over the last decade. Yet every time anyone suggests slight reductions in corporate tax rates, advocates of higher taxes attack businesses as greedy, selfish, avaricious, even unpatriotic. 

In truth, New Hampshire employers have enabled the state’s ever growing social welfare spending, and most have remained in New Hampshire despite the lure of lower corporate tax rates in other states. They should be thanked for their contributions, not vilified. Adjusting their rates to let them keep a little more of their income would be a reasonable way to say thank you.

 

 

New Hampshire voters would have the option of creating local Education Freedom Accounts under a bill scheduled for consideration in the House this week.

Building on the popularity of the state’s new Education Freedom Account program, House Bill 607 would empower the voters in each school district to create a local EFA option for their own students. 

Earlier last year, the bill was written off as all but dead on arrival. But it cleared the House Education Committee in November, and it has some insider buzz going into this week’s vote. 

Under the bill, if 25 registered voters, or 2 percent of the registered voters in a school district, whichever is less, ask the district to create a local EFA program, the district would be required to put the question to voters at the next town meeting.

A 3/5 majority of town meeting voters would be needed to approve a program.

These local EFA programs would be similar to the existing state version, with some key differences. Notably, there is no income cap on participation in the local programs, and students enrolled in private schools would not be eligible. Also, eligibility would be limited to public school and home-schooled pupils who live in the district. 

Funding for the program would come from the local portion of the district’s public education expenditures. 

Opponents characterize the bill as defunding public schools. As with the original EFA legislation, this misunderstands the premise behind the proposal. 

Communities fund public schools for the purpose of educating children. But a lot of children struggle to succeed in the current system. 

The state’s own data show that 38% of New Hampshire students scored proficient or above in math in 2020 (down from 48% in 2019), and 52% scored proficient or above in reading in 2020 (down from 56% in 2019). 

HB 607 would allow local voters to decide whether to let parents spend some of the money set aside for educating their children on services offered outside of their assigned public school. 

The funds would have to be used for their intended purpose: to educate children. The difference is that families would have the choice of keeping their children in the assigned public school or spending their allotted education dollars on services offered by other providers.

Either way, the money goes to educate children. At issue is who decides which education services to purchase. Do school district officials decide, or do parents?

Initially, political prospects for the bill were considered dim, in large part because the EFA concept was so new in New Hampshire. But the state’s new EFA program has experienced higher-than-expected demand. More than 1,600 students chose an EFA this past fall. 

There’s now a proven interest in education alternatives in New Hampshire. And because the bill would not mandate local EFAs, but would merely let voters choose whether to adopt them, it might have a stronger chance of passage than originally believed. 

Squirrels don’t understand Thanksgiving. 

They see us loading our homes full of food for days, and they feel a sense of tribal solidarity. They get that. Then, suddenly, we sit down and EAT IT ALL IN ONE DAY. 

What are we thinking?!!

This really confuses squirrels. How will those tall, furless bipeds survive the winter?!! They just ate all their food! It hasn’t even snowed yet! THEY’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!

Chipmunks, by the way, just hope we all die soon so they can move into the basement. 

Squirrels and chipmunks, not to mention bears, think we’re idiots because they know nothing of markets. If they wandered into a supermarket, they’d think it was a place where humans stored locally gathered food for the winter. The idea of a place where creatures trade money for food, and then more food appears the next day, brought from all over the world, would blow their little minds. 

Although bears are pretty smart, so they might figure this out one day. They can already open car doors. The inevitable next step is driving to the corner store for salmon jerky and a six-pack of honey wheat ale.  

But bears don’t do this yet. Instead, they store fat for a long winter’s nap. Sounds awesome. Unfortunately, humans can’t get through winter by lowering our metabolism and reducing our energy consumption. We increase our energy consumption to stay warm. 

We can hoard food. We could salt meats and store corn like our ancestors did, or fill our garages with canned goods, bottled water and ammo (you know who you are).

But thanks to global trade, we don’t have to do this. We can get bananas from Ecuador, bacon from North Carolina, coffee from Brazil, and crazy snack foods from Japan whenever we want.

What about the other thing that keeps us alive all winter: warmth?

Humans survive long, cold winters by building, then powering and heating, shelters. Mostly we power and heat them by burning things (oil and gas, a tiny bit of coal) or splitting atoms.

Now, New England does not supply its own oil or gas. Like those crazy Japanese snacks, our winter fuels come from far away places where people speak different languages — places like Texas and Louisiana.

One might understand that in a region reliant on importing the fuel that keeps us warm, it’s not a terribly good idea to try to hurt the people who bring us these fuels. 

And yet… 

In Boston, the new mayor has signed an ordinance requiring the city to divest from fossil fuel companies, as if the people who keep Boston habitable during the winter are evildoers. 

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Harvard Faculty Lounge, portrays oil and gas companies as sinister malefactors who prey on Americans for fun and profit. Harvard also has divested from fossil fuels, by the way. 

You wouldn’t know from talk like this that natural gas generated more than 50% of New England’s electricity last year, or that Northeastern states consume 86% of the nation’s home heating oil. 

Wind and solar power, as nice as they are, generated 6% of New England’s electricity last year. They won’t replace oil and gas anytime soon. 

This winter is projected to be mild. ISO New England, the region’s power grid operator, expects energy use to be lower this winter than last, and our power supply to be adequate. 

Still, that prediction came with what is now an annual warning. The winter of 2017-18 brought a cold streak so long that the region came within two days of rolling blackouts. Why? Because we have put unnecessary constraints on our energy supply by blocking new pipelines and scaling back nuclear plants. 

ISO New England has a whole page of its website devoted to explaining how the region is in a dangerous position because of constraints on its natural gas supply.

A study by Carnegie Melon’s Tepper School of Business earlier this year found that New England’s artificial constraints on natural gas have caused routine power plant outages and cost the region $1.8 billion during the cold winter of 2014 alone.

“Gas supply issues have affected the ability to generate electricity during times of high demand,” professor and study co-author Jay Apt said at the time. 

They recommended building natural gas storage facilities (with battery storage being another possible option). They didn’t ask the squirrels, but the squirrels would approve.

ISO New England points out that a mild winter is a time to plan for the future — because a cold winter is coming eventually. And if our economy to grows, energy demand will grow with it, increasing the need for more reliable supplies. 

Building more base load energy capacity is the way to prepare for the cold winter that we all know is coming eventually. 

Some mammals, though, seem oblivious to the tremendous amount of planning, preparation and investment it takes for their species to survive New England winters. They say we can do without more base load power and without more reliable access to the fuels that generate the lion’s share of our electricity and heat most of our homes.

The squirrels think they’re nuts.