In zombie movies, unsuspecting innocents often fail to recognize that the zombie apocalypse has begun. The first of the undead stumble through the village or city unnoticed or mistaken for drunks. Only when it’s too late do the living realize they’re surrounded.

This horror movie cliche came to mind when Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan released a letter on Wednesday urging Congress to pass a one-year moratorium on internet sales tax collections that were allowed by this year’s Wayfair ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Some states have established implementation dates as soon as January 1, 2019,” they wrote jointly with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeffrey Merkley.

In zombie movies, as in real life, politicians are usually the last to know.

The Union Leader story on the senators’ letter put the big news at the bottom: The Attorney General’s Office has received its first query from a New Hampshire retailer who has received a sales tax notice from another state.

That’s confirmation that cross-border sales tax collections into New Hampshire are no longer theoretical. The vanguard is here.

The letter was from Indiana. Indiana is not waiting until Jan 1, 2019. It’s post-Wayfair sales tax law took effect on October 1. The letter to the New Hampshire retailer was dated November 9, Senior Assistant Attorney General Frank Fredericks confirmed.

“It was more of a you may qualify” letter, and not a collection letter, Fredericks said. Coming only five 1/2 weeks after Indiana’s law took effect, it indicates that states will move quickly to begin the process of identifying and contacting retailers that sell to their residents.

Indiana is hardly the only state with a post-Wayfair law already in effect. New Jersey’s took effect on November 1. As this newsletter reported over the summer, Vermont’s law predated the Wayfair decision and took effect on July 1.

In their letter, the senators also asked Congress to ban retroactive cross-border sales tax collections. Again, it’s a welcome initiative, though a little late. New Jersey’s law covers sales in the “current or prior calendar year.”

States also are preparing to go after individuals who sell through marketplaces such as Etsy and Ebay. The Multistate Tax Commission’s Uniformity Committee recommended in October that states require marketplaces to collect sales taxes from their vendors.

Panelists at a Bloomberg-sponsored conference in Washington on Thursday predicted that every state with a sales tax will pursue requirements next year compelling marketplaces to collect sales tax from their vendors, Law360 reported.

With no federal or state law in place to protect them, New Hampshire businesses and marketplace sellers are completely vulnerable.

“It’s a little bit of a wild west show because nobody knows where it’s going or how it’ll play out.” Nancy Kyle, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retailers Association, told The Broadside.

Legislators can provide some certainty — and protections — next year, though they should act quickly. With non-sales-tax states outnumbered 45-5, the odds of Congress passing protecting legislation is about as good as surviving a zombie attack when outnumbered by the same ratio.

Concord is abuzz with speculation about the newly elected Democratic majority’s legislative agenda. It’s no mystery. At a panel sponsored by The DuPont Group and New England College on Friday, incoming Senate President Donna Soucy reminded the audience that Democrats campaigned on an agenda (called the Granite State Opportunity Plan), and they intend to govern by it. 

The priorities outlined in the plan are clear: Higher state spending on health and social services, education and infrastructure; increased subsidies for favored energy producers; more regulations on businesses; and higher business taxes.

The plan criticizes recent business tax cuts as tax giveaways to wealthy, out-of-state corporations. Democratic candidates from gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly on down used similar rhetoric when campaigning. The state Democratic Party’s website is full of attacks on Gov. Chris Sununu for supporting business tax cuts. 

Yet when Soucy outlined the party’s agenda on Friday morning, she did not mention tax increases. That’s a good sign because the business tax cuts that were so much maligned during the campaign did not reduce state business tax revenue. Since the cuts, business tax revenue has risen far beyond expectations. 

As we pointed out in October, in the three full fiscal years since 2016, when the first round of the tax cuts took effect, business tax revenue exceeded budget expectations by $319.5 million.  

That trend has not subsided. In the current fiscal year, which started July 1, business tax revenues are $58.2 million (36.6 percent) above plan and $42.8 million (24.5 percent) above the prior year.

More than 1/3 of $1 billion in unanticipated business tax revenue has funded a lot of additional state pending. And that puts the new legislative majority in an interesting situation. 

They campaigned hard against those tax cuts. Yet the record shows that the cuts coincided with a sustained increase in business tax revenue that continues to fill state coffers with enough money to fund a host of new spending priorities. 

Will the new majority risk that revenue by raising rates, or will leadership decide to leave well enough alone?

Business tax cuts have helped raise New Hampshire to No. 6 on the Tax Foundation’s Business Tax Climate Index. No other New England state is in the top 25. Vermont is a lowly 41. New Hampshire is a lone outpost of business tax sanity in New England, which is clearly helping our economy. 

Next week, Americans will indulge in the fine New England tradition of consuming a large fowl fattened for the purpose of providing us sustenance. It’s a tradition that symbolizes the bounty of our land and our market economy. We should remember, though, that there are birds to eat and birds to leave alone.

Plump American turkeys? Tasty. Geese that lay golden eggs? Best to let them keep laying. 

The New Hampshire Democratic Party outspent the New Hampshire Republican Party by a significant margin going into the final week of the 2018 elections, a Broadside review of available campaign finance reports shows. 

After Democrats won majorities in the Legislature and Executive Council, New Hampshire Republicans publicly complained about weak financial support from the state party. The last campaign finance reports to be filed before the election show there is merit in their frustration.

Each party organization has political committees that raise and spend money on behalf of the party’s candidates. The candidates are expected to raise their own money, with the party PACs helping out as needed. In New Hampshire, an active and well organized set of party committees continues to give Democrats a huge fundraising advantage.  

Campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office through October 31 (the last report filed before the election) show that the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s three statewide political action committees — the New Hampshire Democratic Committee, the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the Committee to Elect House Democrats — outspent their Republican counterparts by $3 million. 

The Democratic PACs spent $4.09 million. Their Republican counterparts — the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, the Senate Republican Majority PAC, and the Committee to Elect House Republicans — spent just $1.1 million. 

The New Hampshire Democratic Committee alone spent more than twice what all three Republican committees spent combined: $2.7 million vs. $1.1 million. 

Showing the relative weakness of the state Republican Party, the New Hampshire Democratic Committee outspent the New Hampshire Republican State Committee by a ratio of 5-1. The Republican State Committee raised just $708,460 through October 31 and spent only $540,570. The Democratic State Committee raised $3.3 million and spent $2.7 million.

The Democratic advantage continued at the local level. County and town Democratic committees outspent their Republican counterparts almost 10-1. Democrats spent $359,462 to the Republicans’ $34,865. 

The Democratic Party enjoyed a huge organizational advantage at the town and county levels as well. Local Democratic committees that filed October 31 campaign finance reports outnumbered their Republican counterparts 30-5. 

Republicans did enjoy a slight financial advantage in the only statewide race this year. Gov. Chris Sununu spent $1.3 million to Molly Kelly’s $1.1 million through October 31. 

The Democratic Governors Association reported raising $139,162 and spending $23,300 by October 31. The Republican Governors Association’s Live Free PAC reported raising $627,000 and spending $625,912 through October 31. 

When all party campaign spending through October 31 is tallied — including spending by the gubernatorial campaigns and out-of-state help from party organizations such as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (but excluding non-party PACS) — New Hampshire Democrats raised $7.3 million to the Republicans’ $5 million and spent $6.3 million to the Republicans’ $4.25 million. 

(We include the gubernatorial candidates’ own spending because those candidates head each party’s ticket and have the potential to lift down-ballot candidates. Non-party spending, such as ActBlue’s $351,848, is not included because it is not party organized.)

Despite conventional wisdom, spending alone is not necessarily an indicator of electoral success. But spending matters, especially in close races. In a hyper-friendly environment (Libertarians at a Ron Paul pool party, for example), one doesn’t need to throw cash around to be accepted as one of the group. When New Hampshire was more red than purple, Republicans didn’t need to spend a lot to convince voters to support them. With New Hampshire having become more competitive, failing to close the gap will make winning legislative majorities more challenging.  

Incidentally, Jonah Goldberg noted this week that when political parties are weakened, other institutions take up political roles, leading to broader politicization of society. He’s a smart guy, and also the headliner at our Libertas Award Dinner coming up on Dec. 10. You should come.

On Election Day, New Hampshire voters will face two important ballot questions that have received less news coverage than Whitey Bulger’s snitch-murder in a desolate, West Virginia prison. 

Had the proponents of these two state constitutional amendments thought to arrange for prisoners to debate them, with rival gangs taking opposing positions, perhaps the public awareness would be greater. Surely a shanking over the finer points of the right to privacy would generate at least an evening’s worth of news coverage.   

As it stands, thousands of poorly informed voters will decide on Tuesday whether to enshrine in the constitution a taxpayer right to sue the government and an individual right to privacy. 

Question 1

Question 1 amends Article 8, originally titled in 1784 “Accountability of Magistrates and Officers.” It was amended in 1976 to declare that “the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.”

The proposed amendment states that “any individual taxpayer eligible to vote in the State, shall have standing to petition the Superior Court to declare whether the State or political subdivision in which the taxpayer resides has spent, or has approved spending, public funds in violation of a law, ordinance, or constitutional provision.”

This was standard practice in New Hampshire until the state Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that taxpayers have to show they’ve been personally harmed by a possibly illegal government expenditure. Legislators passed a law saying otherwise, and the court ruled that unconstitutional in 2014. 

As we wrote in March, Question 1 restores a taxpayer right Granite Staters had enjoyed for 147 years. It fits nicely into Article 8, which holds that elected officials are the agents of, and are accountable to, the people. 

Question 2 

Question 2 amends Article 2, the original 1784 portion of which reads: “All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness.”.

Article Ii was amended in 1974 to prevent discrimination based on “race, creed, color, sex or national origin.”

Question 2 would create an Article 2 (b) titled “Right to Privacy,” which would read: “An individual’s right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.” 

Opponents have complained that this language is vague and open to court interpretation. But constitutions are intentionally only slightly clearer than Bob Dylan lyrics. They use broad language on purpose to account for technological and cultural developments the authors cannot foresee. 

The wording of Question 2 is no more vague than, say, Article 4, which reads: “Among the natural rights, some are, in their very nature unalienable, because no equivalent can be given or received for them. Of this kind are the Rights of Conscience.”

Question 2 is intended to protect citizens from government snooping. It is effectively a 21st century version of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, but offering a broader protection of personal information.  

Enhancing the flavor of freedom

If passed, these constitutional amendments would make government more accountable to the people and further protect the people from government intrusion into their private affairs. Those are pretty important protections. 

Though they probably aren’t quite as important to the average person on a daily basis as, say, the Doritos locos taco, they’re still up there. 

Taco Bell got everyone to think about the Doritos Loco taco by creating a World Series promotion for free tacos. But they got the words turned around. Free tacos are great, but Taco Freedom is where it’s at. 

From now until Election Day, every time you pass a Taco Bell or think of tacos (which, if you’re like us, is about every three minutes), think of how valuable our constitutional protections are. 

Because when you think about it, the constitution is basically a giant Taco of Liberty. Like tacos, constitutions contain a whole bunch of ingredients that might not seem to go together, but that make delicious, delicious sense when all thrown together in a nice, crispy Tortilla of Justice. 

You can weaken a taco by throwing in things that dilute or compromise the flavor. Like brussels sprouts or “positive rights.” You can make it stronger by adding things that enhance its taste and make it more powerful. The two additional ingredients on the ballot next Tuesday are flavor enhancers. They might seem surprising at first, but add them in and they taste like freedom.  

Recently retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a dedicated follower of passions, enthusiastically fell for the fiction that the South Dakota vs. Wayfair case was actually about “leveling the playing field” between online and traditional retailers through expanded sales tax collections. It wasn’t. 

Under the “physical presence standard” that existed before June’s Wayfair decision, states could collect 75-80 percent of the sales taxes that were possibly collectible from online transactions, a 2017 GAO report found. It isn’t clear how much of the remainder could be collected given the safe harbor and other limitations endorsed in the Wayfair ruling.

Though the Supreme Court didn’t rule South Dakota’s law constitutional, it strongly suggested that any law set up in a similar way would be. Among the provisions the court seemed to endorse were safe harbors, simplified tax rates, and collection software provided by the state.

South Dakota’s safe harbor provision states that taxes will be collected only when an out-of-state business has $100,000 or more in sales or 200 or more transactions. The tax simplification standard means that states would have to ease their definitions of taxable goods and minimize rate differences among localities. 

These provisions, along with the fact that most large retailers were already collecting state sales taxes, suggest that states would collect some new sales tax revenue but not nearly as much as previous estimates of available revenue had predicted.

If the argument was that Amazon kills downtowns and shopping malls because people avoid sales taxes, well, Wayfair wasn’t a very good remedy. Amazon was already collecting state sales taxes prior to Wayfair. And, obviously, states could just cut their sales tax rates to make their local retailers more competitive.

But the point of this court case was not to make brick-and-mortar stores competitive. It was to expand state tax collections across state borders. And not just for sales taxes, but most critically for income taxes.   

We can feel your eyes rolling. Income taxes? Really? 

We call your eye roll and raise you one emergency rule issued by Wisconsin on October 1. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue issued the rule to clarify its tax policies post-Wayfair. Buried in the rule is this sentence:

“Retailers with sales and use tax nexus in Wisconsin may also have nexus in Wisconsin for franchise or income tax purposes.”

And there it is. This is the game. Wayfair opens the door to cross-border collection of multiple state taxes — personal and corporate income, franchise, gross receipts, etc. 

By eliminating the physical presence standard, Wayfair gives new meaning to the term “the long arm of the law.” Any “nexus” that can arguably connect a business or individual to another state can create a tax liability in that state.

States are already pursuing this, which has the potential of eroding, if not destroying, the New Hampshire Advantage. People move here to avoid income taxes and shop here to avoid sales taxes. If Wayfair creates a de facto national income and sales tax, New Hampshire loses a major competitive advantage over other New England states. 

As Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist put it at the Wayfair tax panel you should have attended in Concord on Wednesday, the ultimate goal of the high-tax states that spout the “level playing field” line is the destruction of interstate tax competition. 

This is why it’s so important for New Hampshire to pass what legislation it can to protect its businesses and residents from cross-border tax collections. Without a state law that blocks such collections, it likely would be too risky for an individual or small business to sue a foreign state. Paying the tax would be much cheaper. 

But with a law to stymie such collections, a business or individual would have firmer ground on which to stand. And the law might discourage many states from even trying to collect in the first place, as New Hampshire’s 2009 Town Fair Tire law did. 

The Wayfair decision really does threaten New Hampshire’s unique tax structure and the competitive advantage that structure gives us over our neighboring states. Legislators cannot let it stand unchallenged. 

Note: This blog post was taken from our Friday newsletter, The Broadside. You can sign up for The Broadside on the bottom of our home page.

This newsletter is an unapologetic champion of the greatest state motto of all time, “Live free or die.” New Hampshire’s motto matters. Powerful and uplifting, it has ingrained itself in culture. Children here grow up believing that freedom is the preeminent civic ideal. Newcomers learn quickly that even though we don’t all agree on how to define freedom, Granite Staters self-identify as lovers of liberty. Because of the motto, to be a Granite Stater is to commit one’s self to the idea that freedom is an end in itself, one to be cherished and protected.

The motto is so powerful that it shaped the inaugural speech of James Dean, the new president of the University of New Hampshire. It also helped shape the culture that produced a young Granite Stater who grew up to be a national leader in the movement for individual liberty, and who just won a prestigious award for his service to the cause. (More about him in a moment.)

President Dean commits UNH to promoting freedom

“I wonder if you know these slogans? Heart of Dixie…World Famous Potatoes…America’s Dairyland…Greatest Snow on Earth?” Dean began.

“Until recently, Live Free or Die was, to me, just another charming license plate slogan. But after only a few months in New Hampshire, I am beginning to appreciate its profound resonance among the state’s citizens.”

The whole speech is worth reading here or watching here.

In an era when college students routinely pressure administrators to silence voices that challenge their own preconceptions, it is notable and praiseworthy that UNH’s new president committed himself in his inaugural speech to upholding freedom of speech and of religion.

President Dean based most of his speech on FDR’s famous Four Freedoms, which is not the foundation on which we would build any talk about freedom. FDR’s revision of our founding principles was a political ploy to revive a dying New Deal and prepare the country for a more energetic U.S. role in foreign affairs. That it is now treated as the touchstone for discussions about American liberty is unfortunate.

Nevertheless, President Dean’s speech was encouraging. If we’re all talking about how to secure, protect and advance freedom, those who are passionately dedicated to weakening, diminishing and shrinking it will consistently find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

Granite State kid wins Thomas Roe Award

Last week, John Kramer, vice president for communications at the Institute for Justice, won this year’s Thomas Roe Award, given by the State Policy Network for achievements in advancing free-market ideas. Kramer started his moving acceptance speech with a story from his days growing up in Sunapee, N.H.

Kramer is called by a lot of people the PR man for liberty. He is a phenomenal communicator who has won numerous PR industry awards and has helped untold numbers of Americans better understand the importance of free markets and individual liberty.

His speech is moving and inspiring. With permission, we publish it here on our blog. We think you’ll find it uplifting, and we encourage you to share it with any young people you know who might have doubts about their ability to overcome whatever challenges life throws in their way.

It reminds us that another Granite Stater is similarly inspiring for challenging conventional wisdom, questioning authority, and finding his own way in the world despite lacking at first the connections, wealth and social standing that made so many of his contemporary leaders famous.

He was Josiah Bartlett, this think tank’s namesake. The New England Historical Society offers a nice summary of how he saved his own life and became a leader in the American Revolution by thinking for himself and pursuing his ideal of personal freedom.

As the days grow colder, we offer you these thoughts on freedom to read and mull over with a cup of cider before a roaring fire.

Also, today is the anniversary of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. So let’s all raise a glass to freedom tonight.

Enjoy.

Editor’s note: John Kramer, vice president for communications at the Institute for Justice, won this year’s Thomas Roe Award, the highest award given by the State Policy Network for achievements in advancing free-market ideas. Kramer is from Sunapee, N.H. With his permission, we share his moving acceptance speech in the hope that it inspires others to challenge themselves, to overcome their fears and anxieties, and to learn and achieve more than they might think possible.

 

Chain of Inspiration

by John Kramer

 

In a tiny church in a tiny New Hampshire town, a Christian missionary from Africa delivered a plea for assistance.

“If we only had $200 for a row boat,” he said, “My mission could row across the lake where we live and we could bring the Word of God to those on the other shore—to the natives who have never heard the Gospel.”

In the congregation of that tiny church was a widow. She had been left with 9 children and no inheritance to speak of. She supported her family as a part-time public school teacher, helping kids with learning disabilities.

She had received her paycheck—an actual paper check back in those days—but she got it too late to deposit it. Back then, there were also these things called “banker’s hours.”

As the missionary concluded his talk, the ushers took up the collection. This widow opened her purse. Her kids looked over to see if she would direct a dollar their way to drop in the basket. Instead, she did something remarkable.

She took out that paycheck and endorsed it over to the church so this missionary could have the boat he needed to spread the Gospel.

Each of her kids panicked in the face of this act of charity—charity not given out of surplus, but out of genuine need.

How would they pay for food?

How would they pay for oil to heat their home with winter fast approaching?

Everyone in that family knew the daily hardships they already faced. They lived paycheck to paycheck. And here was their Mother giving away an entire paycheck—as an act of faith.

That woman—that widow—was my Mother, Therese Kramer.

I was her youngest. I want you to know that we did not go hungry. And we did not go cold.

The missionary left our church with the funds he needed for his boat—thanks to the widow’s mite.

But the story doesn’t end there. A couple from our parish—the Quinlans—learned about my Mother’s act of charity. They secretly paid for our entire heating bill that winter—an enormous sum compared to what my Mother had contributed. Because they wanted to remain anonymous, it took me 30 years to finally confirm it was the Quinlans who saved our family that winter.

So why do I donate paintings to worthy causes like State Policy Network or Christ House? Or work to build up those around me? Because I saw the example of my Mother. I saw the example of the Quinlans. Why has Shirley Roe created this award to honor her late husband? Because she saw Tom in action. She saw his values and his spirit, and she wanted Tom to inspire others for generations to come.

And that’s what I’d like to talk with you about tonight: The importance of that chain of instructive inspiration.

As I mentioned, I lost my father when I was very young. I was two-and-a-half. I never really knew him. But my Mother gave me a great piece of advice in the context of that loss. She said, “You may not have a father, but you have many father figures around you.  Study them.  Emulate them. Make their best traits your best traits.”

And that became a lifetime obsession for me. From my uncles, I learned the importance of a work ethic and always keeping your word. From my teachers, I learned the importance of studying history and civics and writing. From Chip Mellor—IJ’s first president—I learned by example the importance of staying true to your values and your vision.

From Clint Bolick—IJ’s other co-founder—I learned the importance of facing challenges with a joy-filled heart.

One day we faced an infuriating problem, and Clint told me, “Hey, we can solve these problems and be happy or we can solve this problem and be angry. I choose to be happy.”

What an instructive bit of inspiration for us all.  You can choose to face your challenge—any challenge—with a happy heart. It is no wonder that Chip and Clint are each Roe Award Winners. I am truly honored to join their ranks.

When we challenge ourselves to take on the best qualities of others, we are harnessing a life-changing force. That ability . . . that willingness . . . to change is the secret to a rewarding life.

Think for a moment about the happy and successful people you know. Likewise, think about those who are chronically miserable and failing. Have you pieced together yet what separates those two groups of people? Nearly all of the difference is found in how you handle the fear of the unknown. It is the people who embrace that fear . . .who grow and learn and improve . . .who become better-equipped to take on whatever life throws at them.

The more you welcome that challenge to improve—drawing inspiration from others—the more you’ll experience the world around you. And the more you experience, the more you’ll think. And the more you think, the more you’ll learn. And the more you’ll learn, the fewer frustrations you’ll feel and the braver you will become.

It all starts with embracing that chain of inspiration—of recognizing in others the qualities you want in yourself, and then making them part of who you are. Happiness is found in learning; and learning—real and deep and true learning—can only come from action.

So keep the faith, and keep at it. Because it matters. Because your work matters.

Seek out inspiration from those around you. And live in such a way that you inspire others. We can’t all be the missionary rowing across that lake. Nor should we be. We each have our own critical role to play in this movement.

Whether we’re marketers or attorneys or administrators or policy analyst or any other role in the Free Market Movement, we can ensure those around us have the resources and support and example they need to succeed, to spread the word of freedom.

Now let’s go get ’em!

The election is 25 days away and the nation’s greatest political minds are dutifully disgorging rivers of commentary on the two most important topics of 2018: A couple of dudes named Kanye and Beto.

Weeks before the election, America’s Great Explainers think that what the country really needs are 2,000-word think pieces and cable TV arguments about a rapper’s deep emotional reasons for choosing a particular piece of headwear and the fundraising prowess and THS (Total Hipness Score) of a U.S. Senate candidate who still isn’t polling above his rival despite having been in a rock band when a younger lad.

This is why it’s always better to spend October in the hills and mountains of New Hampshire. This year, the colors are spectacular and they could hang on through Election Day. But don’t let the dazzling oranges, reds and yellows distract you from the need to pile up firewood and collect dragonglass. For winter is coming. And when it gets here it’s is going to punch you in the face.

Not all of you, though. Just those who heat with oil.

On Wednesday the U.S. Energy Information Agency released its annual Winter Fuels Outlook. If you heat with propane or natural gas, you’ll be fine. If you heat with oil, you probably should buy more blankets. Or an alpaca.

The EIA predicted average price changes this winter of -1 percent for propane, 3 percent for electricity, 5 percent for natural gas and 20 percent for home heating oil.

Now would be a good time to switch from oil to natural gas. Alas, you can’t just go down to the general store and pick up some Mountain Dew, a couple of pumpkin whoopie pies and a month’s supply of natural gas. You need to have it piped directly to your home. (The gas, not the Mountain Dew, although Pepsi should really get on that.)

But you might not be able to switch to natural gas because most of New Hampshire lacks the infrastructure for home natural gas service even though demand for natural gas is extremely high.

Gas utilities say they’d love to build lines to more homes. One, Liberty Utilities, has proposed doing that for communities along Route 101 from Portsmouth to Manchester. But to bring that residential service, utilities say they need more access to supply, which means more pipelines.

Although some new pipelines have been built or are under construction in New England, many large projects in recent years have been killed by anti-pipeline activists.

Liberty Utilities projects that its Granite Bridge project along Route 101 would save customers $950 million over 20 years. But, of course, activists are trying to prevent its construction. There must be no new pipelines of any kind anywhere anytime.

If that anti-consumer, anti-progress mindset continues to prevail in New England, it will condemn Granite Staters and other New Englanders to harder, more expensive winters for decades to come. Wind and solar cannot heat your home during a long, cold winter. Natural gas burns more cleanly, more efficiently, and less expensively than wood or oil. Yet if you live outside of Keene, Berlin, the Portsmouth area or the I-93 corridor up to Gilford, the activists are working hard to prevent you from having this home heating option.

For families, the financial impact of this obstructionism is huge. The EIA projects an average cost this winter of $595 to heat a home with natural gas vs. $1,646 to heat with oil. Restricting the supply of natural gas in New England by blocking pipeline construction has a direct and large negative impact on Granite Staters.

In “Game of Thrones,” winter is always coming, and that’s always bad. For low-income New England families who heat with oil, winter can bring the same foreboding. States should stop preventing them from accessing a more affordable, cleaner-burning fuel.

“I can tell you with confidence that Governor Sununu has yet to tell us no on an important issue of ours.”

– Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire President Bill McQuillen

The quote above was the most interesting statement in New Hampshire politics this week.

(We know what you’re thinking. What about Sen. Jeff Woodburn’s Thursday claim, released incredibly during a live national television broadcast of U.S. senators hearing testimony on allegations of sexual assault? Well, the senator’s claim was filed in court papers and not made in a statement.)

McQuillen’s statement accompanied the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire’s endorsement of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu for re-election. The union hasn’t endorsed a Republican for governor since Gov. Craig Benson ran for re-election in 2004.

That 14-year gap between PFFNH endorsements of a Republican candidate for governor was noteworthy. But what made this endorsement extraordinary was McQuillen’s statement, for it came just a year after the state’s public-sector unions vigorously opposed Gov. Sununu’s first major legislative initiative: a right-to-work bill.

Right to work’s defeat last year largely neutralized it as a general election issue this year. (It played a role in Republican primary races). It’s near disappearance from the 2018 general election has made it easy to forget how big a topic it was in 2016 and early 2017.

Then-Executive Councilor Sununu made it a signature campaign issue. It was for a while the top political issue in New Hampshire, causing State House protests and prompting the state Republican Party to build a separate fund-raising campaign around it.

Just a year later, three public-sector unions have endorsed the governor who led the campaign for a right-to-work law. And the head of one of those unions seemed to suggest that right to work was not an important issue for the organization.

The N.H. Troopers Association hasn’t endorsed a Republican for governor since 2000. The N.H. Police Association endorsed Sununu in June, which is the earliest it’s ever endorsed a candidate for governor. These weren’t lukewarm endorsements. All three unions made them with enthusiasm. There were no caveats, no mention of right to work.

The State Employees Association (Service Employees International Union Local 1984) pointedly mentioned right to work in the union’s endorsement of Democratic candidate for governor Molly Kelly on Wednesday. But for the law enforcement and firefighters unions, right to work clearly is not at the top of the priority list.

Firefighters, for example, were far more interested in legislation granting them the legal presumption that a firefighter’s cancer was contracted on the job and is therefore covered under workman’s compensation. Gov. Sununu signed that bill into law in July.

Recent history suggests that right to work is not of zero concern to these unions. But the fact that it’s such a low priority suggests one of two calculations were made. 1.) These union leaders consider right to work dead and therefore not a threat in the next legislative session. 2.) These union leaders have reasoned that their members value the delivery of tangible benefits much more highly than they value the political clout that is the primary product of both a single-party political alliance and the absence of a right-to-work law.

They may also understand that political power is enhanced when loyalty is not taken for granted.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling doesn’t appear to be a major factor, though it’s possible that the changed environment for public-sector unions post-Janus could have been a contributing factor in the firefighters and troopers endorsements. (The police endorsed days before the ruling.)

As the Josiah Bartlett Center discovered through a right-to-know request this summer (and this newsletter was first to report), the agency fees which Janus outlawed were not a significant source of revenue for law enforcement unions. They made up a substantial portion of the SEA’s revenue, however.

Regardless of what influence the Janus ruling might have had, the big takeaway here is that a Republican governor who strongly supports right-to-work legislation won the endorsement of three public-sector unions the year after leading a big right-to-work push. That’s a most noteworthy development that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

As of July, the average hourly wage for private employment in New Hampshire was $26.22, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In February, New Hampshire recorded its highest average hourly wage on record, $26.89. (The Federal Reserve data show New Hampshire wages regularly peaking in winter, dropping a bit in summer.)

Even counting for inflation, New Hampshire’s real per capita personal income is up more than $4,000 since the recession.

Hillsborough County was in the top ten counties in the country for wage growth last year, and New Hampshire was among the top five states, according to Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in August.

Amid all of this good news, activists and some politicians are telling everyone that things are bad for the simple reason that state law doesn’t mandate a higher entry-level wage.

This fixation on government mandates rather than the actual economy is a really telling difference in the way some people view the world. On one side, people look around and say, “things are good!” On the other, people bury their heads in statute books and say, “things are terrible!”

The “things are terrible” crowd is pushing again to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. As always, the central assertion is that $7.25 an hour (New Hampshire’s minimum wage is the federal minimum) is not a ‘living wage.”

This is where the gap between the actual economy and economic notions expressed in law grows very wide.

The state Labor Market Information Bureau has compiled U.S. Census estimates for the number of people working at or below the minimum wage in New Hampshire. (Tipped jobs can pay below the minimum.) The data (based on surveys) show only 8,004 Granite Staters working at the minimum-wage or less in 2017.

That’s really low. In fact, it’s a 48 percent decline from the 15,284 Granite Staters estimated to have worked a minimum wage job in 2016. (The number for 2015 was 15,845.)

Why the drop? We don’t know yet. And because of the small sample sizes, it’s possible that a sizable chunk of the decline is a measurement error. Next year’s data will help fill out the picture. But even if 50 percent of the drop is a reporting error, New Hampshire would still have only about 11,600 people working at or below the minimum wage. That’s out of a working-age population of around 913,000, according to Census figures.

At the current estimate of 8,004 people, less than 1 percent of New Hampshire’s working-age population makes the minimum wage or less.

The data further show that 73.5 percent of Granite Staters making the minimum wage or less work in “food preparation and serving-related occupations.”

Tips, commissions and overtime pay are not included in the minimum wage figures, so the actual take-home pay of about three-fourths of New Hampshire employees who are classified as minimum-wage workers will be considerably higher than the minimum wage.

The Census estimates also show that 3,951 people, or 49.4 percent, of Granite Staters who make the minimum wage or less are between the ages of 16-24. These are high school and college-age employees with fewer skills and limited experience.

And experience, as in axe throwing or being Jose Canseco, is a key factor. Looking at the lowest-paying sector, food preparation and serving-related occupations, we see an entry-level wage of $8.36 an hour, a mean wage of $10.55 an hour, and an experienced wage of $13.76 an hour —just $1.24 an hour less than the $15 an hour wage some activists and politicians are demanding.

This tells us that wages are not a measure of a person’s moral worth or dignity, but of economic value. Employers pay inexperienced teens less than experienced adults for reasons that ought to be obvious to anyone who’s ever had a job or waited in line at a McDonald’s. And they pay higher wages to attract better employees.

Even in the fast food industry, competition for good employees is driving up wages so that the minimums in many paces are $10 an hour or higher.

More than doubling the minimum wage to $15 an hour would have a relatively small effect on the pay of experienced employees even in the lowest-paid industries. But it would have a big effect on entry-level positions, effectively pricing younger, less-experienced people out of those jobs.

In an economy in which employers are voluntarily raising wages, we are being told that the government must mandate a very high wage floor, which gets us back to the point about markets vs. laws.

Laws are expressions of moral values. Markets are expressions of economic values (mostly). Even when markets are pushing pay rates higher, people who view the world a certain way find this unacceptable precisely because it does not come from a moral directive.

For the conspicuously virtuous, everything all the time has to be an expression of moral values. Markets don’t operate that way. They consider tradeoffs, which the conspicuously virtuous rarely do. Everything is black and white, good or bad.

So even if markets are driving wages higher, society must act collectively to mandate that wages never fall below whatever the virtuous wage floor of the moment is. Refusal to pass such a mandate is considered a society-wide moral failure.

Or to put it in the contemporary vernacular, minimum wages are virtue signaling.