On April 29, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state’s long list of mandated COVID-19 restrictions for various industries will expire on May 7, to be replaced by a Universal Best Practices Guidance.

This is a welcome and long overdue change, which the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy advocated in our reopening guidelines on April 30th — of 2020. 

Almost exactly a year later, the state is finally switching from a set of strict mandates to a set of recommended best practices for all industries. 

As we wrote last April;

To slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelmed hospitals, it isn’t necessary for the state to dictate which industries get to stay open. It’s necessary only for people to behave in ways that suppress the spread.

Dividing businesses by industry and ordering whole sectors closed forces many businesses to shut down even though they could operate with minimal risk by adopting and enforcing effective mitigation practices. A better framework would be “safe” vs. “unsafe” practices.

Under a safe practices model, a business would risk closure only if it couldn’t enforce strict mitigation protocols such as social distancing, surface disinfecting, and mask wearing. There is no justification for closing a business that can enforce such protocols, regardless of its industry.

Rather than the governor dictating which industries can and can’t open, a safe practices model would encourage and reward responsible behavior, including the widespread adoption of rigorous safety protocols throughout the economy.

One important reason for preferring guidance to mandates is that COVID-19 is a new virus that did not come with a long history of study by researchers. Epidemiologists and other experts weren’t quite sure how best to slow the spread, as became obvious when numerous health organizations, government agencies and medical professionals offered different prescriptions for handling the virus. 

Organizations needed the flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing information and guidance. 

Mandated behaviors restrict that flexibility. And they can be extremely harmful when wrong. Just ask the families of the thousands of New York nursing home residents who died as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order to move infected COVID-19 patients from hospitals to nursing homes. Or the millions of students (and their families) who suffered academic and financial losses because of schools that stayed closed long after it was clear they could reopen safely. 

Instead of ordering organizations to adopt rigid practices that might or might not work as intended, the state’s new guidance educates managers about basic best practices that can be adopted in multiple environments and situations. 

Even so, it fails to incorporate some of the latest research.

For instance, the guidance states that organizations should:

“Work to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet or more of physical separation between people or related groups when possible.”

Not only has the six-foot rule never been supported by a strong body of research proving its effectiveness (the World Health Organization has always recommended three feet, not six), a new MIT study concludes that it is largely useless and gives a false sense of security.

The study concludes that occupancy and time in a room are what matter, not distance, because the virus is carried on tiny air particles that circulate throughout an entire indoor space under normal ventilation scenarios. 

Using a school classroom with 19 students as a case study, the authors wrote:

“For normal occupancy and without masks, the safe time after an infected individual enters the classroom is 1.2 h for natural ventilation and 7.2 h with mechanical ventilation.”

By failing to incorporate the latest research, the state’s guidance could recommend practices that are not effective, while not informing managers of practices that are more effective. 

Because these are recommendations and not mandates, however, managers are free to adopt on their own initiative practices that are guided by newer research. 

The state’s switch from mandates to guidance is a good development. Had it come earlier, perhaps some of the economic damage from restrictions on businesses could have been avoided. 

Gov. Chris Sununu lifted the state’s mask mandate on April 16, and much hand-wringing ensued. And scolding. And partisan attacks. 

New Hampshire Public Radio noted, with apparent worry, that the hospitalization rate was higher than it was when the mandate was issued last November. 

State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley tweeted, “When Republicans get elected, people die.”

A University of New Hampshire poll released April 21 found that 43% of Granite Staters supported lifting the mandate, while 48% opposed. 

But the data support the governor’s decision. 

If a statewide mask mandate had been justified to preserve hospital capacity and limit deaths through the winter, that justification receded with the rest of the second wave. The numbers just don’t support the continuation of an emergency order commanding people to wear masks when outside and in public spaces.

Keep in mind that the state mandate was of its highest utility primarily in outdoor public spaces (where infection risk is extremely low) and in indoor places of public accommodation where business owners were not already requiring masks (which was a small minority of businesses).

On November 19, when the governor issued the mandate, new cases had been rising for three months, and rising sharply for several weeks. Confirmed hospitalizations were rapidly approaching their spring peak. Signs were that the expected second wave was on its way. 

By April 15, when Sununu announced that the mandate would not be extended, the second wave — never as severe as feared — had long since subsided. 

There were 108 hospitalizations on November 19 when the mandate was issued. There were 132 on April 15, when the governor announced the mandate wold be lifted. There were 112 on April 23, a week after the mandate was lifted. 

Throughout the pandemic, the state prepared to manage 1,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. We never approached that number. The highest daily count was 334 on January 1. 

There is no shortage of hospital beds or ICU beds in the state. 

Deaths, the most important metric, have plummeted since January. 

Deaths peaked at a seven-day average of 11.7 on December 26. They hit a seven-day average of 11.6 on January 7. Since then, they have fallen dramatically. 

The seven-day average was two on March 5 and has been below that ever since. It stood at 1.1 on April 15. It was at 1 on April 18, the last day for which the state has posted data.

Switching from masks to vaccines

Without a vaccine, COVID-19 cases were a more important metric. With a vaccine, deaths is the most important metric, with hospitalizations second. Vaccination dramatically reduces both of those outcomes, as New Hampshire’s data show. As vaccinations have risen, deaths have plummeted and hospitalizations have fallen sharply. 

Remember “flatten the curve?” The point of state interventions all along has been to preserve hospital capacity and prevent mass deaths. It was never to prevent all hospitalizations and all deaths, impossible tasks.

Before a vaccine was available, the state had only very crude tools with which to try to accomplish its goals. Mask mandates, travel restrictions and business closures were the tools at hand, and states used them. 

The vaccine is a far more powerful tool for achieving the same ends. That’s why the governor has shifted the focus away from crude restrictions on behaviors to the encouragement of widespread vaccination. 

Ending the mandate doesn’t immediately end masking. Businesses and municipalities may continue to maintain their own policies as we move toward ever higher vaccination rates. What it does is encourage vaccination in two important ways. 

  1. It shows people the connection between vaccination and the end of emergency restrictions such as mask mandates.
  2. It demonstrates faith in individuals to make their own decisions, which builds good will and trust, the shortage of which has made fighting COVID-19 more challenging than it should have been.

The focus on vaccination, with top priority given to the elderly, already has paid tremendous dividends. New Hampshire was the first New England state to make half of its population eligible for the vaccine. It now leads the nation in the percentage of adults who have received a first dose, at more than 70%.  

The results are so remarkable that on April 23, Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor for COVID response, tweeted high praise for New Hampshire: 

8 states have now vaccinated more than 60% of adults with a first shot.

New Hampshire  (>70%!)








All of them have turned the corner on the number of cases & hospitalizations.

Well done. Let’s all get there.

We will get there, but not by giving people a disincentive to vaccinate, which is what prolonged mask mandates do. We will get there by encouraging vaccination and showing how it paves the path back to normalcy.

As Derek Thompson of The Atlantic wrote this week,” as more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world.”

Showing people that they can trade masks for vaccines does this. 

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy presents a Libertas Virtual Event with distinguished historian Wilfred McClay, at 4 p.m. on May 3, for a discussion of his new book, “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story.”

McClay, the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, is the author of numerous books on American history. He has also served as a member of the National Council on the Humanities and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 

In “Land of Hope,” McClay offers an authoritative, readable, comprehensive study of America’s story that gives readers a balanced picture of America’s past. 

The book equips young readers for the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship in American society, and provides them with a vivid and enduring sense of belonging to one of the greatest enterprises in human history: the United States of America.

It serves as a counter to the prevailing academic trend, which reflects the outlook of radical critics of American society who portray American history as one dark tale of never-ending oppression and hopelessness. 

Reservations are available for this event for the special, patriotic price of $17.76, and can be made on the Bartlett Center’s support page, here. This will be a Zoom webinar. Proceeds support the work of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization. 

This is the final webinar in the Josiah Bartlett Center’s Libertas Virtual Event Series, sponsored by AT&T, Sig Sauer, and Bank of America.

Thank you to our sponsors:

The 2022-23 state budget passed in the state House of Representatives on Wednesday would reduce state general and education fund spending by 1.4% below actual 2020-21 state spending. The reduction from what legislators approved in the last session is even larger. 

There is always some discrepancy between legislative appropriations and actual spending, as governors make adjustments when managing state operations. In the 2020-21 budget cycle, Gov. Chris Sununu took emergency measures, including a hiring freeze, to save money after the pandemic caused a dip in revenues last spring. 

As a result, the state has spent less money in the current budget cycle than legislators allotted. The 2022-23 budget approved by the House Republican majority Wednesday spends 1.4% less than actual state spending in the current budget (which still has a few months to go).

But when compared to total appropriations as approved by the previous, Democratic-controlled Legislature, the reduction totals 2.3% of general and education fund spending.

The general and education funds are the portions of the state budget funded by state tax and fee revenues. They do not include federal funding.

On taxes, the budget:

  • Reduces the Business Enterprise Tax rate from 0.6% to 0.55% and increases the filing threshold to $250,000 for both of the tax’s two threshold levels, gross receipts and enterprise tax base. Current thresholds are $200,000 for gross receipts and $100,000 for enterprise tax base. The budget thereby reduces both the BET rate and the number of businesses that have to pay it;
  • Reduces the Business Profits Tax from 7.7% to 7.6%;
  • Phases out the Interest & Dividends Tax by 1% a year over five years;
  • Reduces the Meals & Rooms tax from 9% to 8.5%;
  • Changes the triggers for unemployment insurance tax rate adjustments. Current law triggers rate cuts of 1% if the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund reaches $275 million and 1.5% if it reaches $300 million. Those triggers are raised to $350 million and $400 million, respectively.

Those are the top-line state spending and tax changes. Josiah Bartlett Center will have a more detailed breakdown of the budget next week. 

Join us to commemorate Tax Day this year with Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist!

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy is pleased to present a virtual conversation with Grover Norquist at noon, Tuesday, April 13.

We’ll discuss what’s going on with the push to raise taxes in Washington, and find out how New Hampshire’s tax advantage is under threat from other states.

This conversation is part of our Libertas Virtual Event Series sponsored by AT&T, Sig Sauer, and Bank of America.

Reservations are $25 and can be made on our Support page by clicking the selection for this event.

Thank you to our sponsors:

Raising New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost the state nearly 6,000 jobs and more than 9,000 residents, raise consumer prices, reduce economic output, and cause serious harm to small businesses and the leisure and hospitality industries, a new report from New Hampshire Employment Security concludes.  

The study, released Monday by the Labor Market Information Bureau, examined in detail how a minimum wage increase would affect employers and employees in the state, across all industries. It projected the impact of raising the minimum from $7.25 an hour to $9.50, then $12, then $15 by 2026. 

The findings show that, although some lower-wage employees would experience an increase in earnings, the overall economic impact on the state would be negative.

Among the report’s findings:

  • New Hampshire’s gross domestic product will be more than $800 million lower by 2031 than it would have been without a $15.00 minimum wage.
  • The state’s population will be 9,630 lower and its labor force will include 6,023 fewer individuals in response to a $15.00 minimum wage and the resulting diminished employment opportunities in the state.
  • Increases in personal income over the baseline forecast will peak at $873 million in the year the minimum wage reaches $15.00 but will decline in subsequent years in response to employment losses. The increase in personal income will, however, remain positive, and be $228 million above baseline forecast by 2031.
  • Workers in the lowest wage categories will see the largest increases in income but also experience the highest number of job losses in response to a $15.00 minimum wage.
  • Industries such as food services and drinking places, and other leisure and hospitality industries, as well as retail trade, are forecast to experience the largest job losses. These reductions in employment offset much of the benefits of increased wages for low-wage workers in those industries.
  • Aggregate price levels will increase by less than one percent across the New Hampshire economy in response to the $15.00 minimum wage, but specific industries most affected by the increase, such as the food services and drinking places industry (+7.0%), and the retail industry (+3.4%) will see substantial price increases.

Wage costs would hit some industries much harder than others, the report finds. Wage costs would rise by 1.4% in manufacturing, but 10.8% in accommodations, 18.6% in leisure and hospitality, and 20.1% in food service and drinking places.

On the economy as a whole, the study finds that “GDP will be lower in New Hampshire as a result of a $15.00 minimum wage than it would have been without the minimum wage increase, by approximately $806 million dollars by the end of the forecast period in 2031.”

If the state adopts a $15 minimum wage, the study predicts that over the next decade retail prices would increase by 2.41%, accommodations prices by 3.14% and food service & drinking places prices by 6.86%.

The report also warns that a $15 minimum wage would reduce teen employment, which could have a broad cultural and economic impact in New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire has traditionally had among the highest percentage of teenage and youth under the age of 22 participating in the labor force of any state in the nation. Opportunities for work for young people help teach solid work habits at an early age and have been important in developing New Hampshire’s reputation for having a high-quality workforce. A high minimum wage will reduce employment opportunities for youth, exacerbating trends in the decline of the youth labor force and further disadvantaging industries that are already most affected by the minimum wage hike (food services, retail, recreation) that rely on youth labor.”

The report finds that “the negative job impacts resulting from a minimum wage increase are concentrated in the lowest wage occupations, precisely the occupations that a minimum wage increase is designed to benefit.”

Furthermore, job losses for the poorest fifth of the population would not be distributed evenly throughout the state. Grafton, Coos, Rockingham and Carroll counties would experience larger job losses among their lowest-income residents, the study found.

Overall, the study concludes that raising New Hampshire’s minimum wage to $15 an hour would make the state poorer and less populous than it would have been without the minimum wage increase. Those are results lawmakers should strive to avoid, not achieve.

A bill to be considered by the House of Representatives this week would end the legal doctrine of qualified immunity in New Hampshire. This policy brief offers a quick explainer of the bill and the broader issue of qualified immunity it addresses.

What is qualified immunity?

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine created by the U.S. Supreme Court in interpreting a federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”). Congress originally enacted Section 1983 in 1871 as the Ku Klux Klan Act, and it was designed to provide citizens a remedy in federal court when state officials violated their constitutional rights. But qualified immunity, which appears nowhere in the text of Section 1983, frustrates that purpose. 

In simple terms, it holds that all government employees are presumed to be immune from civil prosecution for violating a citizen’s civil rights unless those rights have previously been “clearly established.” Courts have taken that to mean that a government employee is immune unless a previous U.S. Supreme Court case, or a federal circuit court in the same jurisdiction, showed that precisely the same behavior in the same circumstances was found to have been a civil rights violation.

Importantly, government employees are presumed to be immune from prosecution for civil rights violations regardless of whether their behavior was reckless. Courts have held that even if a police officer acted recklessly, the officer is protected under the qualified immunity doctrine because there was no previous case establishing that the specific behavior was a civil rights violation.

The absurdity of this doctrine is self-evident, as numerous court cases have shown. For example, a U.S. District Court in Texas ruled last year that a prison guard violated an inmate’s constitutional rights by pepper spraying him in the face for no reason. Yet the court held that the guard was protected by qualified immunity because no previous case had established that assaulting a prisoner with pepper spray, as opposed to a baton or Taser, was unconstitutional.

“Despite recognizing that an unprovoked assault violates the Constitution, the majority grants the guard immunity because we have not decided a similar case involving pepper spray,” the dissenting judge lamented.

What does House Bill 111 do?

HB 111, introduced by Democrat Paul Berch and Republican Tony Lekas, does two things.

  1. It establishes a cause of action in state court to sue the state, and its political subdivisions, for a violation of rights. (Note: suits are to be against the government, not the individual employee.) It makes clear that the state or political subdivision cannot claim immunity by asserting that the rights violated by the state agent were “not clearly established.” That language ends qualified immunity for government employees.
  2. It holds government employees named in such civil lawsuits shall not be held financially liable. This ensures that employers, not government employees, bear the financial burden of paying damages to citizens whose rights were violated.

How would this make government in New Hampshire more accountable?

The broad and unjustified protections offered by the qualified immunity doctrine reduce the incentive for government to offer adequate employee training. If employees are largely protected from civil lawsuits, then why bother training them on issues related to citizens’ rights?

If HB 111 becomes law, citizens would still have the burden of proving that their rights were violated. But government employees would no longer enjoy default protection by claiming that, without a previous court case involving virtually identical behavior and circumstances, they couldn’t possibly have known it was illegal to violate a citizen’s rights.

Ending qualified immunity protections would therefore create a strong incentive for government to better train employees on constitutional rights, while also giving citizens a way to hold government accountable in state courts when such violations occur.

Right now, even though the New Hampshire Constitution contains a lengthy Bill of Rights intended to protect citizens against specific government actions, state law provides no cause of action when those protections have been violated. HB 111 would make it easier for citizens to hold government accountable when it violates rights guaranteed by the state constitution.

The ‘flood of lawsuits’ prediction

Defenders of qualified immunity claim that ending it would result in a flood of frivolous lawsuits. The New Hampshire Police Association and the New Hampshire Municipal Association suggested in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in February that without qualified immunity, any government employee could be sued for anything. As examples, they cited “anybody fixing a road,” or building inspectors issuing an occupancy permit.

But the bill does not create a cause of action for bad workmanship or general poor performance. It creates a cause of action only for a violation of constitutional rights. There is no constitutional right to a properly filled pothole.

There is strong evidence, however, government employees in New Hampshire regularly violate citizens’ rights. New Hampshire Public Radio reported last year that state and local police agencies settled 87 civil rights claims totaling $4.3 million from 2010-2020.

Even in New Hampshire, government does violate people’s civil rights, on a distressingly regular basis. House Bill 111 would provide a way for citizens to hold government accountable in state courts when this happens.

On Monday, March 29, New Hampshire became the first New England state to make at least half its population eligible for a COVID vaccine, according to an estimate by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. Two days later, on the last day of March, it became the first New England state to make at least two-thirds of its population vaccine eligible.

In March, New Hampshire and Connecticut quickly accelerated their vaccine eligibility, trading places for the most rapid expansion. Connecticut made approximately 45.7% of its population eligible on March 19 when it allowed sign-ups for people aged 45 and older. New Hampshire opened registration for residents aged 40 and older 10 days later, then opened registrations for ages 30 and older on March 31. 

Since state vaccination programs began, they typically have been ranked by the percentage of their population that has been fully vaccinated. Another method is to measure the percentage for whom a vaccine is available. Both measures have problems, and both offer useful insights into a state’s vaccine rollout. 

The biggest problem with judging a state by the percentage of its population fully vaccinated is that state governments don’t mandate vaccination; their responsibility is to make vaccines available. 

Another problem is that a sizable, though declining, level of vaccine reluctance persists, particularly in more rural and Republican-leaning states, some data suggest. 

Measuring a state government’s success by the percentage of the population that got the vaccine is to give credit or lay blame in part for factors that are beyond the state bureaucracy’s control.

Judging states by the percentage of the population that has access to a vaccine could be a better measure of the state government’s distribution program. However, this measure also is affected by public behavior and demographics. 

If large portions of the earliest eligible groups decline vaccination because they are skeptical or fearful of the vaccine, that can make more doses available more quickly for later groups. If a state’s population is heavily skewed toward one end of the age spectrum, that will also affect the percentage eligible. 

New Hampshire’s median age is 42.9, almost two years higher than Connecticut’s (41). That gives New Hampshire an edge over Connecticut on this metric. But Maine’s median age is 44.7. Vermont’s is the same as New Hampshire’s (42.9). Rhode Island and Massachusetts are the youngest New England states, with median ages of 39.9 and 39.5, respectively. 

Another potential complication is that declaring eligibility is not the same as making the vaccine available. States can open sign-ups, but those are good only if the system is granting quick and easy access to appointments where vaccines are available.

Ultimately, states are responsible for creating a functioning distribution system that provides residents with the opportunity to obtain a vaccine. Once that system is functioning efficiently and effectively, states can encourage vaccination, but they do not conscript people into the vaccination program. 

That being the case, looking at the percentage of the population that has access to the vaccine can be a useful way of assessing a state’s competence in getting doses to people who want them. At this core task, New Hampshire has done extremely well. Sign-ups have proven relatively easy, wait times are not long, and vaccines are readily available for those who want them.

Though no state’s distribution system has been flawless, New Hampshire’s has managed to avoid major failures while providing relatively easy and effective access for eligible groups. 

By basing eligibility primarily on age, followed by vulnerability, the state has prioritized high-risk individuals while maintaining an uncomplicated sign-up system. 

Connecticut designed and maintained a similar priority system, based primarily on age and vulnerability. Both states have stuck with these systems amid criticism from some that race, ethnicity and income should be weighed more heavily. 

At the close of the first quarter of 2021, Connecticut and New Hampshire led New England in making vaccines rapidly available for most of the population. Other New England states have lagged weeks behind.

Connecticut’s vaccine eligibility remained at age 45 and older until April 1, when it became the first New England state to offer vaccines to all residents ages 16 and older.

New Hampshire ended March with vaccine appointments available to anyone 30 or older, with its schedule set to open vaccine sign-ups for ages 16+ on April 2, just one day after Connecticut.

Every other New England state is scheduled to expand eligibility to ages 16+ more than two weeks later, on April 19. 

Using U.S. Census data, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy estimated the percentage of each New England state’s population that was eligible for a COVID vaccine on March 31, the end of the first quarter of 2021. Based on the age groups that were being offered vaccines on that date, New Hampshire was in the lead, with 67% of its population eligible, followed by Connecticut at 45.7%, Vermont at 42%, Maine and Rhode Island at 25%, and Massachusetts at 23%.

In addition to prioritized age groups, states have made first responders and other “essential” workers eligible for vaccines. We used only age groups to estimate the vaccine-eligible percentage of the population because we did not have good data for dividing these workers by age.

Adding essential workers without adjusting for age would boost each state’s figures by a few percentage points, but adding those numbers without knowing the workers’ ages would double count many, if not most, of them, particularly in Connecticut and New Hampshire. 

Discrepancy between eligibility and vaccination rates

Becker’s Hospital Review ranks states by the percentage of the population that’s been fully vaccinated. On March 31, the New England states ranked by that metric were:

Rhode Island 20.7%

Connecticut 20.5%

Maine 19.31%

Massachusetts 18.5%

Vermont 18.4%

New Hampshire 17.1%

Why would New Hampshire rank first in New England in eligibility but last in vaccinations?

A likely reason is that a relatively high percentage of the population has reported being reluctant to get the vaccine. 

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey for late March found that 57.5% of Granite Staters who have not yet been vaccinated say they will do so. That is the 15th highest rate in the country. Yet it puts New Hampshire below every other New England state.

Looking into the survey’s data tables shows that 15% of Granite Staters said they definitely or probably would not get the vaccine. That is below the national average of 17.2%, but it’s the highest percentage in New England. Rhode Island is next at 14.3%, followed by Maine at 13.2%, Connecticut at 10%, and Massachusetts and Vermont tied at 7.4%.

Although New Hampshire has rapidly expanded eligibility, making the vaccine available to more than two-thirds of the population by the end of March, a relatively high portion of the state’s population, relative to the rest of New England, is reluctant to be vaccinated.

The importance of persuasion

And that brings us to a point the Josiah Bartlett Center made last year about the importance of building trust for public health measures. Regarding business closures and mask mandates, we cautioned that mandates and restrictions can backfire if they cut against public opinion. They can cause resistance, making it harder, rather than easier, to achieve public health goals. The first step in pursuing public health goals during a pandemic is to explain to the public why changes in behavior are needed.

In a democratic republic, persuasion is the primary political currency. Where people pride themselves in being free to live their own lives on their own terms, government dictates can backfire, causing resistance and making it harder to achieve desired goals. This is true in public health as in all other areas of public policy.

New Hampshire has done its job on the distribution end, making the vaccines widely available and easy to obtain. To get the vaccination numbers up, the state next should devote additional resources to persuading Granite Staters to get vaccinated. 

Mass vaccination is the path out of the pandemic. Though the state has made this point, the federal government’s conflicting messages have caused confusion and delay. A more energetic and high-profile state campaign to encourage vaccination would help bring up our vaccination rates and move us more rapidly back to normal, or as close to normal as we can get.

Most U.S. States (27) have Right to Work laws, and that includes a growing number in the industrial Midwest. Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have them, and every state bordering Ohio, save Pennsylvania, has one.  

As Right to Work laws have spread North and West in recent decades, they have hit a hard wall in the Northeast. Were New Hampshire to become a Right to Work state, it would not only be the first in New England, but the first on the East Coast above West Virginia.

That has made the fight over a Right to Work law here particularly bitter. Both sides understand that New Hampshire’s adoption of a Right to Work law could change the game in the entire Northeastern United States.

With such high stakes, it’s not surprising that facts often have been lost amid all the heated rhetoric. So it’s important to start by understanding exactly what these laws do.

Right to Work laws simply require an employee’s consent before an employer can redirect any portion of the employee’s pay to a labor union as dues, fees or other charges. 

Senate Bill 61, currently being considered in the Legislature, puts it this way:

“It shall be unlawful for any employer to deduct from the wages, earnings, or compensation of any employee any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges, to be held for, transferred to, or paid over to a labor organization, unless the employee has first presented, and the employer has received, a signed written authorization of such deductions, which authorization may be revoked by the employee at any time by giving written notice of such revocation 30 days in advance of its effective date.”

In pursuit of that goal, the bill further prohibits employers from entering into labor contracts that compel non-members to pay dues, fees or charges to a union. And it prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their union membership status. 

This isn’t extreme language. Michigan’s Right to Work law is phrased similarly. 

The core issue is individual employee rights. These laws do not prohibit collective bargaining, ban union organizing, or in any way prevent employees from unionizing or employers from signing union contracts. All they do is prevent such contracts from compelling non-members to contribute financially to unions.

But this primary purpose of Right to Work laws — the protection of individual freedom — tends to get lost in the political debate as the focus shifts to the economic effects. 

There is a wide variation in the quality of research on Right to Work laws, and therefore there is some confusion about what they show. Simplistic sloganeering often gets in the way of a clear look at quality data.

For example, opponents shout that Right to Work means “the right to work for less,” and they present charts that show lower average wages in Right to Work states. But of course, Right to Work laws for many years were primarily concentrated in Southern states with a much lower cost of living than the Northern states that did not have such laws. Simply controlling for cost of living and education levels erases much or all of that gap. 

Furthermore, such simplistic attacks divert policymakers’ attention so that they don’t spend time looking at the long-term effects of Right to Work laws on the economy as a whole. There, the research is much stronger — and much more favorable to proponents. 

A useful summary of the academic research on Right to Work laws comes from the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics. In 2015, West Virginia legislators were considering whether to adopt a Right to Work law. To help with that decision, researchers at the College of Business and Economics examined decades’ worth of past economic research on Right to Work laws. That study wound up being a good guide to thinking about whether a state should adopt a Right to Work law. (West Virginia legislators did pass a Right to Work law.)

The researchers went through academic studies that found both positive and negative effects of Right to Work laws. They summarized all those findings, then ran their own analysis of the data, controlling for outside influences to try to isolate the effects of Right to Work laws themselves, not of other factors such as overall regulatory climate, cost of living, etc. 

They found that Right to Work laws are strongly associated with higher levels of economic growth, higher levels of employment, and lower levels of union membership. On wages, the results were inconclusive.

This is generally consistent with a large body of research on Right to Work laws. Studies tend to find that Right to Work laws are associated over time with large gains in both employment and Gross Domestic Product. 

A good example of how Right to Work laws can improve employment and economic growth comes from research that looked at manufacturing employment in counties near the border between states that have Right to Work laws and those that don’t.

Manufacturing employment has been shown to experience large and rapid gains along the borders of Right to Work states when the neighbor is not a Right to Work state.

Right to Work states tend to grow faster and add jobs at a faster rate than states without Right to Work laws. As state competition for employers and employees becomes more acute, those higher growth rates will become increasingly more important. The data show pretty convincingly that over time states without Right to Work laws will fall further behind their faster-growing Right to Work competitors.

After the right to free association, that positive effect on the economy overall is where policymakers ought to be focused. 

A new UNH poll purports to show that Education Savings Accounts are unpopular in New Hampshire. That would be surprising because plenty of other survey data, including previous UNH polling, shows that ESAs (and school choice in general) draw more support than opposition. 

One look at the wording of the UNH Survey Center’s poll question shows that it’s deeply flawed. 

With public opinion polling, it’s critical to word the questions carefully and properly. 

For example, if you ask “Do like cake,” you’ll likely get a different answer than if you ask, “Do you like high-fat, high-calorie baked dessert breads covered in artery-clogging icing?”

People know what cake is, so you don’t have to describe or explain it. But most people don’t know what Education Savings Accounts are (past UNH polling shows this). So it’s critical that they be described accurately so people can offer an informed opinion. 

The UNH Survey Center has been careful with this question in the past. This time, it wasn’t, and the results were different than those produced by other surveys of ESA support. 

In 2018, the last time the Legislature considered an ESA bill, the UNH Survey Center offered an accurate description that informed the respondent. Even so, most people weren’t familiar with the concept. The pollster then tried to gauge the support only of those who said they had at least a little bit of knowledge about the legislation.

Here are the questions the UNH Survey Center asked in its February, 2018 poll:

“As you may know, the New Hampshire legislature is considering legislation that would create Education Savings Accounts, which would allow parents to receive a state-funded scholarship to use for education costs such as tuition, testing, fees, and books. If that child is not in their public school. How much have you seen or read about this bil, a great deal, a moderate amount, only a little, or nothing at all?”

“Supporters of the legislation say it will give parents more choice when it comes to their children’s education while opponents say it will take away state money that should be spent on public schools. Would you support or oppose this legislation or don’t you know enough about this to say?”

The first question correctly described ESAs as scholarships that could be spent on a variety of education expenses outside of a child’s assigned public school.

That poll found 40% support for ESAs, with only 33% opposed, 9% staying neutral and 18% saying they don’t know enough about the issue.

Contrast that with the March 2021 poll. 

It asked this question: 

“The New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill that would create a voucher system, called “education freedom accounts” by supporters, that would give parents access to public dollars that could be put toward private schools (not colleges) for their children.”

That question generated the response that 35% support and 45% oppose. 

But the question inaccurately describes the EFA program in SB 130.

First, it describes EFAs as “vouchers,” which is not true. A voucher sends money directly to an education provider. EFAs create savings accounts controlled by parents, who then get to decide which state-approved education services to purchase. 

Second, it states only that the money goes to private schools other than colleges. That is misleading.

The EFA money does not go straight, or exclusively, to private schools. An EFA is a savings account that parents control, bounded by limits set in statute. Families could use the money for a long list of approved education expenses, including tuition at an out-of-district public school as well as a private school, tutoring, special education services, textbooks and curricula, tuition for individual classes at public and private schools as well as colleges, career and technical education, online classes, and more.

SB 130 also limits eligibility for EFAs to families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, would use only each student’s state adequate education grant, leaving local school funding untouched, and provides additional funding to public schools for each student who choses an EFA during the first three years of the program. 

No one listening to the UNH pollster would know any of that. 

When Education Savings Accounts and other forms of school choice are described accurately, polling shows that they tend to have strong support, particularly among lower-income and minority parents.

EdChoice has surveyed New Hampshire residents on this very issue. Its poll, conducted by Morning Consult, asks two questions.

In the first, it doesn’t describe ESAs. That question asks:

“Based on what you know or have heard from others, in general, what is your opinion of Education Savings Accounts?”

That question finds 39% support for ESAs, almost exactly what the UNH Survey Center found by inaccurately describing ESAs.

EdChoice, though, also asks a different question that accurately describes ESAs. It reads:

“An Education Savings Account in K-12 education — often called an ESA — establishes for parents a government-authorized savings account with restricted, but multiple uses for educational purposes. Parents can use these funds to pay for: school tuition; tutoring; online education programs; therapies for students with special needs; textbooks or other instructional materials; or save for future college expenses.”

When ESAs are properly described, support in New Hampshire shoots up to 70%. 

Education Next, a project of Harvard University and Stanford University, regularly tests public support for school choice programs. Its most recent poll, in 2020, found:

  • 51% of Americans support voucher programs in which government helps pay private school tuition costs for children, and only 36% oppose;
  • 44% support charter schools, and only 37% oppose;
  • 57% support tax-credit scholarship programs, and only 27% oppose. 

Education Next did not ask about Education Savings Accounts. But its polling finds school choice options to be more popular than unpopular. 

Another example of nationwide findings comes from the Associated Press, which just published the results of a survey that found more support than opposition for vouchers for low-income families.

The AP poll question was this:

“Do you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose each of the following government-funded policies? * Give low income parents tax-funded vouchers they can use to help pay for tuition for their children to attend private or religious schools of their choice instead of public schools.”

Among K-12 parents, 46% favor vouchers for low-income students, and 28% oppose.

The March 2021 UNH poll was the only one here to find opposition exceeding support for school choice. There’s a reason for that. Its question was bad.

The UNH poll can’t possibly offer an accurate reflection of the public’s views on SB 130’s EFA program because it inaccurately described the program. The only New Hampshire poll to provide a good description of EFAs found 70 percent support for them. 

Policymakers considering this issue shouldn’t give any weight to a poll in which the topic being polled was so wrongly described.