State budgets are like the Grinch’s Santa sack. They’re huge, unwieldy, and overstuffed with giveaways and surprises. Their contents are a mystery to anyone who doesn’t have hours to crawl inside and unwrap every little package, which is pretty much every normal person. 

We’re not normal (we like reading budgets), so we’ve done the unpacking for you.

Here are five interesting things we’ve found in the Legislature’s budget that have been overlooked or underreported in the news.

  1. The budget imposes immediate business tax increases. We’ve written about this before, but news reports continue to get it wrong. The budget does not merely repeal rate cuts scheduled to take place two years from now. It also raises this year’s Business Profits Tax and Business Enterprise Tax rates by 2.6% an 12.5% respectively. We have more on the budget’s tax increases here.
  1. Budget writers created a dangerous structural budget deficit. Legislators shifted much of the current budget surplus into the 2020-21 budget, then spent that one-time money on recurring line items. As a result, expenditures for fiscal years 20-21 exceed revenues by $134 million. That creates a hole in the ongoing budget that future legislators will have to fill. We have more on that here.
  1. From this fiscal year through the end of 2021, the budget spends almost $500 million more than Gov. Chris Sununu proposed spending. You can see our outline of the differences here.  
  1. The budget eliminates the existing prohibition on spending state taxpayer money on abortions. This repeal is located in House Bill 2 on Page 142, line 294, which states that the 2017 session law “prohibiting reproductive health facilities from using state funds to provide abortion services, is repealed.” 
  1. The budget moves occupational licensing revenue into the General Fund. When a barber, tattoo artist, nurse or other applicant for a state license pays the required fee, the money is kept in a segregated “office of professional licensure and certification fund.” That fund is to be used only to finance the state’s licensing regime. The budget changes the law to require that any licensing funds left in the account at the end of each fiscal year be moved to the General Fund. This would lend support to any licensed professional’s complaint that state fees are too high.

These are only a few of the newsworthy items we found that have received little or no media coverage. We’ve found more, which we will share in future posts.

If you want to do your own digging through the dark, cavernous goodie bag, knock yourself out. You can read HB 2, the budget “trailer bill” that contains the legal changes, here. 

The Legislature’s final budget spends $497.3 million more than Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget in General and Education Trust Fund appropriations in the 2019 and 2020-21 fiscal years.

In this report, we examine the three major differences between these competing budget visions: total General and Education Trust Fund appropriations, business tax rates, and disposition of the current-year surplus.

Read the full report here: Budget Visions Legislature vs Governor Final.

Some supporters of the Legislature’s 2020-2021 budget are making inaccurate claims about its business tax provisions.

1. They claim that the budget’s tax increases apply only to rate reductions that are scheduled to take place in the future, and not to current-year tax rates.

2. They claim that the existing business tax rates and the lower rates scheduled to take effect in 2021 are tax cuts for “out-of-state corporations.” This brief shows how those claims are incorrect. 

Read our brief here: Bartlett Brief 20-21 Budget Biz Taxes.

The budgets passed by the New Hampshire House and Senate propose significant spending increases that are unsustainable without tax increases. Unsurprisingly, both contain large tax increases to cover the costs of their higher spending. By contrast, Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget keeps spending to levels that are sustainable without raising taxes.

A Josiah Bartlett Center comparison of the governor’s budget proposal to the budgets that passed the House and Senate shows that the House would spend $320 million more than the governor in Fiscal Year 2020-21 General and Education Fund appropriations, while the Senate would spend $296 million more than the governor.

The governor’s budget would increase General and Education Trust Fund spending by 3.5% in FY20-21, compared to 10.8% for the House budget and 8.7% for the Senate budget.

Before counting the paid Family and Medical Leave program, the House budget proposes $268.1 million in tax increases for FY20-21, while the Senate budget proposes $158.6 million in tax increases over the biennium.

All three budgets included additional revenue from sports betting and from expanding the tobacco tax to cover electronic cigarettes.

The House and Senate budgets then add $168.6 million in payroll taxes to cover the cost of a state-run paid family and medical leave program, which is not part of the governor’s budget.

The full budget brief is available in pdf form here: Budget Visions 2020-21 House, Senate, Gov

 

The Senate this week joined the House passing tax increases on New Hampshire businesses. Some reports give the impression that the House and Senate budgets would not raise taxes, but would repeal future tax cuts. Here we explain why that is not correct and the budgets raise business taxes, including the rates that businesses will pay this year.

Under current law, the business profits tax rate is 7.7 percent and the business enterprise tax rate is 0.6 percent for “taxable periods” that end “on or after December 31, 2019.” 

Both the House and Senate budgets would repeal those rates and replace them with rates of 7.9 percent and 0.675 percent, respectively. 

The budgets also would repeal the existing state law that lowers those rates further, to 7.5 percent and 0.5 percent, for taxable periods that end on or after Dec. 31, 2021.

Understanding how businesses pay taxes

What does it mean when state law declares that a tax rate applies to a “taxable period ending on or after December 31, 2019?” 

It does not mean that the tax rate takes effect on January 1, 2020.

A “taxable period” is not a calendar year. State law (RSA 77-A:1, IV) defines “taxable period” as a business’ fiscal year for federal income tax purposes. 

So a taxable period “ending on or after December 31, 2019” is a business’ fiscal year that starts in 2019 and ends on or after Dec. 31, 2019. 

A business will start to pay those tax rates in 2020, then, right? 

No. 

Businesses’ fiscal years do not always correspond with the calendar year. They can begin or end on any day of the year. 

Plus, businesses are required to pay taxes quarterly, not annually. 

Under New Hampshire law, any business with an estimated tax liability of more than $200 is required to estimate what its next year’s tax bill will be, and then submit 25 percent of that payment each quarter. 

Here is how that works.

In 2019, employers begin paying quarterly taxes for fiscal years that end “on or after December 31, 2019.”

For example, a business with a fiscal year that ends April 30, 2019, will start a new fiscal year on May 1, 2019. That new fiscal year will end April. 30, 2020. 

So starting on May 1, 2019, that company will be taxed at the rate in effect for “taxable periods ending on or after December 31, 2019.” It will make payments at that rate every four months throughout its tax year.

Under current law, companies with fiscal years starting May 1, July 1, and Oct. 1, 2019, will be making business profits tax payments at the 7.7 percent rate and business enterprise tax payments at the 0.6 percent rate this year. 

That’s why the House and Senate budgets do not just affect future tax rates that employers are not yet paying. The budgets would raise those fiscal year 2019 tax rates to 7.9 percent and 0.675 percent. 

So the House and Senate budgets would not merely not repeal future tax cuts, as is being reported. They would raise taxes on businesses this year.   

A tax increase is a tax increase

Furthermore, it is worth noting that “repealing a future tax cut” also is a tax increase. Those tax cuts are set in existing law. They apply automatically. To replace them with a higher rate is to raise taxes.

 

Scientists on Wednesday revealed what they claimed was the first ever photograph taken of a black hole. But this can’t be true because people have been taking pictures of government since the dawn of photography. 

This early photo of the U.S. Capitol was taken in 1846, 70 years before black holes were characterized and 125 years before the first one was discovered.

Black holes famously consume everything within their reach. Government demonstrates a similar appetite.  

Humanity fears the unstoppable power of the black hole. Anything that encounters a black hole is pulled into a dark abyss from which not even light can escape. Slip within one’s reach and doom is certain.

Thankfully, government can only aspire to such inescapable domination. As a creation of man, government can be controlled. But that can be done only by suppressing its natural tendency to expand and consume. 

We do that first by dividing and balancing its power. In this way we turn its power against itself. But that is not enough. We must also control ourselves.

Government will constantly expand as long as we fail to guard against the natural human temptation to increase our own status and authority by enlarging the ravenous, massive force we have created to serve us.   

Resisting this temptation is difficult. Think of all the good a more powerful government might do if only it could be kept in “the right” hands. Giving in to that temptation causes government power to expand, which necessarily causes the power of the governed to shrink. 

It is as The Simpsons explained about black holes in Season 24. 

Sadly, too few people in power take seriously the wisdom passed down by the Founding Fathers — or The Simpsons. 

The day after the release of the black hole photo, the N.H. House of Representatives passed a budget that increases state baseline spending by $382 million and raises taxes and fees by $417 million, as we explained in a report just after news of the black hole photo broke. These are not small, incremental changes. The spending figure is a 14.8 percent increase over fiscal year 2018. 

The House budget aggressively expands the size and power of state government. It’s important to recognize that the House’s disagreement with Governor Chris Sununu is not primarily about services provided. It is about power. 

The best example of this dynamic is the House’s immediate rejection of the governor’s compromise on paid family and medical leave. In the governor’s proposal, that service — a priority of the House majority — could be provided by the private sector through voluntary transactions. There would be no coercion, no tax, no government expansion. The House instantly rejected this option in favor of a mandate, a tax, and an expansion of governmental power. 

The surplus offers another example. The governor had spent the state’s large budget surplus on items that do not fall within the baseline budget. This was to avoid creating obligations on future budgets — obligations that would drive up taxes and expand the size of government. The House instead rolled it into the regular budget, necessitating tax increases.

In sum, the House budget expands both the size and the reach of state government. It enlarges state power and authority in much the same way a black hole grows — by grabbing things that were not previously under its control and absorbing them. When this is the primary motivation of government, all that is just outside of government’s reach ought to be worried.  

 

A new briefing paper from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy shows that the House’s 2020-2021 budget proposal spends $382.4 million more in state funds than Gov. Chris Sununu’s proposed budget and includes $417.7 million in new taxes and fees. 

The paper shows that the divergence in governing philosophies between the Republican governor and the Democratic House majority could hardly be more stark. 

Sununu’s budget would increase fiscal year 2021 general fund spending by 5.4 percent over fiscal year 2018. The House budget increases spending over the same time period by 14.8 percent.

The tax increases show an equally sharp philosophical divergence. 

Gov. Sununu’s proposed budget contains one expanded tax (extending the tobacco tax to cover electronic cigarettes) and a new fee (a charge on newly allowed sports betting). The House budget also expands the tobacco tax and includes the sports betting fee but also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes to cover the budget’s spending increases.

The House budget includes a sales tax on marijuana transactions ($4 million), business tax increases ($94.1 million), a new capital gains tax ($150 million), and a new wage tax (payroll tax) to fund a compulsory paid family and medical leave program ($168.6 million). 

Without those new taxes, the House budget does not balance. In fact, it also doesn’t balance without the surplus built up over the last two years.

Both Gov. Sununu and the House spend the current state budget surplus. But the governor treats the surplus as one-time revenue attributable primarily to the immediate stimulatory effects of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. He therefore dedicates the money to one-time appropriations rather than recurring spending. 

By contrast, the House treats the money as ongoing revenue and uses it to increase baseline state appropriations. Spending it this way requires future tax increases to sustain the higher level of spending, something the governor sought to avoid. 

The House budget would turn state taxation and spending sharply upward and put it on a rising trajectory into the foreseeable future.  

(A previous post in this space failed to account for a relocation of lottery revenues in the governor’s budget. That failure inaccurately put the House spending figure $584 million above the governor’s.)

A copy of the full report in pdf form is here: Budget Visions 2020-21-4.

 

Executive summary: Funding for the state’s Division of Children, Youth and Families has become a contested political issue in this year’s state elections. Framing the debate, former state Sen. Molly Kelly, the Democratic nominee for governor, asserts that the 2018-19 state budget signed by Gov. Chris Sununu prioritized tax cuts for the wealthiest corporations over child protection, thereby draining state revenue and leaving the division with less funding. This briefing paper takes a look at those claims. 

We find that the 2018-19 state budget signed by Gov. Sununu provided DCYF with its largest general fund spending increase in at least a decade. We find as well that the business tax cuts included in the budget were not targeted to the wealthiest corporations and did not cause DCYF funding reductions.  

DCYF Funding

NOTE: Until the 2014-15 state budget, the Division of Children, Youth and Families was a separate division of the Department of Health and Human Services, listed as a single category in the state budget. Starting in that biennium, DCYF was no longer listed in the state budget as a division. Its funding was divided into DCYF’s two primary component parts, “Child Protection” and “Child Development.” To make sure we were comparing apples to apples over the past decade, we asked the Legislative Budget Assistant to verify what budget categories constituted DCYF funding during that time period. The spreadsheet accompanying this brief (attached at the bottom of this post) is the LBA’s breakdown of DCYF’s core Child Protection and Child Development funding over the past decade, with the Sununu Youth Services Center budget shown separately. 

As with other state agencies, state general fund appropriations for the Division of Children, Youth and Families have fluctuated with the state’s financial fortunes. In the last decade, both political parties have cut state general fund spending on DCYF in leaner times and increased it when more money was available.

For example, the 2010-2011 budget was signed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch and written by a Democratic legislature, with Democratic Sen. and future Gov. Maggie Hassan taking the lead in the Senate. It cut state funding for Child Protection by 12 percent from 2009-2010 and for Child Development by less than a percentage point. 

The Republican-led Legislature cut state DCYF funding further as part of its broad spending reductions in the 2012-13 budget, which Gov. Lynch let pass without his signature. In the 2014-15 and 2016-17 budgets, DCYF state funding inched slightly higher. 

Then in the 2018-19 budget, Gov. Sununu and the Republican Legislature substantially increased state funding for DCYF. State general fund spending on Child Protection rose from $39,855,790 in 2017 to $45,857,006 in 2018, then to $47,688,777 in 2019. State General Fund spending on Child Development rose from $10,886,714 in 2017 to $11,391,914 in 2018 to $11,849,106 million in 2019. 

In total, state General Fund spending on DCYF was increased in the 2018-19 budget by $8,795,379, or 17.3 percent. 

No other budget in the last decade comes close to increasing DCYF funding by as large a percentage as the budget Gov. Sununu signed in 2017. Far from neglecting or underfunding DCYF, the 2018-19 budget treated it like a favored child. 

Business Tax Cuts

Legislators in 2015 passed business tax cuts to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. They dropped the business profits tax rate from 8.5 percent to 8.2 percent and the business enterprise tax rate from 0.75 percent to 0.72 percent. A provision in the budget provided that the rates would fall again for fiscal year 2018 if general and education fund revenues hit at least $4.64 billion by the end of fiscal year 2017. Revenues hit $4.865 billion, easily exceeding the target, and on Jan. 1, 2018 the business profits tax fell to 7.9 percent and the business enterprise tax to 0.675 percent. 

The 2018-19 budget signed by Gov. Sununu introduced another round of business tax rate reductions. The business profits tax is scheduled to drop to 7.7 percent on Jan. 1, 2019 and 7.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2021. The business enterprise tax is scheduled to drop to 0.6 percent on Jan. 1, 2019 and 0.5 percent on Jan. 1, 2021.

Opponents of these business tax cuts have for more than a year floated a talking point which asserts that the 2018-19 budget contained $100 million in tax breaks reserved exclusively for the state’s wealthiest businesses. In some cases opponents have asserted that the tax cuts were for the richest 3 percent of businesses. 

Former Sen. Kelly has combined this attack with her claim that the budget shortchanged DCYF. For example, in an Aug. 30 opinion column for the New Hampshire Union Leader, she wrote:

“Sununu became governor knowing that DCYF and the state’s obligation for the safety of our children was in jeopardy. He has not done enough to fix it. Instead, his priority in his 2017 budget was giving away $100 million in tax breaks to the wealthiest corporations, when he should have ensured DCYF had every resource needed to protect our children.”

As detailed above, the budget Gov. Sununu signed in 2017 increased DCYF funding dramatically. Did it give away $100 million to the wealthiest corporations?

Neither the governor’s proposed budget nor the final state budget projected business tax revenue reductions. On the contrary, both counted on a growing economy to increase business tax revenue, which is exactly what has happened so far.

The governor’s proposed budget counted on business tax revenue growing by $31.7 million over the biennium (it also increased DCYF funding by $7.6 million). Rather than cut DCYF funding to account for lost business tax revenue, it proposed using increased business tax revenue to increase DCYF funding. The final state budget did the same thing.

The Committee of Conference that agreed on the final state budget projected business tax revenue of $662 million in 2018 and $672 million in 2019.  Available data suggest that these were conservative projections. Business tax revenues for fiscal year 2018 were $776.6 million, according to unaudited state figures. That’s 17.3 percent above plan and 22.4 percent above the prior year. 

How can one claim that the budget lost $100 million because of business tax cuts when it increased business tax revenue by $114 million — more than the supposed revenue loss — in only its first year?   

The $100 million figure likely comes from revenue projections presented by the Legislative Budget Assistant’s Office during the budget negotiations.  

The Legislative Budget Assistant provided an estimate of the cumulative value of the 2018-19 budget’s business tax cuts, which projected a revenue loss of $96 million through 2021 with another $86 million in 2022. It further estimated a $9.7 million annual loss from the budget’s expansion of allowable business profits tax deductions from $100.000 to $500,000. 

There are multiple problems with using those projections as the basis for claiming that the budget took money from DCYF to give to rich corporations. 

First, those estimates apply to tax law changes that take effect in 2019. If those rate reductions do materialize, they would have no effect on DCYF funding for the 2018-19 budget, which is already set.

Moreover, this theoretical future revenue loss is inconsistent with the results of the preceding business tax rate reductions. 

Business tax revenue exceeded projections by $132.8 million (23.4 percent) in fiscal year 2016 and by $72.7 million (12.9 percent) in fiscal year 2017, as recorded in the state’s official Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports for 2016 and 2017. Unaudited figures for fiscal year 2018 show business tax revenues coming in $114 million (17.3 percent) above state budget projections and 142.3 million (22.4 percent) above fiscal year 2017.

Since fiscal year 2016, when the business tax rate reductions took effect, revenues from state business taxes have risen, exceeding state projections by $319.5 million.  

The state has three years of data to show that business tax rate cuts did not starve the state of funding, but instead likely contributed to the increased economic activity that fueled an unexpected $319.5 million business tax windfall.

The revenue loss projections were made using static scoring, which does not take economic growth or changed business behavior into account. They represent a simple mathematical calculation of state tax receipts assuming that lower tax rates have no effect on anyone’s behavior. The state’s experience since 2016 shows why this is a bad way to project tax revenue. 

Moreover, neither the projections nor the rate cuts themselves support the claim that the budget’s business tax cuts were targeted to the wealthiest corporations. The rate cuts are not targeted to wealthy corporations but apply to all businesses that have to file New Hampshire business taxes. 

Conclusion

There is no factual basis for the claim that DCYF funding in the 2018-19 state budget was neglected or diminished because of reduced business tax collections. Because business tax revenue has been significantly higher than projected since rate cuts began in 2016, legislators were able to increase DCYF funding by 17.3 percent in the 2018-19 budget. The first year of that budget brought in an additional $114 million in unanticipated business tax revenue, more than making up for the alleged $100 million in hypothetical future business tax losses. Those hypothetical future losses have not caused reduced DCYF funding and are inconsistent with the results of business tax rate cuts from 2016-2018. 

SYSC-DCYF Budgets

 

Download a pdf copy of this brief here: JBC DCYF Biz Tax Brief

The bill reauthorizing Medicaid expansion passed the state Senate on Thursday when half of the 14 Republicans joined all 10 Democrats in voting to extend the Obamacare entitlement program for five years. This is why the #Headdesk Twitter hashtag was invented.

One of the Republican selling points was that the bill pays for for Medicaid expansion while protecting state taxpayers.

It doesn’t, though.

Some readers (the old, boring ones, you know who you are) might remember the ongoing fight to fund the state Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund (Alcohol Fund) established in 2000. State law long required that 5 percent of the state Liquor Commission’s gross profits go into the Alcohol Fund. Only once — in 2003 — have the people’s elected officials followed that law. Typically they write a suspension of the law into the state budget.

New Futures created this handy chart to show the difference between the law’s required deposits and what was actually put into the account.

The Senate’s Medicaid expansion bill follows this grand 18-year bipartisan tradition and raids the Alcohol Fund.

The raid starts by first requiring that the Alcohol Fund at last be fully funded at 5 percent of gross Liquor Commission profits. (No sense in raiding an empty fund, right?)

This Liquor Commission money is then transferred to a new account created to pay for Medicaid expansion. It’s called the New Hampshire Granite Advantage Health Care Trust Fund. (One dedicated fund is being raided to finance another dedicated fund.)

The bill assures us that this transfer will happen only “provided” the programs financed through the Alcohol Fund “shall be paid for with federal or other funds available from within the department of health and human services.”

To provide a portion of those “other funds,” the bill lets the Alcohol Fund accept “gifts, grants, donations, or other funding from any source.” This magic money is directed to the substance abuse programs the Alcohol Fund can no longer finance because Medicaid expansion just swiped all of its Liquor Commission money.

Yeah, it’s Indiana Jones’ bag of sand trick. But with dollars.

What are the odds that those “other funds” will be made up of gifts and donations vs. state general funds?

Wait, don’t answer that question.

Sorry, Harrison.

The important point is that the Senate bill takes Liquor Commission funds and replaces them with whatever the Department of Health and Human Services has lying around. Like, say, lottery tickets, Funspot tokens or, we don’t know, maybe state general funds.

Even if the department finds bags of federal money in an old vault somewhere, the Senate bill still shrinks the general fund. Think back to what we wrote nine paragraphs and two stupid gifs ago (we know, but try).

The Senate bill first addresses the Alcohol Fund by ensuring that it finally receives its full 5 percent of Liquor Commission gross profits. For 15 years, legislators have been taking for the general fund the difference between that full 5 percent and whatever they decided to put into the Alcohol Fund.

Under the Senate bill, those general fund appropriations will no longer happen. They will go instead to fund Medicaid expansion.

Those are some pretty neat tricks to take general fund money via the Alcohol Fund. They could make for an interesting reception when the bill lands in the House.

January 2017

By Michael Sununu

Among the many drivers of unsound public policy in this day and age, perhaps the most odious is the alarmism over changes in climate that are supposedly driven by human activity. Time and again, we have seen costly, unjustified, and economically destructive public policy implemented in the name of climate protection, proclaiming that humanity can and should micromanage the earth’s climate, the largest and most complex system mankind will ever encounter. The justification for these costly actions is based on flimsy evidence, exaggerated claims, and a profound ignorance of the natural evolution and cycles of our climate systems. National, state, and local governments have all acted to impose damaging regulatory regimes, costly mandates, and harsh anti-development initiatives in the name of climate change, and New Hampshire has not been immune to the consequences.

On November 30, 2016, the New Hampshire Coastal Risk and Hazard Commission (“NHCRHC”) released its final report (http://www.nhcrhc.org/wp-content/uploads/2016-CRHC-final-report.pdf). This report is 124 pages of alarmist hand wringing, with a litany of recommendations that would expand government and strangle development in the Seacoast area. The apparent goal of the authors is to prod state legislators, bureaucrats and local officials to institutionalize acceptance of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in state law and state regulations, based on the premise that sea level rise (SLR) threatens our Seacoast in an unprecedented fashion. The unstated result of these actions would be to cede control from local towns to the state, impose huge barriers to development and undermine the economy in the region.

Unfortunately, there is not enough critical analysis and skepticism of the basis for the fears outlined in the report. The result is a document heavy on fearful scenarios, calls to action and demands for spending.

This paper is an attempt to put much of the science in its proper context, educate the reader with real data, raise the types of questions that should have been raised by the NHCRHC, consider the nature of the actual risks involved, and question whether the recommendations are really what the state, the region, and local communities need at this time.

Download the full report: NHCRHC Assessment