As the federal government works to resettle Afghans who fled the Taliban, New Hampshire officials should ask Washington to send us more than our share.

From a humanitarian standpoint, the appeal is obvious. Giving refuge to freedom-loving people ill-treated by their own government is a tradition woven into the fabric of the nation.

For New Hampshire, there is an additional practical appeal. The state is desperate for people.

New Hampshire’s population growth in the last decade was the state’s lowest in a century. From 1960-2000, the state’s population roughly doubled, and from 1960-1990 it grew by more than 20% per decade. 

But from 2010-2020, the growth rate was down to 4.5%. That was the lowest growth rate since 1910-20, when it was a paltry 2.9%. 

New Hampshire has enjoyed sustained economic growth because people continued to relocate here. Close to 60% of New Hampshire’s population was born out-of-state. In the rest of New England, with its lower economic growth, the percentages are reversed, and about 60% of the population is native-born.

In the last decade, immigration accounted for 89% of New Hampshire’s population growth, according to an analysis of Census data by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH.

Granite Staters aren’t having enough children to sustain a vibrant economy we’ve built here. New Hampshire has the second-lowest birth rate in the nation, at 8.8 live births per 1,000 people. That puts us just a hair behind the state with the nation’s lowest birth rate — Vermont. Its rate is 8.7. 

Were New Hampshire a country, it would have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Our rate is lower than that of many Eastern Bloc countries whose populations and economies have been decimated by decades of misrule, corruption and poverty, including Latvia, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The state’s economy has helped to counter the shrinking birth rate, and the foreign-born have always been an important part of the state’s immigrant population. 

In 1900, 21% of New Hampshire’s population was foreign-born, according to data compiled by the Carsey Institute at UNH. That has fallen to around 6%.

In the late 1800s, mill owners aggressively recruited foreign immigrants as Granite Staters moved away for better opportunities. The state even got into the act, creating a Commissioner of Immigration in an attempt to revive the declining agricultural sector.   

As early as the mid-1800s, New Hampshire and other New England states relied on immigration (often from what were then-considered less-desirable populations, including Irish, Germans, French-Canadians and Poles). In his 1871 book on farming, Horace Greeley wrote that in some New England townships, farm work was “done mainly by foreign-born employees.”

The state’s economy is in much better shape today, but our massive labor shortage represents a threat to future growth.

New Hampshire has tens of thousands of job openings. A search on glassdoor.com shows more than 30,000 openings, and indeed.com shows more than 40,000. Yet the state’s latest employment report showed only 22,210 unemployed Granite Staters and an unemployment rate of 3%. 

Afghan immigrants have a long and successful record of migration to the United States. The crime rate of Afghan immigrants is 11.6 times lower than the crime rate of native-born Americans, according to crime data analyzed by Alex Nowrasteh and Michelangelo Landgrave of the Cato Institute. 

During the Cold War, the United States prioritized refugees from Communist countries and screened them for Communist sympathies and associations. Cuban and Vietnamese refugees famously became two extraordinarily patriotic refugee groups after being resettled in the United States.

Similarly, Afghan refugees are screened twice for jihadist sympathies and terrorist connections, once overseas and again after arriving in the United States.

New Hampshire expects only 100-200 Afghan refugees. Even10 times that number would not be enough to provide a statewide economic lift. But for the businesses desperate for help, every hire matters.   

And if there’s any group of people who should be welcomed in the “Live free or die” state, it is refugees who literally lived that motto by risking their lives for freedom. 

Join the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College on October 12 as they present the findings of a first-of-its kind study showing how residential land use regulations have affected the supply and price of housing in New Hampshire.

“Residential Land Use Regulation In New Hampshire: Causes and Consequences,” a study conducted by Jason Sorens, Director of the Center for Ethics in Society, and published by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, examines how land use regulation in New Hampshire has suppressed the supply of new housing and driven up home prices and rents.

At this event, Sorens will explain his study’s findings, which show how and where local regulations have changed the supply and price of housing in New Hampshire. After the presentation, Sarah Marchant, Director of Community Development for the City of Nashua, and Ben Frost, Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs at the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, will join Sorens in a panel discussion about housing scarcity and the larger effects it has had on New Hampshire’s society, economy, and politics, moderated by Andrew Cline, President of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

HYBRID EVENT: This event will take place in the Frost/Hawthorne room at the DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester Downtown (700 Elm Street, Manchester, New Hampshire, 03101). Please arrive at 9:45 am to sign in. If you choose to attend virtually, the Zoom webinar will begin at 10:15 am.

Event details:

10 a.m., Tues., Oct. 12

Frost/Hawthorne Room, Doubletree by Hilton, 700 Elm St., Manchester

The event will also be streamed live on Zoom. 

Join us:

To attend in person, get on our guest list here.

To attend via Zoom, register here.

About the speakers:

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

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

Sarah Marchant, AICP joined the City of Nashua in June 2014 as the Director of Community Development. In this position, she is responsible for the budget and leadership of the Community Development Division which consists of six departments, including Building Safety, Code Enforcement, Planning and Zoning, Waterways, Transportation, Urban Programs, and various commissions, boards and programs. Sarah was elected President of the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association (NNECAPA) representing NH, VT and ME, in the fall of 2015 and serves on the National APA Policy and Advocacy Committee. She also serves on the Executive Committee of the New Hampshire Planners Association (NHPA), after serving as President from 2010-2014, and in 2019 was appointed to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority Board of Directors. She holds a BA from the University of New Hampshire and an MA from the University of Connecticut.

Benjamin Frost, Esq., AICP is the Managing Director of Policy and Public Affairs at New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, where he manages legislative initiatives, communications, research, and strategic planning, and also serves as internal legal counsel. He frequently lectures on issues of affordable and workforce housing, land use law, and ethics. Ben has 35 years of experience as a land use planner and over 25 years as an attorney. He is a founding member of the Governing Council of Housing Action NH, a low-income housing advocacy organization. Ben is the Treasurer of both the NH Planners Association and the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association and serves on the Amicus Curiae Committee of the American Planning Association. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Geography (with a focus on USSR environmental policy) from Colgate University and Syracuse University, respectively and a J.D. from Cornell Law School with a concentration in business law and regulation.

More than 1,000 New Hampshire families have applied for one of the state’s new Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs), showing strong demand for a program that offers many lower-income families their first real alternative to their assigned public school. Sadly, opponents of the program have cited this strong interest as a reason to prevent the program from growing.

Opponents claim the program will cost taxpayers too much money, so it should be capped. In fact, the program will save taxpayers millions. And the more public school students who take an EFA, the more taxpayers will save.

Authorized by the Legislature this year, Education Freedom Accounts allow families with incomes of no more than 300% of the federal poverty level to spend their state adequate education grant on educational services of their choice (from an approved state list). EFAs involve only state education grants; all local taxpayer money remains in the public schools.

The average cost of each EFA is expected to be approximately $4,600. For context, the state Department of Education projects the average per student expenditure in New Hampshire public schools in 2020-21 to be $21,401.

EFAs educate students for less than a quarter of what taxpayers currently spend, on average.

About 1,500 families have applied for an EFA for this fall, according to news reports. If each application is approved, opponents argue, the program will cost the state $7 million this year, which is more than the state budgeted for the program. Opponents simply multiply the $4,600 average EFA grant by 1,500 students. (The total with these round numbers would be $6.9 million.)

But that number is misleading because it overestimates the cost to the state and doesn’t count the savings to local school districts.

First, let’s consider that number in the larger context of education spending in New Hampshire. The total spending on public education in the 2020-21 school year was more than $3.3 billion. The state portion of the spending at the end of the 2021 fiscal year was just over $769 million.

This would mean that even if EFAs were to cost the state $7 million this year, that figure would amount to less than 1% of state spending for public education and 0.2% of the total education spending.

The actual percentage will be much smaller, though, because many EFA students are already enrolled in public schools. For any student who is leaving a district public school, the EFA grant he or she will receive does not represent new spending. It’s money already budgeted for that student’s education. The state just deposits it into the family’s EFA instead of the school district’s bank account, so there is no change to the state portion of the funding.

At the local level, the school district keeps every dollar raised by local taxation. It remains with the school district even though the student does not. Thus, more money is left for fewer students.

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy studied the financial impact of the EFA program earlier this year. Our analysis projected that taxpayers would save $6.65 million in the first two years of the program based on a conservative estimate of EFA enrollment.

We estimated that 966 students would use an EFA this year and 2,335 would use one next year. If first-year enrollment is closer to 1,500 students, state costs will a little higher, somewhere just above $1 million, roughly. But total taxpayer savings will also be higher, closer to $3 million instead of our projected $1.85 million.

The additional costs over what were budgeted are tiny — a few million dollars out of $769 million in state-funded education spending (and $3.3 billion in total New Hampshire education spending).

From a financial point of view, there’s no reason to cap EFA enrollment based on the interest parents have shown in the program this fall.

From a humanitarian point of view, a cap would be bad for children.

While the political conversation has focused on costs, the argument about educational choice is not fundamentally an economic one. It’s about who gets to decide how each child is educated.

First, it’s obvious that the objections to EFAs aren’t really about costs. Just consider the following scenario.

Imagine that legislators enacted a program that attracted 1,500 students out of private schools and homeschooling and into local public schools. That program would represent somewhere between $21 million and $32 million in increased cost to our public education system.

Does anyone believe that EFA opponents would object to this program because of the increased costs? Of course not. They would cheer the growth in public school enrollment.

The argument against EFAs is not about costs. It is about who gets to control education and education spending – parents or school districts.

As good as New Hampshire public schools are, not every child is successful in a traditional public school. EFAs let those students seek alternatives that work for them. That’s all.

Parents ought to have that option. Opponents know that most parents agree. So they try to attack the program by claiming it costs too much. It doesn’t. What’s really costly is limiting children’s futures by forcing them to stay in schools that don’t work for them.

In May, Foster’s Daily Democrat reported the exciting news that celebrity chef Bobby Marcotte planned to convert an abandoned Portsmouth gas station into a unique Asian-Spanish fusion restaurant. 

Portsmouth has a certain cachet, cultivated by its inhabitants as well as its government. One might think that a super-fashionable, high-concept restaurant helmed by a local celebrity chef would be just the sort of thing to sail through the city’s approval process.

One might also be unfamiliar with just how absurd local zoning restrictions can be.

On August 17th, the restaurant concept that was met with such fanfare in May was rejected by a 4-3 vote of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The Portsmouth Herald report can be read here.

The reason for the rejection? 

To make the restaurant work, Marcotte needed the ability to seat up to 100 customers during warm weather. The current zoning caps restaurant capacity at 50. 

Larry Gormley, attorney for Marcotte and his business Partner Paul Simbilaris, explained that the converted space would seat 50 people inside year-round, with an additional 40-50 people outside on a new patio when weather permits. 

The capacity would be “up to 90 or 100 at peak in the appropriate season,” Gormley said.

Board member Beth Margeson objected, saying the additional seating would bring too much traffic and parking to the neighborhood.

Gormley pointed out that the restaurant is within walking distance of the city’s new parking garage, which is where restaurant employees will be required to park.

Gormely didn’t say, but might have added, that the location is 0.4 miles (less than a 10 minute walk) from TWO parking garages, including the city’s new, $26 million Foundry Place garage, which the city itself acknowledges is only half full on a daily basis.  

The city built that garage for the express purpose of enabling additional commercial activity in the city, given the relative scarcity of on-street parking. 

The city has had several meetings to try to figure out how to increase the five-story garage’s use, as it has remained well under capacity since it opened in 2018. 

And yet the Zoning Board of Adjustment continues to cite on-street parking as a reason to reject commercial development within a short walk of the multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded garage. 

“We think we’re presenting an amenity for people to walk to and from the area,” Gormley explained. 

But a majority on the board couldn’t see that.

Some members fixated on the current zoning’s 50-seat capacity limit and the idea that an increase might have people parking on side streets when the patio is open. 

Gormley didn’t even win over any board members when he described this restaurant’s food as “Asian-infused tacos.”

Not a single board member leapt up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Which seems weird. Not ASIAN TACOS. Those seem delicious. It seems weird that no one stood up and screamed, “ASIAN TACOS!!”

Even weirder, four Zoning Board members willingly chose an abandoned gas station over… ASIAN TACOS.

Not all board members chose a vacant service station over tacos filled, presumably, with things like General Tso’s chicken or seafood tempura. 

Board member Arthur Parrott said the restaurant “will be a net gain to the neighborhood and the city as a whole because the one thing that’s clear to everybody is what’s there now is an eyesore and is long deserving of an improvement. Does a gas station belong there? No, but it’s there, and we have to deal with it.”

That’s precisely the choice the board had. It was either an abandoned gas station, or a 50-seat ASIAN TACO restaurant with an additional 40-50 seasonal patio seats. 

But the nays envisioned a third option — a magical Ideal Use that would perfectly fit the zoning ordinance and be commercially viable for the long term, but which, mysteriously, no one has proposed in all the years the ordinance has existed.

“I think this is just too much restaurant use,” Margeson said.  

She added later that the property is “just seemingly cursed or something, I don’t know.”

Explaining his yes vote, Parrott said he’s voted four times on proposals to convert the property to a better use, and yet it remains an eyesore gas station. 

Given that record, maybe the property is cursed. 

Maybe, just maybe, the curse is that city officials have dictated an extremely narrow range of approved uses for the property, none of which is economically viable under current market conditions.

A majority of the board imagines that on some glorious day, someone will appear before them and propose a use that is both profitable and consistent with the severe restrictions set by the city’s ordinance.

Until that day, however, they’ll ensure that the property remains an abandoned gas station.

What is an Education Freedom Account (EFA)?

An Education Freedom Account (EFA) is a government-approved savings account that can be used to pay for various educational expenses.  EFAs let families use their state per-pupil adequate education grant to purchase educational services outside of their assigned public school.  The grant amount will vary by student.  The average grant is estimated to be about $4,600 per student in the 2021-2022 school year.

Why Would I Want an EFA?

Not every child thrives in his or her assigned public school.  With an EFA, families can get help paying for an alternative education.  An EFA puts the family, rather than the school district, in charge of a child’s education dollars.  It allows families the freedom to choose the schooling option that works best for their children.

Who is Eligible for an EFA?

The eligibility requirements are fairly simple.  A New Hampshire resident who is eligible to enroll in a public K-12 school, and whose family earns no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, is eligible for an EFA.  School-age students who meet the income requirement can qualify for an EFA even if they are currently home-schooled enrolled in a private school.

The income eligibility (300% of the federal poverty level) breaks down as follows:

 

Household size Annual Income
2 $52,260
3 $65,880
4 $79,500
5 $93,120
6 $106,740

 

What Types of Education Expenses are Eligible for EFA Funding?

  • Private School Tuition
  • Community College Courses
  • Curriculum for homeschooling
  • Fees for national tests
  • Educational Therapies
  • School supplies
  • Tuition to another public school
  • And More! *Scroll to the bottom for a complete list of eligible expenses

How Can I Apply for an EFA?

Children’s Scholarship Fund NH administers the program. Apply through their website at https://nh.scholarshipfund.org/apply/nh-education-freedom-accounts/

How do I Use the EFA Money?

The state deposits money quarterly into the EFA. Children’s Scholarship Fund NH provides an online platform, Classwallet, that makes payments to education vendors or for other approved expenses (third party payment, similar to Pay Pal).

Where Can I Find More Info about EFAs?

 

Full list of qualifying EFA expenses:

(a)  Tuition and fees at a private school.

(b)  Tuition and fees for non-public online learning programs.

(c)  Tutoring services provided by an individual or a tutoring facility.

(d)  Services contracted for and provided by a district public school, chartered public school, public academy, or independent school, including, but not limited to, individual classes and curricular activities and programs.

(e)  Textbooks, curriculum, or other instructional materials, including, but not limited to, any supplemental materials or associated online instruction required by either a curriculum or an education service provider.

(f)  Computer hardware, Internet connectivity, or other technological services and devices, that are primarily used to help meet an EFA student’s educational needs.

(g)  Educational software and applications.

(h)  School uniforms.

(i)  Fees for nationally standardized assessments, advanced placement examinations, examinations related to college or university admission or awarding of credits and tuition and/or fees for preparatory courses for such exams.

(j)  Tuition and fees for summer education programs and specialized education programs.

(k)  Tuition, fees, instructional materials, and examination fees at a career or technical school.

(l)  Educational services and therapies, including, but not limited to, occupational, behavioral, physical, speech-language, and audiology therapies.

(m)  Tuition and fees at an institution of higher education.

(n)  Fees for transportation paid to a fee-for-service transportation provider for the student to travel to and from an education service provider.

(o)  Any other educational expense approved by the scholarship organization.

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

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

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

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

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

2010-2020: 4.6%

2000-2010: 6.5%

1990-2000: 11.4%

1980-1990: 20.5%

1970-1980: 24.8%

1960-1970: 21.5%

1950-1960: 13.8%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010-2020: 3.9%

2000-2010: 12.4%

1990-2000: 8.6%

1980-1990: 30.4%

1970-1980: 37.5%

1960-1970: 25.2%

1950-1960: 17.7%

1940-1950: 20.5%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, restaurant customers wanted to order beer and wine with their delivery dinners. There was just one problem. That was illegal.

New Hampshire’s alcohol laws reserved beer and wine delivery exclusively for other types of businesses. This was such an obvious financial challenge for restaurants during the shutdown that fixing it became a top priority. 

Relief came on March 18 when the governor issued Emergency Order 6, which let restaurants include beer and wine with food deliveries. 

In the months that followed, no spike in alcohol problems was traced to these beer and wine deliveries. They proved so safe that during a February 16 public hearing on Senate Bill 66, a bill to make the change permanent, the New Hampshire Liquor Commission testified in favor. 

With the support of the Liquor Commission, SB 66 passed and was signed into law on July 9.

The absence of any public health fallout from relaxing the ban raised an obvious question. Why did this prohibition exist in the first place?

As with so many business regulations, the state’s ban on restaurant alcohol delivery had nothing to do with public health or safety. It was part of a post-Prohibition alcohol distribution system crafted by legislators, regulators and businesses. The system’s rigid categories limit competition and confer cartel-like status on certain industries.

Under the new law, you can order beer or wine from a restaurant, but only with food. Why only with food? 

In New Hampshire, delivering alcohol by itself has long been reserved for groceries and convenience stores. They can deliver beer and wine to customers in unlimited quantities, so the ban obviously is not a public health issue. 

The prohibition resides in RSA 179:15, which allows liquor license holders to “transport and deliver anywhere in the state such beverages and wines ordered from and sold by them….” All liquor license holders “except on-premises licensees,” that is.

During the Feb. 16 public hearing, the New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Association testified against SB 66, arguing that it would “unnecessarily expand existing licensing categories.”

That comment shows the problem with the laws. The legal presumption is that the categories are natural and any change is unnecessary. In reality, the categories are both unnatural and unnecessary. 

Consumers just want wine with their delivery dinner. Making them order dinner from the restaurant and wine from the supermarket never made sense. 

Though restaurants now can deliver beer and wine, some nonsensical restrictions remain. The order must include food, and the beverages “shall be transported in their original, manufactured, sealed containers and shall consist of no greater than 192 ounces of malt beverage or 1.5 liters of sparkling or still wine.”

And if you want to order your favorite restaurant’s signature cocktail to go, well, you’re in the wrong state. New Hampshire is the only New England state not to allow cocktail delivery during or after the pandemic. 

An amendment proposed by Sen. Kevin Cavanaugh, D-Manchester, to allow cocktail delivery did not survive. 

It should not have taken a global pandemic to legalize restaurant delivery of beer and wine, just as it should not have taken a global pandemic to allow the practice of telemedicine or the decriminalization of home haircuts. 

But regulatory regimes are incredibly hard to fix because so many people and organizations have vested interests in perpetuating them. 

And with so few media outlets covering regulatory issues, consumers have no idea that the reason they couldn’t get a beer with their delivery burger was because lawmakers thought people should be forced to give that business to retail stores, not to restaurants, no matter how costly or inconvenient that might be.

The good news for consumers is that this dumb regulation is dumped. The bad news is that many others remain. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some notable examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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