If the Senate Finance Committee’s proposed budget becomes law, New Hampshire will at last become the only Northeastern state with no personal income tax.

New Hampshire markets itself as having no sales or income tax. But that’s not precisely true. Though the state does not tax individual earned income, it does tax personal income derived from interest and dividends. That is a personal income tax. 

The budget proposed by the Senate Finance Committee would phase out the state’s interest and dividends tax over five years. (The House-passed budget and the governor’s proposed budget also would phase out the tax.)

That tax brought in $105.8 million in Fiscal Year 2018, $114.7 million in Fiscal Year 2019, and $125.7 million in Fiscal Year 2020.

That might sound like a lot of money, but for context state business taxes alone have brought in $174.5 million in additional, unplanned revenue so far this fiscal year. The state is more than $200 million in the black this year, and that’s despite a $65 million pandemic-related drop in rooms and meal tax revenue below what was budgeted. 

In eliminating the interest and dividends tax, New Hampshire would follow Tennessee, which eliminated its Hall tax (on interest and dividend income) on Dec. 31, 2020. That tax was phased out over several years, beginning in 2016.

Being situated in Northern New England, New Hampshire has numerous geographical disadvantages that make it challenging to recruit businesses, entrepreneurs, retirees, and young people. It can’t change its weather or 18-mile coastline. But it can change its economic climate.

With an eye on economic and population growth, many other states are pursuing aggressive growth strategies that involve lowering tax rates and regulatory burdens. New Hampshire’s astounding economic growth over the last several decades can largely be attributed to its singular focus on growth-based economic policies. But as Massachusetts and other states have copied states like New Hampshire, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, it’s become more difficult for New Hampshire to stand out — and to recruit entrepreneurs, businesses, and employees. 

If it eliminated the interest and dividends tax, New Hampshire would join Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming to become the ninth state to levy no tax at all on personal income. 

New Hampshire not only would be the only Northeastern state with no income tax, it would be the only one North and East of Tennessee. On top of New Hampshire’s already relatively competitive economic policies, that would help keep the New Hampshire Advantage alive.

Becoming truly income-tax-free would improve New Hampshire’s competitive position, not just in New England, but internationally. It would help preserve the New Hampshire Advantage in an increasingly competitive era in which states are working non-stop to attract an increasingly mobile workforce and entrepreneurial base.

More than two-thirds of New Hampshire voters support right-to-work, the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy’s first public opinion poll shows. The poll also found support for Education Freedom Accounts, voter ID laws, and relaxing local housing regulations.

Asked if they would “be in favor of changing the law so that employees who don’t want to join a union could choose not to pay union fees,” 68% of New Hampshire voters said yes, and 22% said no. Ten percent said they were unsure.

“Most Granite Staters just think it’s wrong to make people pay fees to a union they don’t want to join,” Josiah Bartlett Center President Andrew Cline said.

Even Democrats broke in favor of right-to-work, the poll showed. Democrats said they would support a right-to-work law by a 44%-41% margin, just outside the poll’s margin of error. Republicans were in favor by an 88%-6% margin, and undeclared voters were in favor by a 73%-18% margin.

Every demographic group supported the passage of a right-to-work law except those who described themselves as “very liberal.” They opposed it by a margin of 29%-54%, with 17% undecided.

Twenty-seven states have right-to-work laws, which forbid employers from making non-union employees pay so-called “fair share” fees to labor unions. Employers and unions often negotiate contracts that require these fees, on the theory that non-members benefit from union collective bargaining efforts.

VOTER ID

New Hampshire voters are even more strongly in favor of requiring a photo ID to vote. Asked whether voters should “be required to show a photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot in a New Hampshire election,” 76% said yes, and 19% said no, with 4% saying they were unsure.

By party registration, every group supported voter ID laws, with 98% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats, and 80% of undeclared voters in support. Again, only self-described “very liberal” voters were against, with 33% in favor, 61% opposed.

EDUCATION FREEDOM ACCOUNTS

A plurality of voters is favors Education Freedom Accounts, the poll shows. Asked if they would support letting families access a state-approved Education Freedom Account to pay for educational expenses outside of their assigned public school, 42% were in favor; 37% were opposed. Support was strongest among Republicans (55% in favor, 27% against), followed by undeclared voters (42% in favor, 36% against), then Democrats (28% in favor, 49% against). 

Importantly, these results closely track a poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center in 2018. In both polls, the accounts were described in detail. That UNH poll found 40% in favor, 33% opposed, and 18% saying they didn’t know enough about the issue. 

The UNH Survey Center’s poll in March asked a very different question that did not accurately describe the accounts. Unsurprisingly, it got a different result, finding that 35% said they supported and 45% said they opposed. 

The consistency in the results for the two questions that accurately described the accounts shows that more Granite Staters support than oppose Education Freedom Accounts when they have an accurate description of the program. 

BUSINESS TAXES

Another question legislators are considering is what to do with business tax rates. We asked voters what they thought the state should do with business tax rates given the state’s large revenue surplus, which was created primarily by business taxes. The poll found that 58% of voters said business tax rates should stay the same, 34% thought rates should be cut, and only 8% thought tax rates should be raised. 

That is a very clear finding that Granite State voters do not think the state should raise business taxes. 

LOCAL HOUSING REGULATIONS

On the state’s record-setting home and rental prices, the poll found that a majority of voters (51%-29%) support relaxing some local regulations so developers can build more rental housing, and a plurality of voters (45%-34%) support relaxing some local regulations so developers can build more homes.

Democrats were the most supportive of relaxing some local regulations to build more housing. A majority of Democrats supported relaxing local regulations to build more rental housing (60%) and more single-family homes (52%). 

ABOUT THE POLL

The results are from a Saint Anselm College Survey Center online poll conducted on behalf of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy based on online surveys of 897 New Hampshire registered voters. Surveys were collected between May 26th and 28th, 2021, from cell phone users randomly drawn from a sample of registered voters reflecting the demographic and partisan characteristics of the voting population.

The survey has an overall margin of sampling error of +/- 3.3% with a confidence interval of 95%. The data are weighted for age, gender, geography, and education based on a voter demographic model derived from historical voting patterns, but are not weighted by party registration or party identification.

The full tables for these poll questions can be read here: Tables and Demos.

 

The New Hampshire Senate has rolled into its budget a bill (Senate Bill 130) to create Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs), which would give lower-income families the option of choosing the school that best fits their child’s needs. Critics say they would defund public schools. But this isn’t true. EFAs would save taxpayers money while giving families more educational options.

In New Hampshire’s current education funding system, the state directs $3,708.78 in “base adequacy aid” to public schools for each student enrolled. This funding is supplemented for students with additional needs. Students who qualify for special education services, free and reduced-priced lunch, or who are English language learners receive additional funds.

The EFA legislation would let parents who earn no more than 300% of the federal poverty level apply for a state-approved Education Freedom Account. Any family approved for EFA would have its state per-pupil funding deposited into the EFA, which is a restricted savings account. Money in the account could be used only for approved educational expenses.

How would this affect public school spending?

The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy analyzed the fiscal impact of the bill this spring, and our report concluded that the cost of the program to the state would be approximately $2.4 million in the 2021-2022 school year and $5.9 million in the 2022-2023 school year.

The state Department of Education has estimated total expenditures in public education will be somewhere around $3.5 billion, and the state portion will be just above $1 billion in each of the next two school years.

The estimated $2.4 million price tag, if you will, for ESAs in 2021-2022 would be just 0.24% of state education spending and a mere 0.07% of the total projected expenditures on public education in New Hampshire when local and federal funds are included.

The $5.9 million cost in 2022-2023 is still only 0.59% of the projected state expenditures.

On the local side, EFAs would result in savings, not increased expenses.

As mentioned above, the state portion of education expenditures is less than 30% of the total education funding in New Hampshire. In the 2019-2020 school year, 62.6% of total education expenditures in New Hampshire were provided by local taxation.

A student whose family chooses an ESA instead of  his or her assigned public school would receive an average of $4,578 in state per-pupil funding in 2021-2022 and $4,803 in 2022-2023.  This money would leave a district school. But so would the student, and thus, the need to spend additional money raised by local taxation to educate that student.

Our study projects that school districts would save $4.2 million in 2021-2022 and $10.7 million in 2022-2023. Subtracting the cost to the state of $2.4 million and $5.9 million, you get a net taxpayer savings of $1.85 million in the first year and $4.8 million in the second year.

Although saving money is not the primary intent of this policy, EFAs would lead to an estimated $6.65 million in net taxpayer savings in the first two years of the program alone.

The fear mongering claim that EFAs would “defund public schools” just isn’t true. They would save taxpayers money while providing students who don’t succeed in their assigned public school a much-needed option for finding a school that works for them.

EFAs are not an attempt to defund public schools or “privatize education.” The EFA legislation incorporated into the state budget would do neither of those things. It would provide an alternative way to fund public education for lower-income New Hampshire families whose children need educational options that might not be available through their assigned district school.

EFAs would account for less than 1% of projected state education expenditures and save local taxpayers $6.65 million over the next two school years. That would be good deal for both students and taxpayers.

Officially, New Hampshire’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Finding someone who actually earns that, though, could be harder than finding a vegan in a Brazilian steakhouse on Flank Steak Friday.

“You wont’ find it,” Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Restaurant and Lodging Association, said. 

A person making $7.25 an hour in New Hampshire is “a bit of a unicorn,” Somers said. “Frankly, we haven’t seen it for years. I haven’t seen anybody paying less than 9.50 or 10 bucks an hour in years.”

New Hampshire is one of 19 states that ties its minimum wage to the federal minimum. Employees who earn tips or commissions can be paid less than $7.25 an hour. Tipped jobs are subject to a minimum wage of $3.27 an hour. But that’s not what people in those jobs actually earn. 

When tips are included, restaurant servers in New Hampshire average more than $18 an hour, according to the Restaurant and Lodging Association. 

So when looking for people who are paid only the minimum wage, the search has to be limited to non-tipped positions.

Before the pandemic, non-tipped minimum-wage jobs already were unusual, if not rare, in New Hampshire. The post-pandemic labor shortage might have eliminated them. 

It’s possible that some employer in New Hampshire is paying someone $7.25 an hour. But in interviews with business managers and trade associations around the state, we found no one who paid the federal minimum for non-tipped work — or who knew of any other business that paid it.

“I think it would be pretty hard to find anybody that’s paying minimum wage,” Donna Allen, manager of the Family Dollar store in Berlin, said. Her store pays $11.50 an hour to start, she said.

Kyle Daley, manager of Solomon’s store in West Stewartstown, said his store pays $9-$10 an hour to start for entry-level positions. Experienced tradespeople such as butchers make more. He didn’t know of any area employer that paid the minimum wage. 

Paul McGonagle, manager of Grant’s Shop & Save in Glen, said the store typically pays inexperienced teens $10 an hour to start. Experienced employees start at $12 an hour. 

“You’re not going to get any employees” at $7.25 an hour, he said. “You’re just not going to get them. And if the parent hears that you’re hiring their kid at $7.25 an hour, they’ll say don’t take it, go work somewhere else. Go to McDonald’s where they’re paying 11, 12 dollars an hour.”

Survey data compiled by New Hampshire Employment Security suggest that non-tipped minimum-wage jobs have been declining for years. 

The agency does not have a database of every wage paid for every job. To estimate how many people make the minimum wage, it uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

Because the survey consists of a very small sample, its estimates are not considered precisely accurate. Even if the numbers are off by hundreds, though, the surveys show a years-long decline in the number of people reporting that they earn the federal minimum wage in the state. 

In 2016, Employment Security estimated based on CPS survey results that roughly 15,000 people in New Hampshire earned the minimum wage. In 2017, the number fell by nearly half, to 8,000. It fell to 1,200 in 2018 and bumped back up to 2,500 in 2019.

In 2020, the CPS survey estimated that only 235 people in New Hampshire earned the minimum wage. 

The 2020 estimate is based on a single person reporting to have earned the minimum wage. And that person reported having a tipped job, according to Employment Security. It’s possible that several times as many people earn the minimum wage in a non-tipped position — or that no one does. 

The 2020 number should be considered in the context of the pandemic-ravaged hospitality industry, where many lower-wage jobs are concentrated. Many of those jobs temporarily, or permanently, disappeared as restaurants, hotels, and tourism-related businesses closed or trimmed their workforces last year.

As the economy has recovered, the workforce has not. School closures, additional federal unemployment benefits, and a lingering fear of COVID have kept thousands out of the labor force. As a result, wages have risen unusually rapidly as employers have struggled to fill open positions.

“We put ads out months ago, and we’ve had two applications,” McGonagle said. “They’re just not coming to work because they’re being paid to sit home. And some of these people are making more sitting home than they’ve ever made before in their life.”

“Those ads run all the time. I got signs in my windows. They’re just not coming in. Why would they come in if they get more money sitting home? You go by some people’s yards, you say, wow, their yard’s getting a lot of work. My yard’s not getting any work done.”

Asked where we could find anyone still paying the minimum wage, Nancy Kyle, president of the New Hampshire Retailers Association, said, “Good luck with that.”

“Retailers are having such a hard time getting help, they have to pay in some cases double the minimum wage,” she said.

The lowest wages paid in retail, Kyle said, are typically to disabled employees who need to have someone assist them on the job. But even in those cases, it’s unlikely employers are still paying the minimum in this job market, she said.

“Oh, no,” said Lauren Blessington, manager of O’Neil Cinema in Epping, when asked if she knew of anyone who paid $7.25 an hour. 

O’Neil, a family-owned theater, pays inexperienced teenagers $8-10 an hour, the lowest starting wage we found. Experienced staff make more.

Blessington pointed out that the theater job comes with non-cash benefits that employees highly value: free movies, drinks and popcorn for the employee and a guest.

Though it’s possible that some Granite Staters are making $7.25 an hour in 2021, it’s clear that market forces have made non-tipped minimum-wage jobs extremely rare. Given recent wage growth, it’s likely that the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage job will soon be eliminated in New Hampshire, if it hasn’t been already.  

The state Senate on Thursday voted to repeal two state laws that unconstitutionally exclude religious schools from participating in state education tuitioning programs. Both bills were previously approved by the House.

House Bill 282 repeals the state’s prohibition (in RSA 193:1) on religious schools participating in town tuition programs. 

State law allows local governments to assign students to a non-public school when the resident district lacks a public school of the same grade span. A town that has no high school, for example, can pay a private high school to take the town’s students. 

However, the law forbids religious schools from participating in these tuition programs. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that such exclusions are unconstitutional because they deprive religious institutions of equal treatment solely by virtue of their religious status. 

A state may not exclude religious schools from a public benefit simply because they are religious schools. 

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” the court held.

Quoting a similar previous case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the court pointed out that the “Free Exercise Clause, which applies to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, ‘protects religious observers against unequal treatment’ and against ‘laws that impose special disabilities on the basis of religious status.’”

Another state law allows school districts to send students to public schools and public academies if those students are determined to have suffered a “manifest educational hardship” at their assigned school. It also excludes “sectarian” schools. 

Senators on Thursday passed House Bill 388, which would allow districts to send students in these circumstances to private as well as public schools. The bill also strikes the word “sectarian” from the statute, thus incorporating religious schools into the program. 

Critics have said that these bills violate the First Amendment’s required separation of church and state and amount to a giveaway to religious schools. The truth is precisely the opposite. 

The state is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution from denying religious institutions from participating in an otherwise neutral program, including town tuition contracting, solely because those institutions are religious. The existing laws, not the bills, are in violation of the Constitution. 

The effect of House Bills 282 and 388 is to ensure that these laws governing school tuition contracts are constitutional. 

In late April, New Hampshire was No. 1 in the nation in the percentage of distributed vaccines administered. Nearing mid-May, the state has dropped to 24th (80%). 

As those who were most eager to get vaccinated have done so, the number of people signing up for their first dose has fallen sharply. Though Becker’s Hospital Review reports that 59% of the population has received at least one dose as of May 14, only 35% has been fully vaccinated. 

This slowdown in vaccine demand creates a public health concern because it threatens to prolong the spread of the pandemic.

The state has been encouraging people to get vaccinated for months. It has initiated a public awareness campaign with the message that getting vaccinated protects you and others. This has been the standard public messaging for COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. But recent research suggests that it’s not very effective at convincing those who remain reluctant to get vaccinated.

A recent YouGov poll found that 63% of Americans who do not plan to get vaccinated think it’s safe to gather indoors with other unvaccinated people without wearing a mask. A campaign that focuses on telling people they and their loved ones will be safer if vaccinated won’t resonate with unvaccinated people who already think they’re safe.  

Shift to incentives and a positive message

A better vaccination campaign would offer a combination of fun incentives and positive messages. 

A UCLA study found that people respond to cash and lifestyle incentives. Offering between $25-$100 raised people’s willingness to get the vaccine by between 13-19%. Cash was more effective with Democrats than Republicans.

Telling people that they won’t have to wear a mask after they get vaccinated also was effective at changing minds. For all respondents, the percentage who said they were more likely to get a vaccine rose by 13 points, from 50% to 63%. For Republicans, the gain was 18 points, from 35% to 53%.

That’s one reason the CDC’s newly announced guidance that vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks is so important. Requiring people to continue masking in public after vaccination undermines the government’s message that vaccination will make them safer and bring a return to pre-pandemic life. 

This confusing messaging is prevalent in New Hampshire. Dover, which has a public mask mandate, tells residents that they must continue masking after getting vaccinated. 

Its guidance reads: 

“WILL I BE ABLE TO STOP WEARING A MASK AND SOCIAL DISTANCING IF I GET THE VACCINE?

“No.”

Portsmouth and Nashua are among the New Hampshire municipalities that continue to mandate mask-wearing in public, including outdoors, which undercuts the state’s vaccine messaging. 

Instead of communicating the depressing, negative message that vaccination offers no escape from mask mandates and other government controls, government ought to be sending a message of hope and joy while offering people fun incentives to get the shot.  

Yes, the caveat is that businesses, local governments and other organizations might continue to require masks indoors for the time being. But governments aren’t effectively communicating that this should be a temporary, transitional practice rather than a permanent one.

A few jurisdictions, however, have tried creative, incentive-based initiatives to encourage vaccination, and the results are encouraging.

An Erie County, N.Y., program that offered free local craft beer and a pint glass to those who showed up to get vaccinated at a local brewery resulted in more vaccinations in one day than all of the county’s first-dose clinics for the previous week, The Buffalo News reported. 

New Jersey is partnering with the Brewers Guild of New Jersey to provide a free beer for anyone who gets vaccinated in May. 

Ohio is giving away $1 million each to five newly vaccinated people via a lottery, plus college scholarships to five students. 

Alabama is holding a mass vaccination event at the Talladega Superspeedway and letting people do two laps around the speedway (behind a pace car) after getting their shots. 

There is good evidence that unvaccinated people respond more to incentives such as free cash and beer — and the lifting of mask requirements — than to New Hampshire’s current messaging. The state could produce better results by changing its vaccine marketing as soon as possible to do the following:

  1. Partner with willing craft breweries, wineries, distilleries, restaurants, etc. to offer freebies in exchange for getting a vaccine. Businesses hard hit by the pandemic — such as movie theaters and restaurants — might make good partners. The state is receiving another $1.5 billion in federal COVID relief funds. Using some of that money to boost the state’s vaccination rate by partnering with local businesses to offer beer, coffee, doughnuts or movie tickets to reluctant residents would be a cost-effective investment in speeding the end of the pandemic. 
  1. Start communicating to people that mask-wearing and other restrictions, at least in public spaces and especially outdoors, can end when enough people get vaccinated. The confusing messaging on masking is suppressing interest in vaccination. A clear, positive message, effectively communicated, can help to reverse that. 

The state has both a public-health and an economic interest in bringing the vaccination rate up to the highest possible level. Giveaways and better messaging won’t convince everyone to get a vaccine, but there is evidence that they can produce a large enough change on the margins to make a significant difference. Available evidence suggests that this would be more effective than the standard messaging being used by New Hampshire and most other states. 

As a few lawmakers engaged in a publicity stunt last Saturday to press for a state-imposed $15 minimum wage, New Hampshire employers were raising wages and offering cash incentives in desperate efforts to attract workers.

A Portsmouth restaurant is hiring line cooks for $22 an hour, with a $500 signing bonus. A Salem cafe is offering up to $22 an hour and a $600 signing bonus.

The pandemic has worsened New Hampshire’s already challenging labor shortage as thousands have dropped out of the workforce for a variety of COVID-related reasons. Employers have responded by raising pay.

Average hourly earnings in New Hampshire are up more than $2 an hour, coming to an increase of $87 a week, since last March, state data show.

And still, thousands who left the workforce when the pandemic hit are staying home.

There are 28,600 fewer people in New Hampshire’s workforce than there were a year ago, though thousands more jobs are available.

Federal data show 33,000 job openings in the state as of this past December, the latest month for which official data are available, according to New Hampshire Employment Security. That’s up from 31,000 the year before.  

“If you looked at the job openings line, you wouldn’t detect that there was a pandemic,” Annette Nielsen, economist at New Hampshire Employment Security, said in an interview.

“My analysis is that it’s definitely the labor force participation rate, it’s down by a couple of points and that’s definitely the big reason” for the labor shortage, Nielsen said.

There is no single cause of this reluctance to rejoin the workforce. Several circumstances are working together.

One factor cited by employers is the $300 increase in federal unemployment benefits. 

In fact, the co-owner of the restaurant where the lawmakers held their minimum wage publicity stunt, Madear’s Southern Eatery & Bakery in Pembroke, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that the extra federal money was keeping people on the sidelines.

“It’s also the idea with stimulus and the unemployment extension, that does not help at all,” said Robb Curry, the progressive activist and restaurant owner.

About 4.6 million Americans dropped out of the labor force last year for COVID-related reasons, according to a May analysis from Bank of America economists.

That analysis concludes that extended Unemployment Insurance benefits and fear of Covid are the top two factors depressing labor market participation.

“Our estimates suggest that those who previously made less than $32,000 would be better off in the near term to collect UI benefits than work,” the analysis concluded.

The previous $600 additional unemployment benefit “definitely would be for some people an incentive to decide not to work,” Nielsen said. 

The current $300 in additional benefits would not be as strong a disincentive to work, she said, however she noted that its effects could be larger in New Hampshire, where the workforce is older. One fifth of New Hampshire’s labor force was between the ages of 55 and 64 in 2009. By 2019, it was up to a fourth, or more than 130,000 employees.

“The thing is that there are a lot of people in New Hampshire aged 55 to 64, so if you change that just a little it can make a big difference,” she said. 

A high proportion of New Hampshire’s labor force qualifies for Social Security, even Medicare (starting at age 65), so an additional $300 can tip the scale toward not working, she said. 

Then there were school closures. In states where schools went remote, women dropped out of the labor force at much larger rates.

It’s not clear how much each factor (fear of COVID, higher unemployment benefits, remote schooling) has contributed to the lower labor participation rate. But it is clear that reluctance to return to work is COVID-related and continuing.

New Hampshire unemployment claims remain well above their pre-pandemic levels, state data show. In February of 2020, individuals filed 15,068 weeks’ worth of benefits claims. That number rose to 58,630 one month later. This march, it was 59,313.

Unemployment claims have remained stubbornly high — at roughly four times the pre-pandemic rate — since last November. 

With COVID cases falling and the economy booming again, the most significant drag on New Hampshire’s economy is the reluctance of thousands of people to return to work. 

There is no quick fix, but a few developments could help. One is the state’s return to a work-search requirement for unemployment benefits. Another is getting all schools and summer camps fully reopened. 

But probably the largest single factor would be hitting the vaccination threshold at which COVID spread collapses. That’s around approximately 70-80% of the population, though estimates vary.

Israel, with more than 70% of its population fully vaccinated, seems to have subdued the virus. 

With the virus controlled via vaccination, all of the factors keeping people from returning to work vanish. 

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. 

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.