This is budget time in Concord and again that task can be described more as an ordeal than a task. Last week the House defeated the casino gambling bill that was passed by the Senate and heavily lobbied by Governor Hassan. Then yesterday, the Senate returned the favor and defeated the gas tax and cigarette tax that had been approved by the House. Payback by any other name is still payback in politics.
What those actions did is leave huge holes in the 14,349 line 2 year 2014-2015 budget that was proposed earlier this year by Maggie Hassan. By huge holes, we mean lots more expenses than there is income over the proposed budget.
One option still on the table to increase income, or “revenue” as it is called, would be to implement a sales tax or income tax. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not collect sales or income tax. We had a chance to vote for a constitutional amendment in the November 2012 elections that would have specifically denied the ability for Concord to implement either or both of those taxes but it needed a 2/3 “Yes” vote and it only gathered a 57% “Yes” vote so those taxes are still on the table.
Things keeping new taxes from becoming reality are the Republican controlled Senate, Governor Hassan’s pledge to veto any such tax, and a likely huge backlash if the Democratic controlled House passed such a tax. But, the other side of a 57% “Yes” in the 2012 election is the fact that the “No”, or “we want a tax”, vote reached almost half those voting and it was actually the majority in some locations such as Cheshire County where 52% voted “No” (Rockingham County was 52% for a constitutional amendment and 48% for killing the restriction on adding taxes).
So what’s going to happen with the budget? Well, Concord has until June 30, or the end of this fiscal year to complete the budget. Earlier this week the Senate Finance Committee put the finishing touches on its version of the budget that calls for a little over $10 Billion over the next two years. It did increase funding to state universities but offers less to Health and Human Services and rather than implement expanded Medicare immediately, it would establish a study commission to help define appropriate course of action.
The Senate version also includes a somewhat vague revenue item of a little over $20 million increase in revenue due to adding more auditors. This is a little undefined but it seems to be aimed at increased funding resulting from auditing operations eliminating duplication or fraud or waste.
And so, now, we head into the final weeks of the current legislature session and we will see more activity and drama as the House and Senate try to sort out their differences and get the new budget to Governor Hassan, quite likely at or about 11:59PM on June 30.
What we can count on at least for the next two years is no sales or income tax, no state tax increase in the price of gasoline, a little “weeping and wailing” from some special interest groups that depend on state funding, and a continuation of the New Hampshire “Live Free or Die” spirit.
That spirit is ingrained in all of us in the state and it even lives to some extent in those recent immigrants from just a little south of our border. Changing that spirit and going forward with new sales or income taxes is in all practical terms off the table. The 2012 ballot question made it clear that attitudes have changed somewhat over the years but we are sill nowhere near accepting new taxes.