Mark Twain’s Warning

by Rep Andrew Renzullo (Hills- 27)

“No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” — Mark Twain

Now that the regular session of the New Hampshire legislature has mercifully ended, we can all breath a little easier. Unfortunately, and in spite of the Republican minority’s best efforts, Mark Twain’s warning was especially prescient these last two years as higher taxes, out-of-control spending and nanny-state legislation made significant inroads in New Hampshire.

What happened? What caused this? Well, in 2006 there was a sea change in New Hampshire politics. For the first time, in 85 years, both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Office were controlled by the Democrats. Besides the obvious, and reasonably to be expected, inexperience at governing coming into the legislative branch, there was also a pent up predisposition in the newly elected majority toward a big government solution to all real and imagined problems.

Now when the party of bigger government takes control, it doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that new and expanded programs mean a bigger budget, 17.5% bigger, in fact. It is axiomatic that more spending means higher taxes. Let’s face it. The government, any government, has only one source of income and that’s taxes. So when you spend more, you have to tax more. This session the raising of taxes and fees was the death of a thousand cuts. No one tax would seem significant, but taken together they were substantial, working out to an estimated $150 per New Hampshire citizen. And few things were safe. Besides raising the cigarette taxes TWICE, new taxes and fees were levied on mortgages, deeds, car registrations and court filing fees and yes, even on gasoline and diesel fuel!

But even with the new taxes, last year the Republicans warned the Governor and the Legislature that the revenues being projected were unrealistic to cover the costs of the new and expanded government. They were told that they were inflating the numbers. In my Legislative Update from April 2007, I wrote, “And finally, when you can’t find anything else to tax or bond, just wish that the money will be there. The Ways & Means committee inflated the revenue estimates by $81 million. If you can’t balance the budget the normal way, make up the numbers.”

Now that reality has finally hit and there are red-ink projections as high as $200 million, the wailing has begun. First off, deflect the blame. “It’s the slowing economy,” the spinmeisters bemoan, deliberately ignoring the fact that more, not less, money is coming into the state’s coffers than ever before, just not enough to cover the huge increases in spending. Next, finagle the books. In order to get around rules requiring public hearings, a few weeks ago the Governor called an “Emergency Special Session” (ignoring the fact that the Legislature already was in session) in order to bond millions in expense items. That’s like taking out a mortgage to pay for dinner, but it sure does lower the apparent deficit (just leaves it for our kids to pay, plus interest). And finally, the Governor did use some commonsense and stopped spending money that the state doesn’t have. Unfortunately, this is like closing the barn door after most of the horse has left the barn. All you catch is the tail. Sometimes knowing what you’re doing at the outset is far more effective than you’re best efforts at fixing the mess.

I’m not alone in my opinions. A June 22 editorial in the Union Leader stated, “So Gov. Lynch is cutting state funding for the mentally ill, drug addicts, cancer victims, sick children, and university students. And nary a peep from the liberals. Boy, it sure pays to be a Democrat. Notice, too, that Republicans are not assailing the governor for victimizing the needy and vulnerable. They weren't trained in the Ray Buckley School of Unfair Political Attacks. Instead, they've fairly criticized the governor for overspending in the first place.”

Taxes and spending are issues that affect our wallets and our economic well-being. But there are other issues that touch on our core beliefs and how much control government should have on the lives of individuals. While most conservatives believe you should take personal responsibility for the consequences of your behavior, those in power in Concord believe that the government is responsible for your behavior and has the duty and obligation to regulate your choices and life style. This nanny-state attitude can be comical, like the House-passed bill (thankfully killed in the Senate) which made it a crime to release a helium-filled balloon. But it can be very serious when it bans entire industries and costs people their livelihood. A prime example is the payday loan industry. Payday loans are very high interest, small, short-duration loans intended to tide people over (usually until payday) when they are temporarily strapped for cash, thus the moniker “Payday Loan.” The Legislature capped the interest rate on these loans such that the industry will disappear and with it over New Hampshire 100 jobs.

Certainly the most contentious example where ideology got in the way of common sense was the Democrat repeal of the Parental Notification law which, except in cases of safety or immediate health risk, required notification of parents if their minor daughter was seeking an abortion. Remember, this statute did not give parents the authority to veto, as is the case in Massachusetts, but only to be notified so they could counsel and support their child. The Democrats had argued that the law was unconstitutional, but voted down any attempts to include language upheld by the Supreme Court. Imagine the absurdity of a pregnant 13-year-old being provided an abortion, paid for by her 22-year-old “boyfriend,” without at least notifying the child’s parents? Yet the school nurse cannot give the child an aspirin without the parents’ permission. The issue is not about being pro-choice or pro-life, it is about being pro-parent.

These 2 years have laid the groundwork to transform New Hampshire. Unless the electorate calls a halt to it in the next election, the biggest transformation will be in the tax structure. The dirty little secret is that many costly items are not due to take effect until after the 2008 elections. Unless there is immediate action by the incoming legislature, when these bills come due there will be immense pressure to enact a broad based sales or income tax. If that happens, the New Hampshire Advantage, already severely weakened, will tumble down like the Old Man of the Mountain and be just a fond memory.