That Fellow Behind the Tree

By Representative Andy Renzullo (R-Hudson-Litchfield-Pelham)

Tax reform means, 'Don't tax you, don't tax me. Tax that fellow behind the tree.'”

-Senator Russell B Long

The late Senator Russell Long (perennial Senator from Louisiana and son of the legendary Huey Long) captured the essence of the art of taxation, make people thing the other guy is being taxed so voters won’t get upset, because upset voters usually express their anger at the ballot box. So what happened this last legislative session? Did you escape any new or increased taxes, or were you “that fellow behind the tree?”

Well, let’s see. Did you register your car this year? It costs $6.00 per year more. It may not sound like much, but that’s a 23.8% increase for the lightest vehicle. If you registered a motorcycle it cost you $3.00 more. That’s a 25% increase. By-the-way, not only is there an increase in fees for the registration, there is also a $0.50 increase (from $2.50 to $3.00) in what the registration agent (town clerk’s office) can charge. That’s a 20% increase. Now just in case you’ve given up, parked your car and motorcycle, and decide to cruise around on a moped, they’ve still got you. The fee for a moped plate is now $4.00 – it used to be free. If you happen to be walking disabled and need a special plate, the $4.00 fee now applies – up from $1.50 (that’s a 167% increase). And, since the price of gasoline and diesel fuel has gone up so much, who would notice the 1.25 cent tax on gasoline (1.5 cents on diesel fuel) to provide bucks to a clean-up fund which the regulators said already had enough money in it? The cute move is to assess the tax on the supplier who passes it on to the consumer so the purchaser won’t notice a tax increase, just a raise in price. Do you catch the drift here? A little here, a little there. Nothing big. The idea is not to kill the “golden goose” taxpayers, but pluck them one feather at a time. The death of a thousand cuts.

One group of people who are definitely “behind the tree” is smokers. In 2007 they were hit with a 28 cents per pack tax increase. If that weren’t enough, if the tax doesn’t raise $50 million by October of 2008, ANOTHER 25 cent per pack tax kicks in. So if smokers don’t want their taxes to go up, they need to smoke more, not less! That must make sense… but only to a taxocrat. But wait! What if a smoker changes to cigarillos, those little cigars, because cigars are not taxed (and they’re safer because you don’t inhale them)? Gotcha again. The law was changed to reclassify small cigars as cigarettes.

Ok, so what if you don’t smoke? Then you’re safe, right? Well, not quite. If you’re “rich” enough to buy a house, there is now an additional $25.00 fee for each property transaction document recorded. So, if you buy a house and record the deed, it’s “$25.00 more please.” If you get a mortgage, it’s again “$25.00 more.” And that doesn’t count the small additional fee you had to pay to the mortgage company to cover the cost of the 900% increase in their license renewal fee (You didn’t think they wouldn’t pass this increased cost onto their customers, did you?) But consider yourself lucky that you didn’t buy a new house in a development or develop land yourself. The fee for reviewing terrain alteration plans jumped from $500.00 to $1250.00 (150%). And heaven forbid you do anything near the water or wetlands as all fees and assessments were doubled. (Example: The fee to allow you to repair YOUR boat dock is now $200.00)

If this all makes you mad enough to sue somebody, be prepared to cough up an additional $25 surcharge for most civil court filings (add an extra $3.00 if you use a credit card). And if you call your State Representative, you’ll find your phone bill is a little higher because the communication tax exemption for residential users was repealed.

And if you finally give up, plop down in your easy chair to have a glass of wine, don’t let it bother you that the state, being the sole supplier of liquor in New Hampshire, cut the discount rate given to wine retailers (like grocery stores), so they have to charge more for that bottle. The cheese you are having with that wine may be a bit more expensive because it, and most everything else, is shipped by truck. The increase in tractor trailer registration frees is reflected in what you pay for that cheese.

My point is that, when it comes to taxes we are all “that fellow behind the tree.” Higher taxes affect everyone, if not directly, than indirectly. Each tax and fee is like a pebble in a pond, creating ripples that touch more than the initial payer. We all know there is a cost to running government so some taxes and fees are a fact of life. But government, unlike you and me, has the power to wish itself more money – just pass a law and impose a tax. And these taxes have consequences on New Hampshire’s citizens. Thus legislators need to be careful to act responsibly. This last session’s 17.5% budget increase was not responsible. Thus the swarm of taxes ensued which turned out to not be enough. Unfortunately, the future projection is ominous. The University of New Hampshire’s Center for Public Policy predicts the next legislature faces a $155 million dollar hole even if the budget is level funded. Thus hard choices will have to be made and we definitely cannot afford a repeat of the irresponsible spending of this session.