March 2, 2008
To New Hampshire residents and business owners, the single greatest consequence so far of the state's turning "blue" in 2006 has not been the massive increase in state spending under new Democratic-controlled state government. The bill for that has yet to come due. The biggest consequence has been the massive increase in legislators' efforts to regulate and tax behaviors of which they disapprove.
In less than two years, legislators have already put one industry out of business, come perilously close to shutting down another, and have gone after many more.
Last month legislators passed, and Gov. John Lynch signed, a bill that will force payday lenders out of the state. It literally legislates away their ability to make a profit. Why? Because legislators just don't like the practice of offering short-term loans to people in exchange for a high fee, even though many people benefit from this service.
Legislators were on the verge last month of putting New Hampshire's cigar shops out of business by imposing a 60 percent tax on all cigars. (Sixty percent!) Thankfully, the bill was referred to a study committee and is essentially dead for the session. But it is sure to come back in some form as long as this crowd is in charge.
Legislators have attempted to make it a crime to sell low-efficiency light bulbs, advertise prescription drugs and serve foods containing transfats.
They tried to regulate the maintenance of draft beer equipment so strictly that it would have put many small contractors out of business, and they wanted to require all home contractors, including your buddy who helps people fix their homes on the weekends, to be registered by the state and take hours of continuing education courses.
They tried to prevent "price gouging" during emergencies, even though that would have made things like flashlights, batteries and generators impossible to find during ice storms and floods.
They tried to make health insurers cover everything from chiropractic care to hormone treatments for transsexuals.
They raised taxes on cigarettes, tried to tax candy, and still might tax small cigars simpy by reclassifying them as cigarettes.
There is even a bill on the House calendar next week to require gas stations to round up their prices to the nearest full cent. That's right: a mandatory gas price increase.
Those are just a few of the Legislature's recent attempts to exert greater control over economic activity in New Hampshire.