American icon Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” For New Hampshire legislators and voters overwhelmed with the on-going debate over same sex marriage, Yogi’s words ring true.
A little history. Two years ago New Hampshire approved civil unions -- designed to insure that same sex couples had the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples under New Hampshire law. Supporters of civil unions (the ardent proponents of same sex marriage today) claimed then, that civil unions would resolve discrimination issues for same sex couples. That was then!
Fast forward to this legislative session. Same sex marriage legislation was introduced in the House, and initially defeated by 1 vote, then reconsidered and passed by 7 votes. In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee recommended killing the bill. But after an amendment was introduced at the last minute, a Senator changed positions, and suddenly it passed 13-11. Had the vote been 12-12 as expected, same sex legislation would have failed. For the record, I voted in opposition to same sex marriage.
Nail-biting votes are only the beginning of this legislation’s problems. Now the actual wording has become a huge issue. First, an amendment was added (without a public hearing) to unrelated legislation to provide protection from litigation to religious institutions unwilling to marry same sex couples. That did not satisfy Governor Lynch. He proposed further language to protect individuals associated with religious institutions from litigation who are unwilling to marry same sex couples. That language was added to yet a third piece of legislation again without a public hearing. This sailed through the Senate 14-10 but faltered in the House, losing by two votes 186 to 188.
Even veteran observers in Concord are shaking their heads about this chaotic and unprecedented legislative process. Get a block away from the State House and people’s heads are spinning over legislative maneuverings, endless votes, and the Legislature hijacked by one issue.
Meanwhile for most New Hampshire citizens---Rome is burning. I recently had a very extensive conversation with voters in the Special Election in Senate District 3. Whether in their yards, on their back porches, or seated at their kitchen tables, I listened to their concerns. Voters told me repeatedly they lay awake at night worried about finding a job, keeping a job, providing for their families, and paying their mortgages. They are further terrified about budget deficits: deficits of trillions of dollars as far as the eye can see in Washington and hundreds of millions of dollars in Concord. And people are fearful that with these budget deficits only one thing can happen: taxes will soar.
While the legislature is distracted by divisive issues such as same sex marriage, NH’s unemployment rate has climbed to 6.3% which means nearly 20,000 of our friends and neighbors have lost their jobs in the last year. The national unemployment rate of 8.9% is even bleaker.
Can 8.9% unemployment happen here? Perhaps. A respected economist predicted that 13,000 more people will lose jobs in NH before the economy begins to turn around. That’s dire for people already worried.
One reason NH has fared better until now relative to other states is our perceived low tax status—in particular our lack of general income or sales taxes. Unfortunately that low tax status is about to change.
While the media spotlight has focused on social issues such as same sex marriage, the House budget has proposed new and higher taxes and a multitude of new and increased fees. Most notably, the House budget creates a new capital gains tax (cost $75 million), a new death tax (cost $10 million), increases the hospitality tax (cost $39 million), increases tobacco taxes for the 4th time in five years (cost $57 million), and nearly doubles the gas tax (cost $ 76 million). All these new taxes and f ees will be used to fund increased spending OVER AND ABOVE the current budget spending increases of 17.5%. If that were not enough – the House budget fails to fund $133 million of revenue sharing for towns and cities. That means property taxes will soar – especially in communities such as Conway, Exeter, Manchester and Nashua. Are income or sales taxes next?
Here is an idea. Let’s put aside the debate on same sex marriage as the Legislature is hopelessly divided. Let’s allow voters to weigh in on that issue through a referendum in the 2010 elections. In the mean time let’s focus on our economy and getting people back to work. That must begin with balancing our budget without new and higher taxes on New Hampshire’s struggling families and businesses.
I am one member of the Legislature hoping to do just that with 423 legislative colleagues and Governor Lynch.
-By Jeb Bradley-