2015 has been a busy and productive year for the New Hampshire Legislature. Unfortunately, our work isn't done until we pass a two-year budget.
The New Hampshire Senate's top priority is boosting the New Hampshire economy. If businesses are able to grow, they will create new and better-paying jobs. Economic growth not only directly benefits working families, it also lowers demand for social service programs, and increases state revenue that funds these services. After years of stagnant job growth, getting New Hampshire's economy moving again is essential.
This year, the Legislature took important steps to help the economy. We passed a key reform to the Workers Compensation system, currently one of the most expensive in the country, which places a heavy burden on job creation in New Hampshire. By giving employers an opportunity to negotiate with medical providers for services and by ensuring that providers have the burden of proof for any disputed cost claims under Workers Comp, there will be significant downward pressure on costs.
Through legislation and a settlement agreement with Eversource, they have agreed to sell their remaining power plants, ensuring a fully competitive market and according to the settlement customer savings over the first five years will be $380 million. High electric rates cripple our ability to attract and retain manufacturing and high-tech jobs that use a lot of power. Bringing those rates down makes New Hampshire a more competitive place for families to live, and to do business.
The Legislature eliminated a provision in our Business Profits Tax that punished successful small businesses when they attract new investment. Though Governor Hassan vetoed this measure (which a bipartisan commission had recommended because it was a tax on "phantom income"), it's likely to resurface in budget discussions. The Legislature also reformed outdated banking and securities laws to attract new capital to the Granite State.
We've passed important education bills, increasing state support for the community and technical education system and also providing state assistance for local school districts that offer academic courses for home-schooled students. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed bills to enhance local control over curriculum, and to notify parents about potentially objectionable course material.
The Legislature fulfilled its responsibility to keep the public safe, passing a "Good Samaritan" law for those reporting drug overdoses, improving the interoperability of public safety radios, and banning the sale of synthetic drugs like "spice". We also increased penalties for indecent exposure, and for the first time required those convicted of domestic violence to help pay for programs assisting their victims.
But we still need a budget. Many of the best things we've accomplished during this legislative session were part of the budget package that Governor Hassan vetoed in June. That includes a 75 percent increase in funding for substance abuse programs to address the deadly heroin epidemic overwhelming our state. Her veto prevents full-funding of vital programs like Meals on Wheels, ServiceLink, developmental disabilities programs and mental health. It also blocks the first rate increases for nursing homes and home health care providers in years.
The governor's veto also maintains New Hampshire's high business tax rates. We rank 48th in the nation for highest corporate taxes, according to the Tax Foundation — a significant disincentive to locating, expanding or even remaining here. Our job growth coming out of the last recession was in the bottom 10 states, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The balanced budget we passed included modest but important reductions in our state's business taxes, phased in over the next five years. Business leaders across the state have said this modest tax relief is critically important.
This veto brought into stark view huge philosophical differences between the Legislature and the governor. She wants higher business taxes — the Legislature wants to lower them. The governor proposed $129 million in tax hikes, including an income tax on small business owners, and a plan to tax New Hampshire businesses for sales they make in other countries. This latter provision is similar to a tax plan enacted in Connecticut that has businesses in those states threatening to flee. Now as part of a possible budget resolution the governor has again proposed her income tax on business owners.
The Legislature continued to believe making business taxes more competitive is essential to help New Hampshire's economy. But the governor has let her opposition to cutting taxes stand in the way of a budget that effectively addresses all of New Hampshire's needs. She's even gone so far as to make businesses the enemy, labeling them as "out-of-state corporations" even though the tax cuts will benefit every New Hampshire business that pays taxes, covering 95 percent of our private sector workforce. While some employers are headquartered in other states, the thousands of jobs they provide for New Hampshire workers are valuable.
It's time for a resolution to this budget standoff that addresses all of New Hampshire's needs — including job opportunities for hard working families and small business owners.
(Wolfeboro Republican Jeb Bradley is Majority Leader of the New Hampshire Senate.)
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