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What Politicians’ Votes Say About Their Values

In politics, there are some things that everyone is for—like good schools, low taxes for the middle class, and good public services.

When politicians vote, we see where their values truly lie.

The New Hampshire legislative session that ended in June was no different.  On many issues we saw a huge gulf between the opening rhetoric, and the actual votes–and a stark contrast between the Republicans and the Democrats.

Public schools

In Concord, everyone speaks highly of the public schools.  Everyone’s favorite this year was state funding for full-day kindergarten.  But when it came time to fund kindergarten, the differences became clear.

The Republicans wrote a budget that provided an additional $1 million of tax dollars a year for charter schools.  Full-day kindergarten will receive no state tax dollars.  Instead, we will have Keno (video slot machines) to fund kindergarten.  The Lottery Commission estimates we will realize $9 million a year from Keno—but at what cost in gambling addiction, personal bankruptcies, and broken homes?

The basic amount of state aid to the public schools is about $3600 per student per year.  Charter schools receive almost twice as much—about $6600 per student—but none of it is from the local property tax, which allows charter schools to present the fiction that they don’t cost taxpayers anything.

Tax cuts

Politicians love tax cuts.  It’s their chance to play Santa Claus.  At the end of the legislative session, we find that some taxpayers are ‘naughty’ and get a lump of coal, while some are ‘nice’ and get a tax cut.  This year was no different.

At the beginning of the session, it was proposed that the State resume paying part of the retirement system cost for schools and municipalities.  The goal was to provide a $40 million tax cut to property taxpayers.  The Republicans in the legislature said ‘no way.’

Tax cuts for big business were another matter.  The state budget includes a big cut in the Business Profits Tax.  This is a tax that virtually no small business pays, because they pay their profits out as salaries to their owners, reducing their taxable income to zero.  70% of the cut will go to approximately 500 of our largest, most-profitable businesses, particularly national and multinational firms.

Score this as big business 1, property taxpayers 0.

Setting Budget Priorities

In every budget process, wants exceed revenue.  When budget priorities are set, it reveals the values of the budget writers.

During each budget cycle in Concord, Republicans treat it like a morality play, where they tell the Democrats that they have to live within their allowance.

The reality is that the Democrats go to bat each year for the property taxpayers, the poor, the disabled, the University System, the sick and the elderly, while the Republicans go to bat for big business and the wealthy.  Most of the time, the Republicans win.

Every budget year, Republicans say we do not have enough revenue to make UNH affordable, eliminate the waiting list for the severely disabled, restore our community mental health system, fund Medicaid, or provide property tax relief.

And every budget year, Democrats ask why the wealthy are not paying their fair share of taxes.  New Hampshire has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation.  On average, the poor pay over 8% of their incomes in tax.  The middle pays about 6%.  The top pays about 3%.

Our tax system is regressive because New Hampshire relies on the property tax for over two-thirds of all state and local tax revenue.  Since 2000, the legislature has repeatedly down-shifted obligations to the local level.  Meanwhile, the total of property taxes collected in NH has doubled.  Very few people have seen their incomes double during that same time period.

Representative Dick Ames, Democrat of Jaffrey, proposed a reform of the Interest and Dividends tax that would have reduced the tax on small savers, and broadened the tax to include capital gains.  The State would have realized about $100 million in new revenue–mostly from our wealthiest residents.  Predictably, the bill failed on a nearly party-line vote.  And the underfunding of the safety net, the short-changing of higher education, and the down-shifting to the property taxpayer will continue for another two years.

Legislating is about making choices.  Our Republican legislature has made clear that it values charter schools more the public schools; thinks businesses need a tax cut, but homeowners do not; and would rather underfund UNH and the safety net, than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes.

It’s all about choices.  You get to make your choice next year.

Mark Fernald is a former State Senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for Governor.  He can be reached at mark@markfernald.com.

Mark Fernald: How Do We Keep Guns Away From “Bad Guys”

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” So said NRA President Wayne LaPierre just after the Sandy Hook massacre. If a ‘bad guy’ pulls out a gun and starts shooting, the only answer, according to Mr. LaPierre, is for someone to pull out another gun and take the ‘bad guy’ out.

The NRA and the Republican Party advocate what they call “Constitutional carry”—allowing anyone to carry a gun, openly or concealed, at any time and anywhere (excluding, one presumes, people with felony convictions). Republicans all over the country are attacking background checks, gun-free zones, and laws that require a permit to carry a loaded, concealed weapon.

The Democratic Party approach is different; it focuses on preventing people likely to misuse guns from getting them in the first place. The background check law has stopped over 1.5 million ‘bad guys’ from buying guns since 1994. That law passed after a Republican filibuster failed.

Unfortunately, our background check system has a couple of glaring loopholes. It does not cover sales of guns by unlicensed sellers at gun shows or sales between private parties, so any ‘bad guy’ who wants to buy a gun has an easy workaround.

Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts by Democrats to require a background check for all gun sales. Republicans seem to value easy access to guns over a system that would keep guns out of the hands of felons and people with severe mental disabilities.

This is not about Constitutional rights. Background checks and concealed carry permits are Constitutional. In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the US Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, explained that the right to bear arms is limited: It is not “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Justice Scalia specifically referenced prior court decisions that upheld restrictions or bans on carrying concealed, loaded weapons.

For 94 years, New Hampshire has required a permit to carry a loaded, concealed weapon in a car or on your person. The permits are issued by the chiefs of police in each city and town. The law states that permits can be issued to “a suitable person to be licensed.”

Our chiefs of police have taken their responsibility seriously, seeking out the record and the reputation of those applying for a concealed carry permit. Sometimes an applicant is an irresponsible citizen who is not suitable for a permit: a person who has a history of getting drunk in bars and picking fights; a person who has threatened someone with a gun in the past, though never convicted of a felony; a person who has been involved in road rage incidents; a person who has been the subject of multiple domestic violence calls to 911.

Under current law, if a person has committed an act of violence below the felony level, it is legal for that person to have a gun at home. But if that person wants to carry a loaded concealed weapon in public, New Hampshire has a higher standard implemented by our chiefs of police.

The State Senate and the House have now passed SB12, which eliminates the requirement for a permit to carry a concealed loaded weapon. In the Senate, the ten Democrats were the only no votes. Thirteen Republicans voted yes. The vote in the House was nearly as lopsided. Only two Republicans voted no, and only ten Democrats voted yes.

The effect of SB12 is to remove the discretion of chiefs of police to deny permits. Republicans talk about law and order; they should trust the chiefs of police to exercise good judgment in determining who should be allowed to carry a loaded, concealed weapon. This is what Republicans and the NRA have now abolished.

The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police spoke out against SB12. Their arguments fell on deaf ears. The Governor has indicated he will sign SB12.

If you have a chance to speak to your Representative or Senator or the Governor, ask these questions: Should an alcoholic with multiple DWI convictions be allowed to carry a loaded concealed weapon? How about the man who punched his neighbor during an argument? Or the woman who has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, and sometimes fails to take her meds?

Once Republicans have succeeded in passing SB12, almost anybody could be carrying a loaded, concealed weapon—even people with violent histories. And our only defense, in this Republican world, will be to avoid the first shot, and try to return fire.

 

Mark Fernald is a former State Senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for Governor. He can be reached at mark@markfernald.com.

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