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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Norelli’s other gavel a target in fight over internet sales tax

Terie Norelli is juggling two gavels this year: speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s a great opportunity for me personally, to get to meet with and connect with legislative leaders and other members and staff from across the country, to learn from them and share with them what we’re doing here in New Hampshire,” the Portsmouth Democrat said last week, a few hours before flying to Denver for the NCSL’s Spring Forum.

But Norelli’s other gig is making her a target for criticism from New Hampshire Republicans.

The issue is the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” federal legislation that critics call the “internet sales tax.” In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a state couldn’t force a company that doesn’t have a physical presence in that state to collect its sale taxes. The bill would reverse that, requiring businesses that with $1 million or more in “remote” sales (i.e. online) to collect local and state sales taxes from the buyer, even across state lines.

President Obama backs the bill, and it has bipartisan support in the Senate, but it’s not a popular idea in sales tax-free New Hampshire. The entire congressional delegation opposes it in its current form, and U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen have been actively fighting it.

Still, the Senate is expected to pass the legislation tomorrow and send it to the U.S. House.

The NCSL, a bipartisan organization for state legislators and their staffers, has been a strong supporter of the legislation. New Hampshire’s Legislature has long been a member of the conference and pays annual dues of nearly $127,000. And Norelli is serving a one-year term as the organization’s president.

That nexus has generated a flurry of criticism from Republicans. The state party chairwoman, Jennifer Horn, last week called on Norelli to pull the state’s dues in protest, calling it “outrageous that Granite State taxpayers are being forced to fund an organization that is campaigning for legislation that will damage the New Hampshire Advantage.”

Jamie Burnett, a GOP strategist who first worked against internet sales tax legislation more than a decade ago as a member of then-Sen. Judd Gregg’s staff, thinks Norelli should resign the presidency, too.

“It doesn’t have to be partisan. It doesn’t have to be uber-political,” Burnett said. “But why occupy a position that is clearly a figurehead and just legitimizes their agenda? Certainly don’t give them a dollar to spend in a lobbying campaign against us.”

Norelli sees it differently. She said NCSL is a resource for the Legislature, and being president hasn’t conflicted with her duties as speaker. She noted New Hampshire’s participation in the group has been longstanding and bipartisan – in 1979-80, Republican House Speaker George Roberts served as NCSL’s president, as well.

For the NCSL to take a position and lobby for it, she said, requires a three-fourths vote, with each state getting one vote. Norelli cast New Hampshire’s vote last August against supporting internet sales tax legislation but lost, 40-3.

Does that mean New Hampshire should pull out?

“Absolutely not,” Norelli said, citing the balance between “all the benefits, and this one disadvantage.”

She added, “Because we’re one of only three states that voted against it, whether we were there or not, that would still be the policy of the organization. And I think all the benefits that we get, and the voice that we get on Capitol Hill as an organization is far greater than individual states would have.”

Norelli isn’t the only Granite State politician taking flak over the internet sales tax.

Horn lashed out last month at Shaheen for missing a procedural vote on the bill, calling it “an insult to her constituents and a dereliction of her duties as an elected federal official.”

And Thursday, Democrats tried to introduce a resolution in the state Senate criticizing the bill.

The Senate’s Republican majority blocked the attempt on a 12-12 vote, just as they’ve blocked other Democratic resolutions this year. (Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro sided with the Democrats.)

Sen. Donna Soucy, a Manchester Democrat, called the Republicans’ stance “shameful.” Horn retorted that the Democratic resolution was “a laughable attempt to distract from President Obama’s enthusiastic support for the internet sales tax.” Democratic Party spokesman Harrell Kirstein in turn accused the Republican Party of being “the definition of shameful and embarrassing partisan hypocrisy.”

Lost somewhat in the scrum is the fact that everyone seems to agree the Marketplace Fairness Act is a bad idea. But that’s not stopping either Republicans or Democrats from trying to score political points on it.

Cornerstone’s coffers

Cornerstone Action and Cornerstone Policy Research might not be so low on cash, after all.

Twice last week, the conservative group’s two arms emailed out urgent fundraising appeals.

“I have been so busy in Concord that I haven’t had time to raise the money to fund our basic operations. That means that we will soon lack the funds to pay rent, phones, insurance and our talented staff,” wrote Executive Director Ashley Pratte in the first email.

On Tuesday, Pratte said the group needed to raise $20,000 within a week, or she would “have to stop our work in Concord and dedicate the coming weeks to raising money.” The next day, board Chairman Charlie McKinney wrote in an email that less than $5,000 had been raised, and more was needed.

But Pratte said Friday that things aren’t so bad, after all.

“That’s traditional fundraising language that we used to build a narrative for a more successful fundraiser, but we are doing outstanding,” Pratte wrote in an email.

Debt ceiling tango

The federal government is expected to hit its borrowing limit this summer, which means another fight is brewing over the debt ceiling.

Two years ago, a standoff between congressional Republicans and Obama over raising the debt ceiling led to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, an unpopular idea that went into effect this year.

Ayotte, a Republican, said last week she’ll want to see some sort of deficit-reduction legislation before voting to raise the debt ceiling this year. (She voted against the bill in 2011 that both raised the debt ceiling and put sequestration into place.)

“I don’t believe we should raise the debt ceiling without dealing with the underlying causes of our debt,” Ayotte said Tuesday to applause during a town hall-style meeting in Tilton.

What about the rest of the delegation?

Shaheen, a Democrat, “does not believe we should use the faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip. She recognizes that we need to rein in spending but doesn’t think we should use our current financial obligations as leverage to accomplish that goal,” said spokesman Shripal Shah in a statement.

First District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, also wants to raise the debt ceiling without strings attached.

“Congresswoman Shea-Porter agrees with President Ronald Reagan that brinksmanship over the debt ceiling ‘threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar.’ Instead of holding the nation’s credit rating hostage, Congresswoman Shea-Porter believes Congress should be responsible and raise the debt ceiling,” spokesman Ben Wakana said in a statement.

Second District Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat, says deficit reduction is a priority, but a default would be a disaster.

“Republicans and Democrats need to work together to reduce the deficit in a balanced way that will help create jobs, grow the economy, and strengthen the middle class. As both parties work toward that type of deal, Congress must reassure creditors and the American people that our government will continue to meet its obligations and avoid a catastrophic default,” Kuster said in a statement. “Any suggestion that we would even consider doing otherwise would be irresponsible, undermine confidence in our government and put our credit rating at risk.”

Death penalty repeal

There’s plenty of fighting still to come this year at the State House over the budget, casino gambling, the gas tax and other issues.

When 2014 rolls around, another hot-button topic will be in the mix: the death penalty.

Maryland abolished its death penalty last week, prompting New Hampshire capital-punishment opponents to reaffirm their plan to introduce legislation next year to do the same.

“Like Maryland, New Hampshire can live without the death penalty,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat and the founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.

New Hampshire has the death penalty for certain murders, including the killing of a police officer in the line of duty.

The state hasn’t actually executed anyone since 1939, though one prisoner, Michael Addison, is now on death row pending appeals.

FITN fundraising

A bipartisan group of political operatives is raising money to improve and maintain the presidential primary monument in front of the State Library on Park Street.

Led by former Mitt Romney strategist Jim Merrill and former Obama co-chairman Jim Demers, the New Hampshire First in the Nation Primary Monument Committee kicked off its work last week.

The committees includes a lot of familiar names, including Secretary of State Bill Gardner, Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, ex-Democratic chairwoman Kathy Sullivan, Horn and GOP strategist Tom Rath.

Pomp and circumstance

New Hampshire politicians are hitting the college-commencement circuit this spring.

Former governor John H. Sununu will be in Winchester, Va., Saturday to speak to Shenandoah University’s graduating class.

Another former governor, John Lynch, will be in Nashua the same day to speak at Daniel Webster College’s commencement.

Ayotte will be in Henniker on May 18 to speak at New England College’s commencement.

And Hassan will be the commencement speaker at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston on May 24.

News of note

∎ D.J. Bettencourt, the Republican and one-time House majority leader, has a new job: director of development and community relations for the Salem Animal Rescue League.

∎ Cathy Schmidt is the new executive director and chief executive officer of the McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton law firm.

∎ U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, will be the keynote speaker May 19 at the Rockingham County Democrats’ annual clambake. He’s a graduate of Franklin Pierce Law Center, now the University of New Hampshire School of Law.

∎ Democrat Jackie Cilley is trying to retire debt left over from last year’s gubernatorial campaign. A fundraiser is scheduled May 14 at the Kimball-Jenkins Estate in Concord.

∎ A straw poll at the New Hampshire Federation of College Republicans convention last weekend picked Executive Councilor Chris Sununu as the GOP nominee in 2014 for both governor and U.S. senator, ex-congressman Frank Guinta for Congress in the 1st District, and ex-state senator Gary Lambert in the 2nd District.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments2

Not everybody agrees that the Fairness Act is a bad idea, Ben. This isn't a principled stance on their part, it's a purely political calculation. If you're an NH politician, there's a lot of risk and no reward in voting for this bill. So they won't, no matter how fair it is.

a democrat leader - Norelli - pushing for MORE TAXES is not news it is tradition

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