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Putting government on starvation diet

Last modified: 4/4/2011 12:00:00 AM
It has always been the official policy in New Hampshire to starve government to keep it small. That policy has worked. State and local taxes consume a smaller portion of the personal income of New Hampshire's citizens than in all but one state, South Dakota. The state has been among the 10 lowest taxed states in that nation in all but two of the past 40 years, according to the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. But starving government hasn't been enough for the Republican majority in the House. It now wants to bind the feet of government as well, and hobble its ability to meet the needs of its citizens.

Last week, the House passed a resolution to amend the state Constitution to require a three-fifths vote to impose new or increased taxes or license fees. Getting a majority vote to raise taxes or fees is no easy matter. Getting a 60 percent vote would be much tougher. Ten senators could block any increase or wield their support like a weapon to hold unrelated legislation hostage.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states, none of which are in New England, require a supermajority vote to increase some or all taxes. Seven require a two-thirds vote, six a three-fifths vote and two, Arkansas and Michigan, a three-fourths vote, though Michigan's requirement only applies to the state property tax.

Supermajority requirements make it harder for a state to respond to a sudden change in economic circumstances. They make lenders nervous and lead to lower bond ratings, which means higher interest fees on state borrowing. They make it harder to eliminate tax breaks that are no longer needed. They cause lawmakers to resort to gimmicks like selling state property when taxes can't be raised. The legislature in Arizona, which requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, was reduced to selling its State House and Supreme Court building to balance the budget. It must now leases them back, forcing taxpayers to pay more in the long run.

Studies show that in states that need a supermajority to raise taxes or otherwise cap spending or revenue, public services shrink, with health care and education suffering a disproportionate share of the cuts. The New Hampshire Senate would give future senators enormous power by voting in favor of the supermajority requirement, but it would be wrong for the state and wrong for property owners, because what the state doesn't pay for, they will.


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