My Turn: Three predictions for New Hampshire in 2021

For the Monitor
Published: 11/24/2020 6:00:10 AM

For years in New Hampshire, shared government held free-market conservative priorities at bay. Now that Republicans control all, the floodgates are open. The results may surprise people who did not realize they were voting for dramatic change.

Property Tax Hikes: Since 2016, New Hampshire has risen from ninth highest to third highest property taxes in the United States, according to the Tax Foundation. This has mainly been due to cuts in education, rooms and meals, and municipal revenue sharing from the state. The greatest tax hikes burden the towns with the least property wealth.

Voters can expect more property tax hikes in 2021. Rooms and meals receipts are down 20% because of the pandemic, and the governor wants to lower the tax rate, which could further drop revenues – every $1 drop in restaurant prices typically increases sales $2.30, but not if people are staying home from fear of infection. In addition to a drop in revenues, the restaurant and hospitality industries can expect to see a drop in their commission, further injuring an industry struggling for survival.

Even greater pressure on towns will come from cuts in school funding. The governor wants to claw back $138 million from needy schools to help cover the $200 revenue deficit from COVID-19. Voters will choose between cutting spending and raising taxes, in some towns by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Free-Market Education: Gov. Chris Sununu and Commissioner Frank Edelblut will double down on educational policies that remove local oversight of educational quality. Earlier this year, I introduced a bill to establish a process for the application, vetting, and approval of alternative learning credits that kept local control of credits which passed both the House and Senate before being vetoed by the governor.

Under Edelblut, the state now denies responsibility for educational quality control. It oversees only school safety and federal compliance. All public high schools must grant credit for programs approved through the State Board of Education’s superficial, once-per-three-years review, with no local oversight. The state will continue to steer more public funding or tax credits toward religious, private, and for-profit programs. Taxpayers will have no transparency into what those programs are teaching. Will students even learn the fundamentals of democracy, much less their role in it? In addition, the state will use federal funds to start dozens of charter schools, but have insufficient funds to run them. This costly, long-term commitment reduces funding for existing public schools.

Overall costs will increase as taxpayers foot the bill for private and religious tuitions that had previously been paid for by the individual families choosing that path. With more schools to support and fewer students enrolled in public education, state funding will drop but overhead costs like buildings, buses, and athletic programs will remain steady. Districts will be forced to lay off teachers and close some schools.

Free-Market Workplace: A first priority of the Sununu administration will be to defund unions through “right to work” laws that let workers benefit from union contracts without paying union dues. The governor will also quickly sign blanket immunity for companies regarding COVID infections or deaths. This will make it impossible for workers to sue their employer, even if they insist that employees come to work sick, work without proper PPE or force them into other highly infectious situations. The state has received complaints of such issues. This action will make those complaints moot.

For the most part, New Hampshire’s workplace is already ruled by the free market. Employers may pay workers as little as $7.25 per hour, leaving the public to pick up the costs for food, health care, and social services necessary for such employees to subsist.

As teachers, school staff, and municipal workers are laid off wages for many workers will continue to stagnate in New Hampshire. However, many skilled trades and professionals will see good income growth. That means the gap between affluent and poor will continue to grow.

Is this what you voted for, New Hampshire? An educational mishmash, higher property taxes, blanket immunity for irresponsible employers, and worsening poverty? Regardless, it is what we will have. And, since the governor vetoed the bipartisan independent redistricting bill, we will be hard put to alter it over the next decade.

(Jeanne Dietsch of Peterborough represents District 9 in the New Hampshire Senate.)


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