By Mark Fernald
In November New Hampshire voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to permanently ban an income tax. It's an amendment that property taxpayers should reject.
The people who wrote our Constitution in 1784 understood that our government is strengthened if the cost of government is distributed fairly among the people. So they added a clause to the New Hampshire Bill of Rights that includes the following:
"Every member of the community has a right to be protected by it, in the enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property; he is therefore bound to contribute his share in the expense of such protection."
In 1784 our Legislature enacted a tax law that included this statement of purpose:
"It is necessary there should be an Equitable Rule . . . so that every person may be Compelled to pay in proportion to his Income."
The founders of New Hampshire would be shocked to learn that we levy huge property taxes on people with modest incomes. In 1784, houses were not taxed at all because they don't generate any income.
CACR 13 is the Pledge on steroids. It is an attempt to keep taxes in New Hampshire exactly as they are now, forever, by prohibiting an alternative to the property tax. Before we enshrine this into our Constitution, let's see if everyone is paying "his share."
We have a tax system that is made by and for the top 1 percent. The households in New Hampshire with the highest incomes - the 1 percent with incomes $480,000 and up - on average pay just over 2 percent of their incomes in state and local tax. The folks in the middle, on average, pay about 6 percent. The lowest income people have the highest tax burden. They pay, on average, over 8 percent of their income in state and local tax.
Only five states have tax structures that are more regressive. You can read more at itepnet.org/whopays.htm.
The root of the problem is the property tax. New Hampshire relies on the property tax more than any other state. Much of what we expect government to do - educate our children, plow our roads, prosecute criminals, provide nursing home care for the elderly, police, fire - is paid in part, or primarily, with property taxes. Our property taxes are the second highest in the nation and twice the national average.
The problem is getting worse. State aid to cities and towns has been cut, and cut again. In the past 12 years, the total property tax bill in New Hampshire has doubled. Very few people have seen their incomes double.
If you vote for this amendment, if you vote for people who take the Pledge against any new tax, in two years your property taxes will be 5 to 10 percent higher, and in 12 years they will probably have doubled.
The proponents of this amendment will prattle on about the "New Hampshire Advantage" as if we are living in a tax paradise. The facts say otherwise: The property taxes on an average home in New Hampshire are three times what they would be on a similar home in Delaware, and twice what they would be in Florida.
If you took a New Hampshire family with an average income and an average house and moved them to a similar house in Florida - where they have a sales tax, but no income tax - the family would pay less tax in Florida than they do here. If you moved that family to Delaware - where they have an income tax, but no sales tax - that family would pay less tax in Delaware than they do here.
For retired homeowners, the comparison is even more stark. A retired homeowner with a modest income, living in a modest home, pays more state and local tax in New Hampshire than he would pay if you moved him to any other state. Our taxes on retired homeowners are the highest in the nation. Every retired homeowner, and everyone who plans to retire in New Hampshire, should be voting against this amendment.
There are plenty of other reasons to oppose this constitutional amendment:
--We should not write tax policy into the Constitution.
--Each Legislature and each generation should be free to make its own decisions about taxes and spending.
--Tying the hands of the Legislature may harm New Hampshire's credit rating, costing us millions of dollars in increased bond interest.
--It is unnecessary. If the voters don't want an income tax, they will vote accordingly.
But in the end, this amendment is a vote about whether we will turn our backs on our founding principle that all citizens pay their share of the cost of government.
Voting for this constitutional amendment is a vote for higher and higher property taxes, a vote for the top 1 percent, a vote against the middle class, and vote to continue mistreating our retired homeowners.
Voting against this amendment keeps our revenue options open, even if we don't want to use all of them now.
(Mark Fernald was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)