Much like the amplifiers used by Spinal Tap, political discourse in New Hampshire this year has been turned up to 11. And just as an over-modulated sound system will distort your music, it’s been pretty hard to hear any reasonable discussion of politics over the din of partisans being outraged at each other.
Anger is a useful emotion when appropriate. It’s also far too easy to manipulate by political hacks looking for short-term advantage. Anger makes for great copy, snappy headlines, and effective fund-raising emails. Last week, it seemed like the only tool that either party knew how to use.
After 15 years trying to take a bite out of the internet, state tax collectors took a huge step closer this week. The U.S. Senate voted to advance legislation allowing states to force online retailers to collect sales taxes for them.
The 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision Quill Corp. v North Dakota prevented states from drafting out-of-state businesses as tax agents unless they had a significant physical presence in that state. The internet sales tax bill, dubbed the Marketplace Fairness Act by some staffer who’d read Orwell, would force retailers to collect taxes based on the buyer’s address, even if the seller was in a state with no sales tax.
At issue isn’t the sales tax itself, but the little understood use tax. Massachusetts assesses the use tax on residents who buy cars in tax-free New Hampshire but register them in the Bay State. The law actually requires Massachusetts residents to keep track of everything they buy in New Hampshire that would be taxed if bought in Massachusetts. Few do so.
New Hampshire is getting really good at the shakedown.
Last week, a Merrimack County Superior Court jury found Exxon Mobil liable for contaminated well water with the gasoline additive MTBE and awarded the state $236 million, easily the largest jury verdict in New Hampshire history.
Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is an oxygenate. It’s added to gasoline to raise the oxygen level, which not only prevents knocking in older car engines but also burns the gas more completely, resulting in cleaner emissions. In 1990, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, which among many other provisions required that oil companies add oxygenates to their product in order to reduce tailpipe pollution.
When the New Hampshire Senate voted last week to tighten its control over the franchise agreements car makers sign with local car dealers, it also expanded the law to cover farm equipment dealers. The people who make farm equipment did the only logical thing they could in the face of growing government meddling in their business. They hired a lobbyist.
Last year, the Legislature voted to repeal New Hampshire Certificate of Need Board, which approves hospital construction, expansion, and capital acquisition. Forty years of experience has shown that limiting the supply of health care facilities does nothing to control costs. But the House Finance Committee this week tried to give the CON Board a deathbed reprieve, tucking an unrelated amendment into the state budget.
Ever since Henry Ford decided to distribute the Model T through a chain of independent dealers instead of selling it directly to his customers, car dealers have been fighting the factory. And they’re grown increasingly effective in getting state governments to fight that battle for them.
Like every state, New Hampshire law micromanages the contracts that auto dealers sign with auto manufacturers, known as the Auto Dealers Bill of Rights. It stipulates what is and isn’t allowed in the franchise agreements that local car lots sign with Ford, GM, and Toyota. In New Hampshire, it’s covered under RSA 357-C, which has 16 subsections, violation of which is a misdemeanor.
This week, the New Hampshire Senate voted 21-2 to add even more restrictions into the law, to benefit dealers at the expense of car companies.
If you really want to drive a liberal activist nuts, mention the Koch Brothers. If you want to really want to make their heads explode, say something nice about them.
David and Charles Koch own Koch Industries, the second largest privately-held company in the U.S. after Cargill, according to Forbes. The sprawling conglomerate grew out of the oil business, but now runs companies doing everything from ranching and paper mills to finance and venture capital. Koch Industries employs 70,000 people in 60 countries.
David and Charlie Koch are also the most active and influential libertarians in the country. David Koch was the Libertarian candidate for Vice-President in 1980, but the brothers have since avoided party politics and concentrated on nurturing libertarian ideas. Charlie Koch helped found the Cato Institute, and the brothers are major donors for free market think tanks across the country. The Koch Family Foundation also supports cancer research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York City Ballet. Those monsters!
Richard Hofstadter began his 1964 essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, “American politics have often been an arena for angry minds.” Hofstadter erred in attributing this to Barry Goldwater, missing as most people did the nascent strain of American conservatism in Goldwater’s campaign. But he did acknowledge that “the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” was not limited to one side of the political spectrum.
Hofstadter traced the Paranoid Style back through Joe McCarthy, the populists of the late 1800’s, and the anti-Masonic and Jesuit movements. Fear that some other group of others is out to get us is timeless and widespread.
I’m not sure the Paranoid Style is any stronger today than it has been in New Hampshire politics, but with many of the right and left firmly in its grip, now is as good as time as any to debunk some of the paranoid populist theories.
The Federal Department of Justice has “bailed out” New Hampshire from the preclearance requirements of the Voting Right Acts, meaning that state officials no longer have to notify the DOJ about any changes to election laws in ten New Hampshire towns. The Concord Monitor’s Ben Leubsdorf reports on the decision.
The New Hampshire House Finance Committee begins its work on the state’s two-year budget this week, and the Governor has already made their job a lot harder. Her budget recommendations are incomplete, violate New Hampshire law, and use a variety of gimmicks to hide increased spending.
The first problem is that Governor Hassan hasn’t actually submitted her entire budget yet. State law gives the Governor until February 15th to present her recommendations for state expenditures, her estimate of state revenues, and the changes in state law that would be required to implement that budget. The taxes and spending make up House Bill 1. The statutory changes become House Bill 2. Hassan hasn’t written her version of HB2 yet, putting the entire budget process at least two weeks behind schedule.
Five years in, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative isn’t working out the way its supporters said it would, and they want to make drastic changes to the program in order to get state revenues flowing again.
When New Hampshire entered into the ten state compact in 2008, the economy was on the verge of recession. One minor benefit of our half-decade in the economic doldrums is that it mitigated the impact of the RGGI program on ratepayers. The program has had absolutely no effect on the environment, but it has done so while costing much less than it could have.