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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Live Blogging the Tax Summit- Final Thoughts

The House Ways and Means Committee has concluded its two day State Revenue Information Session. We've posted extensive summaries of each panel and speaker, as well as links to their documents and audio of all eight panels.

We've covered this event without editorial comment in order to provide both real-time insight into the proceedings and an independent public record of the Tax Summit. Now that it's over, I'd like to share a few thoughts on the two days of tax policy discussion that just concluded.

Summarizing the event, it was an extensive look at New Hampshire's revenue structure. While the Ways and Means Committee is limited in dealing only with taxes and fees, discussing state revenues without addressing spending can only take you so far.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Susan Almy was criticized for inviting a liberal tax group, ITEP, which is already on record in support of an income tax for New Hampshire. However, the that panel also featured two right-leaning think tanks with much more conservative perspetives.

The first day of the Tax Summit was dominated by economists, of several persuasions. Given that these panelists were working from the same data, they did duplicate each other somewhat, emphasizing that New Hampshire is more highly reliant on property taxes for state and local spending, has an overall low tax burden, and has increased its business taxes significantly.

Later panels took a more hands-on approach to New Hampshire taxes, bringing in the experiences of New Hampshire businesses both large and small. Particularly telling was Andy Sanborn long list of every tax he pays to keep his restaurant open.

The only panel without appreciable balance was Thursday's 10:30 panel featuring Brad Cook, Larry Kelly, and Laurel Redden. All three hammered the property tax, and called for a tax system based more on an ability to pay. Taken by itself, this panel showed a heavy pro-income tax bias that critics had feared when Almy announced her intentions last month. Taken as one of eight panels across two days, the Committee did receive a balanced and extensive stream of information from a variety of perspectives.

The only obvious ommission from the Tax Summit was an invitation to any of New Hampshire's many active taxpayers groups. A representative from the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers, Granite State Taxpayers, or the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition would have both provided needed balance to the Granite State Fair Tax Coalition, and helped address criticism of Almy and House Speaker Terie Norelli, both long-time income tax supporters. Failure to include the voice of a single taxpayer group unnecessarily fueled distrust that Almy and Norelli were simply using the Tax Summit to generate ammunition for their preferred solution, an income tax.

After two days of discussion, and spotty media coverage outside of NH Watchdog, the Tax Summit is unlikely to change many minds on tax policy. Supporters and opponents of broad based taxes heard enough to bolster their current opinions. Hopefully, members of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee took away the need to make tax policy in a more open and transparent fashion, to resist the urge to pick winners and losers through the tax code, and to evaluate taxes on their ability to raise revenues with the least disruption to the New Hampshire economy.

Next week, the House Republican Caucus will hold a "Stop the Spending" summit in Concord. This event will address some of the important questions not addressed at this week's Tax Summit. We encourage more high profile discussions of public policy. We believe that open and robust debate leads to better policy decisions, and that bad ideas deserve to be evaluated alongside good ones.

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