Column: The more things change...

A member of the School Board asks me when is the state going to start paying its share as an employer into the state retirement program. The school districts are pitching in their share, but the state is not; i.e. the school districts are supporting state retirees.

My tax bill comes with a caution that the loss of state revenue sharing with the local towns had added about 50 cents to the rate on my tax bill.

At a Chamber of Commerce event, one local shopkeeper tells me that the continued high cost of health insurance is one of the things discouraging employers like himself from hiring new employees over the age of 40.

Another Chamber member tells me that the room and meals tax rate is at the point where he figures this year he may sell the summer rental property he and his wife own. The tax is making it harder for them to rent it at a reasonable rate.

The common thread here? For all the cost-cutting and tax-cutting done in Concord during the last two years, we’re all still hit hard by costs shifting to the ever-present, last-resort property tax. Spending cuts at the state level — payments to hospitals for uncompensated care is one stark example — often means matching federal dollars, one-to-one or even two- or three-to-one, are lost, too.

What we have to face and start working on a plan to address is the real need for N.H. state government to look realistically at its taxing structure at both the state and local level, examine taxing mechanisms and methods that will provide a long-term, stable revenue stream that will fairly distribute the tax burden, and relieve those individual property taxpayers who are currently carrying a disproportionate share. Coupled with this is the need to focus on where and how we want to invest to build the educational, social and physical infrastructure the state must maintain to be economically vibrant.

Do I think we will have all this fixed this term? No. What we can accomplish is a house cleaning: identifying the pointless revenue losses — like the cigarette tax cut — and restoring those; reversing as much as possible the irresponsible cuts, such as those to health care providers and the university system; and restore funding where matching federal funds will double our money. Most of all, we must bring a halt to the downshifting to our local property taxes.

But what is the biggest change I see happening in Concord this year? The thing that is the most important for accomplishing all that we need to do: a full restoration of the open, transparent committee process in the N.H. Legislature. Any N.H. resident can come speak for or against any bill in committee and have faith there will be a fair hearing. No longer will the legislative agenda be hijacked by a partisan dogma.

That will be the best change.

Jill Shaffer Hammond, of Peterborough, returns to the Legislature this year after a two-year absence. She represents Peterborough.

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