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Editorial: The time for free skiing is long gone

When it comes to recent bipartisianship in New Hampshire’s Statehouse, a bill that would permit legislators to accept free ski passes to the state-owned Cannon Mountain ski area leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

The bill, HB514 — proposed by Democrats Gary Coulombe of Berlin and Andrew Schmidt of Grantham, along with Republican Herbert Richardson of Lancaster — asks the Legislature to amend the state’s ethics law to exclude from the definition of “gift” passes for skiing at Cannon Mountain. The proposed bill cites RSA 218:16, a 1967 bill that allows for daily or seasonal passes to the state’s recreational facilities for legislators, with the following conditions: “no more than one such pass, including not more than one other person, shall be assigned to an individual and use of the same shall not be transferable to others than members of the family of said recipient.”

For many, many years free passes to Cannon Mountain for legislators was the norm, but that was called into question a few years back and the proposed bill would clarify the issue. Rep. Daniel Tamburello, a Republican from Londonderry, wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Feb. 13 edition of the Concord Monitor that the free passes are part of a longstanding New Hampshire tradition, which he maintains should continue. We disagree. Just because a state has been doing something for a long time doesn’t make it right. And in these fiscally challenging years, the notion that legislators are entitled to perks the rest of the public is not is antiquated.

The people who serve in the N.H. House and Senate deserve our thanks and respect, but not free passes for them and their families to ski. We have to draw the line somewhere. In fact, the proposed bill may be an opportunity to rethink the 1967 law altogether.

Often it’s our retired and/or financially independent residents who find themselves in a position to serve as state legislators. The money they spend on recreation is just as valuable as that of our poorest residents, not the least in these times of financial difficulty at all levels of government. To exempt the wealthiest and most privileged among us (however they find themselves in that position) from paying for luxuries, such as ski passes, corrupts our democratic system of government and undermines public trust.

A single season pass for an adult this past year is listed at $785. Some may argue that the perk doesn’t cost the state anything and that legislators need access to the state’s public parks. Both arguments fall short of the mark in our estimation. If the state is giving away for free something someone might otherwise pay for, that is a loss, one the state can ill-afford if legislators — some who say we can no longer afford to continue supporting programs for people with disabilities — are to be believed. And access to public recreational facilities for specific purposes doesn’t have to come with a seasonal ski pass.

If the state is in a position to give away free ski passes, why not offer them to people in need who could then sell them to raise money for the programs that are being de-funded. That is the long way of saying we’re hopeful our representatives will heed the House Legislative Administration’s majority report that the proposed bill is inexpedient to legislate.

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