January 30, 2014 
     Thank you for your interest in one of our most proud efforts- business advocacy during the legislative session.Our Chamber is very proud of its efforts to represent you and all of our members in Concord. Our work would not be possible without the strong support of our friends at Devine, Millimet & Branch, whose lobbying team serves as our "boots on the ground" in Concord on a daily basis. We thank them for their unyielding support of our advocacy efforts, particularly through the sponsorship of this newsletter.

This weekly newsletter is intended to give you an overview of what has happened at the State House over the past week. Read this every Friday to learn about our Chamber's lobbying efforts relating to those activities, and to preview what we are doing on behalf of our Chamber members.

Gas Tax:  The Results Of Our Survey

Over the last several years, the Chamber has been closely following discussions in Concord concerning the status of New Hampshire's highway and bridge infrastructure.  As our readers will know, the data that has been put forward by DOT Commissioner Chris Clement shows that our roads and bridges are deteriorating at an alarming rate, and we believe that this is a major and immediate problem for New Hampshire businesses and for the state's economic development and tourism interests.  We are not aware of anyone who has presented evidence to dispute what the Commissioner has been saying over the past year on this subject, and that comes as no surprise, given the solid nature of the case that he has put forward (and the evidence under our own tires). So, the fact that a significant problem exists is just about universally accepted.


Thus, the real question here is not whether the problem exists, but rather how to address it. Should there be an increase in the gas tax to raise the funds necessary that will fix the transportation infrastructure problem?  In view of the overwhelming significance of this issue for the business community, and the obvious need of the Chamber to weigh in on the subject, we conducted a survey of our membership to find out how our members feel about a hike in the gas tax and what they think the Chamber should be doing about it. 

The results of the survey are in, and we can report to you today that the responses to this survey were decidedly in favor of the Chamber supporting a one-time increase in the gas tax. 


We had representatives from over a hundred different member companies respond to the survey - a pretty strong response (and of those members who did not respond, we think it is safe to say that they more than likely are at least neutral on the issue, since those who oppose a gas tax would be more likely to have a strong incentive to respond).  87% of the respondents said that the test of whether the Chamber should support a tax increase should be based upon whether or not such a tax increase will benefit the majority of the Chamber's members in the long run.  Only five out of the 101 respondents said that the Chamber should never support an increase in taxes impacting businesses. 


In response to a question about whether Commissioner Clement has adequately made his case, 68.1% agree that something should be done to increase funding for road and bridge maintenance, and an additional 14.3% said that although they were not familiar enough to comment on this topic, they trusted Commissioner Clement's expertise enough to support an increase.  Only two out of the 101 respondents said that they thought that nothing needs to be done.

The central question in our survey concerned whether the Chamber membership supports an increase in the gas tax.  52.7% said that they support a one-time, modest increase of 8 to 10-cents in the gas tax.  An additional 33% supported a gas tax tied to inflation so that the tax will automatically increase in future years, rather than just doing a 1-time increase.  14.3% of the members said that they do not support any gas tax increase. 


The results of this survey were the subject of a discussion by the Chamber's State Advocacy Committee on Monday morning.  That committee unanimously voted to recommend that the Chamber support the membership consensus that there should be a one-time 8 to10-cent increase in the gas tax. 


The membership consensus seems to reflect what we think is the general view, which is to say that the gas tax is cut out of a different type of cloth than the other taxes we have to pay. We see the direct results of this tax every time we drive on the roads (and, unlike other types of taxes, which go into the State's general fund and might be used for anything, the gas tax, because of a provision in the state constitution, can only be used for highway-related purposes). The gas tax was increased twice under Governor Judd Gregg and once under the greatest anti-taxer of them all, Governor Meldrim Thomson.  Additionally, the gas tax is one that is partially funded by a lot of out-of-state drivers and tourists, so it's nice to know that the entire burden of this tax is not shared exclusively by NH residents and businesses.


Stand by for a further update next week on where the Chamber plans to go, in terms of publicly engaging with our legislators on this issue. 


SB 367, the bill to increase the gas tax, is being sponsored by Republican Senator Jim Rausch of Derry, the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.  We will keep you in the loop on this important issue.  

House Ways & Means Committee Recommends Killing Nonprofit BET Tax Idea (HB 1509)

As you will remember from two weeks ago, the Chamber was one of a number of groups that opposed HB 1509, a bill that would make certain 501(c)(3) entities liable for payment of the business enterprise tax. On Tuesday, the Ways & Means Committee decided to recommend to the full House that the bill be killed.  The vote was 12-8 (with the minority of the committee preferring to further study of the bill rather than passing it).    We completely agree with the Committee's statement to the full House that "a change in tax policy to include nonprofit charitable enterprises in the business enterprise tax would adversely affect the growth and stability of our state." This goes to the floor on Wednesday, and we urge all Nashua-area legislators to vote to go along with the Committee's recommendation and kill HB 1509. 

yes'>  We agree. Let the process which is in place do its job.

(While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that four House session days means that there were a heck of a lot of bills that got studied over the summer and fall.  Is that a good thing?  In order to maintain our citizen legislation, it is important to think about the time demands that are being made on our legislators.)

House Kills Wind and Electric Project Moratorium (HB 586)

It took the House four long session days going back to January 8 to do it, but on Wednesday of this week the House finally was able to finish voting on all of the bills that it had retained last spring and which had been studied by House committees over the course of the summer and fall.  One of those bills was HB 586, which would have put a moratorium on all wind turbine and electric transmission projects until such time as the State issues a comprehensive energy plan.  The Chamber's involvement in this one goes back all the way to last February, when  Chamber President Chris Williams testified in opposition to this bill (and other related bills) which all sought to stop Northern Pass through the use of tactics that unwisely would have circumvented the existing state process for the approval of such projects. A member of the House Science and Tech Committee called this bill a "blunt instrument."  We agree. Let the process which is in place do its job.

(While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that four House session days means that there were a heck of a lot of bills that got studied over the summer and fall.  Is that a good thing?  In order to maintain our citizen legislation, it is important to think about the time demands that are being made on our legislators.)

In Other News...

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously recommended the passage of SB 321, Senator Gilmour's bill (supported by the Chamber) to allow the placement of motorist service signs on interstate highways (as opposed to just the exit ramps). The amendment recommended by the Committee expands on the geographical restriction in the original bill, which allowed these signs to only be placed south of Concord (in order to allay the concerns of North Country legislators who feared the visual impacts on their roads). The amendment now includes Rochester as a northern boundary, to make it clear that the highways in the eastern part of the state are also included. The fact that Senator Watters of Dover requested that change certainly shows what a good idea this bill is.


The Senate HHS Committee recommended an amendment to SB 221 that was supported by the Chamber. This is the bill dealing with postsecondary professional schools, and we had testified in support of a change that would make it clear that software companies are exempted, so that they would not inadvertently be included in the reach of a law that clearly was not intended to apply to them.


Finally, kudos to the Senate Commerce Committee, which recommended that the full Senate kill SB 302, a bill opposed by the Chamber. This bill would prohibit employers from terminating an employee on the basis of public or private criticism of the employer, and obviously it goes well beyond the whistleblower protections which already exist in the law today. This bill, and the others, will be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday.

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Devine Millimet

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