July 26. 2018 11:09PM

NH's road uncertain when it comes to internet sales tax

New Hampshire Union Leader

CONCORD — The road forward politically is uncertain, legislative leaders and State House insiders said Thursday — a day after the collapse of the bipartisan effort to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lets all states collect their sales taxes through online purchases.

On Wednesday, the Republican-led House of Representatives narrowly voted to gut the work of a task force and instead leave only a study commission on the issue. In response, the state Senate refused to accept the small part of the bill that was left, bringing an end to the special session with no results to show for it. 

House Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, pushed back Thursday at critics who suggested that the failed solution had been rushed through.

“There was more transparency on this bill than any bill I had ever seen in the Legislature,” Chandler said.

He released a 13-page timeline on the issue that listed the number of meetings and extensive review this bill underwent.

“The state budget had three public hearings; this bill had four,” said Chandler, who is serving his 18th term in the House.

Chandler admitted there is at present no plan for Gov. Chris Sununu to call back members for a second special session.

State Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, is a leader in the House Freedom Caucus, which led the opposition to the task force.

Hoell said he still believes there is urgency for the state to act and set up real barriers to states collecting sales taxes.

“The proper approach was to create legislation that doesn’t have a process for compliance like the task force did, but rather sets up a wall. I want something that says our Constitution does not allow for a sales tax and therefore we are not allowing our companies to collect the sales tax,” Hoell said.

“If interstate commerce is going to force us to do it, then it should take an act of Congress and not a Supreme Court decision to make this happen.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to return on Sept. 13 to take up Sununu’s vetoes of 2018 bills. There is always a possibility, though remote, of the House acting on the issue then, Chandler said.

“I don’t know if there is going to be anything further on this, to tell you the truth,” Chandler said.

House Clerk Paul Smith said once the House had acted on the one Senate bill before it Wednesday, Chandler had no other options than to bring the House meeting to a close and let the Senate accept or reject the result.

“We were not aware of any other bills coming and we had concluded our business so there was nothing else available,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t have categorized it as a surprise because that’s all there was.”

Candidates weigh in

Meanwhile, both Sununu’s Democratic opponents criticized the one-term governor Sununu for missing the special session and a few days running up to it while he attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Aspen, Colo.

“For weeks leading up to the special session the governor promised to fight but yesterday he was missing in action,” said former state Sen. Molly Kelly of Harrisville.

“When it is time to do the really hard work he was in Aspen, Colorado with corporate lobbyists and special interests. Passing good bipartisan legislation requires hard work, persistence and fewer photo opps. I won’t be afraid to roll up my sleeves to get the hard work done.”

Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand said he’s offering to primary voters a progressive alternative that keeps all revenue options on the table in the future, including a broad-based tax.

“A growing majority of New Hampshire residents seek a Democratic Party that rejects the longtime Republican framing of our debates, whether it comes to The Pledge, or the Hyde Amendment, or guns, or how we pay for kindergarten, or Sununu’s plan on Wayfair that is unconstitutional, and falsely tries to scare people into thinking a sales tax is coming to New Hampshire,” Marchand said.

The Democratic Party issued Thursday two right-to-know requests seeking the records of Sununu’s out-of-state travel between July 21-25.

A Sununu spokesman said the governor’s RGA trip did not cost taxpayers “one cent.”

Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald said Sununu’s actions were proper.

The governor had made his position known on the issue and it was then up to the Legislature to decide their position,” MacDonald said.

“In the meantime, he had the responsibility to meet with other governors and address issues of common interest that might affect New Hampshire.”

‘Take a breath’

Right after the House vote, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, told senators to keep their schedules open and expect that they would likely be called back to deal with the internet sales-tax issue a second time.

Now that looks very unlikely, at least in the short term, officials said.

“I think shell-shocked is probably the right description for the way things are right now,” said Greg Moore, state director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity. “It probably is a good thing the Senate president was leaving for a vacation that’s going to last until a week from Monday. He could use some time away from Concord after what happened to him.”

Moore said bringing lawmakers back next month would likely not work.

If the House were unable to get the attendance needed for a quorum, it would take a two-thirds vote for them to do anything, Moore said.

“When you have so many House members facing primaries and another slug of members who aren’t running again, that’s a lot of incentive to stay away from the State House until after the Sept. 11 primary,” Moore said.

The AFP leader noted the threat from these sales tax states for New Hampshire firms remains some months away.

In ruling for South Dakota against Wayfair and other retailers fighting the taxing power, the nation’s high court sent the ruling back to a state court to implement it.

“I know a lot of folks rightly want New Hampshire to do something here, but the wisest course now may be to step back, take a breath and see what is possible down the road on this,” Moore said.