Another View -- Kevin Smith: Will Hassan and friends really fix NH's economic problems?
"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."
- Theodore Hesburgh
This month begins a new two-year political cycle in Concord. While the slim Republican majority in the state Senate might be seen by some as a stop-gap to higher taxes and increased spending, the Democrats, with a new administration in the corner office and majorities in both the House and on the Executive Council, will be largely responsible for controlling the agenda in Concord, meaning that they will own the results of the next two years as well as New Hampshire's fiscal condition come 2014.
Though one can argue that it may take longer than one term to see tangible results from policies enacted during such time, what won't be up for debate is whether the immediate actions taken by the new administration either set the proverbial ball in motion for future economic prosperity or move us even further down the path of economic decline and continued loss of competitiveness. Here's the reality check: Today, Granite Staters pay the third highest property taxes in the country, have the eighth highest electric rates in the nation, have the fourth most expensive health care costs (in part because we are the fourth-most aged state in the union), have the third highest taxes on business, and have the dubious distinction of being second in the country per capita in the number of citizens who have to leave the state everyday to go to work.
None of these alarming statistics revealed itself overnight. Rather, they're manifestations of poor policy decisions made by previous governors and Legislatures. In 1998, when then-Gov. Shaheen made the push to dramatically transform the health care delivery system by enacting a program of "community rating" to determine individual medical costs while simultaneously increasing the number of mandates required by health insurance carriers, these policies eventually led to some of the highest health insurance costs in the country, which our small businesses and other employers bear the burden of today.
Similarly, four years of Democratic control in Concord between 2007-10 saw an abundance of new environmental regulations and programs which have only contributed to the soaring electric rates most homeowners and businesses have paid over the last five years. While it may take years to realize the consequences of these shortsighted policy decisions, their negative effects on the economy are not difficult to forecast at their inception.
By the end of Gov. Hassan's new term, Democrats will have held a firm grip on the corner office for 16 of the last 18 years, a time during which many of the aforementioned downward economic trends have transpired. And while Gov. Hassan takes office with a politically split Legislature, history has shown that the governor is still largely responsible for setting the agenda by prioritizing both budgetary spending and the major issues the Legislature will tackle during the two-year session. To that end, while Gov. Hassan's priorities to extend the research and development tax credit and increase the number of students entering STEM areas are commendable, one can only hope her long-term economic plan is more ambitious than those two talking points.
If making New Hampshire more "innovative" and moving it "forward," as the governor likes to say, means Granite Staters will see lower property taxes, lower electric rates, affordable health care and higher-paying jobs at home, then great. But merely talking of those goals instead of taking the steps to make them a reality in the future - which will require lower taxes on businesses, more efficient government spending and less regulation coming out of Concord - not only renders those campaign buzzwords meaningless, it will surely provide the voters with plenty of economic metrics in two years by which the next administration can be measured.
Kevin Smith was a Republican candidate for governor in 2012. He is president of Smith Enterprises.