STATE AUDITORS HAD good news this week for businesses, confirming the profits and enterprise taxes will not increase in January.
That’s because total tax collections avoided coming in 6% below forecast, the level that would have triggered hikes.
Meanwhile, state revenue performance during the first quarter of the state’s fiscal year was far less rosy than it first appeared.
As we first reported on social media, Administrative Services Commissioner Charles Arlinghaus recently learned the state’s national accounting firm identified $30.8 million that was counted this year but belonged in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Nearly all of that ($27.5 million) occurred because Gov. Chris Sununu, in response to COVID-19, extended from April 15 to July 15 the deadline for those filing quarterly returns under business taxes ($18.3 million) along with the interest and dividend tax ($9.2 million).
With the adjustment, total taxes for this current year from July through September are ahead of forecast by far less — $6.2 million or 1.2%.
Before auditors made the change, it had appeared we were $37 million (7.4%) ahead of expectations.
Beyond this auditing window, September was promising, with business taxes bringing in $20.3 million more than expected during one of the four big months for business filers.
On the flip side, the hospitality industry continues to struggle, with the room and meals tax netting $35 million last month, 20% below forecast.
Even an improving real estate market didn’t keep pace with the September forecast, finishing $2.8 million or 17% off target.
Sununu said he would provide a state budget and revenue outlook at his weekly briefing this Thursday.
Sununu vows hospitality tax cut
If reelected, Sununu said the two-year state budget he proposes in February will contain an unspecified cut in the 9% Room and Meals Tax.
You won’t find this on any tourism brochure, but the only states in the nation with higher state taxes on hotels and restaurants are Connecticut (15%), Hawaii (14.3%), Michigan (12%) and New Jersey (11.6%), according to the Tax Foundation.
State, county and local taxes are much higher than that in certain cities like Chicago (17.4%), New York (14.75%) and Miami Beach (13%).
Meanwhile, Sununu said he was surprised to learn that through September, fewer restaurant and hotel businesses have closed (357) this year than in 2019 (479) and 2018 (517).
“I think it is a reflection of so much CARES Act money flooding into the economy,” Sununu said. “Moving into consumer confidence, all those grants gone out have allowed folks to keep the economy strong.”
It also might have something to do with the federal Payroll Protection Program, which subsidized business payrolls until its expiration last Aug. 8.
Employment Security Deputy Commissioner Richard Lavers told the Economic Reopening Task Force that through the end of last month, employment in restaurants (89%) and hotels (84.9%) had returned to almost pre-pandemic levels.
Feltes pushes housing plan
Democratic candidate for governor Dan Feltes said if elected he would spend more federal and state resources than Sununu to deal with what he calls a crisis in affordable housing.
His plan would earmark $50 million in federal CARES Act dollars — $40 million to create a Housing Recovery Fund with priority help for smaller landlords and $10 million to pump into the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s affordable housing and workplace fund, with an emphasis on the state’s hardest-hit areas.
Feltes said he would create 350 vouchers for low-income and veteran families and pursue a tax credit from the Business Profits Tax for landlords who accept the Section 8 housing applicants.
In response to the pandemic, Sununu set aside $35 million in CARES Act grants for people in danger of losing their homes or apartments.
Feltes has criticized Sununu’s vetoes of renter/landlord assistance the Legislature passed and his decision at the outset of the pandemic to trim homeless and housing center spending by $1.7 million until the state received federal COVID-19 relief.
Town clerks’ plea rejected
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald’s office told city and town clerks that state law blocks their request to do additional processing related to absentee ballots before Election Day on Nov. 3.
The clerks wanted to cross off voter checklists the names of people who had requested and turned in absentee ballots.
“Marking the voter checklist with a red “A.V.” (already voted) and crossing that voter off the checklist has always had particular legal significance under our laws, and taking this step prematurely would have the impact of disenfranchising a voter by preventing him/her from casting a ballot in person,” wrote Assistant AG Nicholas Chong Yen.
Secretary of State Bill Gardner said under state law, the earliest local officials can begin such processing is one hour after the polls open.
Sununu said he didn’t take part in the review “because I’m on the ballot.” He deferred to the AG and Gardner while agreeing with their finding.
“You don’t want to take someone off the rolls so that they can come in to cast their ballot in person,” Sununu said.
McDonald’s office said the law passed just for this election permits clerks to highlight an absentee voter’s name on the checklist before the polls open.
“That in itself allows the clerks a little more time and flexibility,” Sununu said.
Electoral College idea panned
Sununu left no doubt where he stands on the plan endorsed three years ago by Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen to replace the Electoral College with popular voting results to determine the winner of a presidential election.
“Let me be unequivocal: Ending the Electoral College is about the worst idea I have ever heard for the state of New Hampshire,” Sununu said, warning it would likely end the state’s first-in-the-nation primary tradition.
“You will never have another presidential candidate walk through our doors if we eliminated the Electoral College,” he said.
Hassan, Shaheen and other advocates insist the primary would remain strong because candidates know New Hampshire’s event permits them to have in-person contact no other state can match.
Sununu was having none of it.
“They have to really think if they are part of a national movement or putting the consideration and voice of our citizens first and foremost.”
Who wins White House?
There is far too much focus on horse-race polling, and with 23 days before Election Day, much can still change.
But it’s still fun to look at.
The Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics poll out last week confirmed what we knew: Right now, you would much rather be Sununu, who leads 58% to 35%, than Feltes. Or Shaheen, who leads 53% to 38%, than Republican Corky Messner.
Ditto for former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading President Donald Trump 53% to 41%.
Incidentally, the poll was conducted Oct. 1-4, starting on the day aide Hope Hicks was confirmed to have COVID-19 and ending on the day Trump walked out of Walter Reed Hospital with a confirmed case of the disease.
It’s hard to think of a worse four-day polling window for one candidate.
Meanwhile, though the Democratic Party is spending $1 million in ads attacking Sununu, 40% of voters have no opinion of or have never heard of Feltes.
Even first-time candidate Messner has more name recognition than Feltes (30% haven’t heard of Shaheen’s challenger). Only Matt Mowers, 1st Congressional District GOP nominee, has a higher unheard-of number (41%).
A few more nuggets:
• Wrong track: This is much more important than the daily up-and-down, and it’s real bad for Trump, with 65% of New Hampshire voters saying the country is on the wrong track and 29% saying it’s going in the right direction;
• Election integrity: 93% are confident their New Hampshire ballots will be counted correctly, but 55% say they are “worried” about the integrity of the election’s outcome;
• Supreme Court pick: New Hampshire remains as divided as the rest of the country, with 53% saying the vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg should be filled after the next president is sworn in and 45% fine with the U.S. Senate filling it now;
• Top reason to vote: Defeat Trump is the runaway winner with 37%, followed by the economy (19%), law and order (15%) and managing COVID-19 (8%);
• Who will win: This is the close one, with 41% sure it will be Biden, 39% certain it will be Trump and 20% with no idea.
Another ‘oops’ mailing
This week’s “oops” comes from Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire, which sent out a mailer touting Sununu’s endorsement of Republican Executive Council nominee Dave Wheeler, who is trying to unseat Democrat Debora Pignatelli.
“Dave Wheeler and Governor John Sununu,” the headline declared.
Democratic Party spokeswoman Holly Shulman couldn’t resist.
“Just like Chris Sununu is indistinguishable from his self-dealing corrupt politician dad, he’s also indistinguishable from self-dealing corrupt politician Donald Trump,” she said.
AFP State Director Greg Moore said he is sure former Gov. John Sununu agrees with his son that Wheeler would address the need for “strong fiscally conservative voices” on the council.
“Our mail vendor made an error. It’s disappointing because there were at least 10 people who looked over the mail and none of us caught the mistake,” Moore said.“It’s a good lesson that even though we are pulling together dozens of pieces of mail, you need to treat each one with great care.”
Possible 2024 contender
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is the headliner this Thursday for a state GOP fundraiser at the Sky Meadow Country Club in Nashua.
Noem has emerged as a rising star and an unapologetic advocate for keeping her state open throughout the pandemic.
Democratic critics no doubt will pounce on an increase COVID-19 cases reported at the motorcycle rally in Sturgis last August.
Noem said the estimates of cases were “pure fiction.”Black Republican backs Sununu
Sununu confirmed late Friday U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-N.C., would be in New Hampshire later this month to attend a fundraiser on the governor’s behalf.
In 2017, Scott became the first Black Republican from the South elected to the Senate since 1881.