Dark Times this Christmas Season

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Garry Rayno is InDepthNH.org's State House Bureau Chief. He is pictured in the press room at the State House in Concord.

By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome

It may be mid-December with the days sprinting toward the 25th, but it does not feel like a festive season for many reasons.

Wars wage in the Middle East and Eastern Europe with civilians as collateral damage and refugees searching for elusive safe harbors.

Disease continues to infect unabated in the developing world and in industrialized nations with ever rising COVID numbers and new strains emerging.

Homelessness has exploded in many areas of the world and in once chic cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York and in European meccas such as London, Paris and Vienna.

More and more people are experiencing food insecurity and turning to food banks for the goods needed to live.

America has not escaped the problems other countries are facing despite its enormous wealth compared to most of the rest of the world.

About 40 years ago, the United States began shifting away from the liberal democracy that created the greatest explosion of prosperity ever seen, lifting millions of Americans out of poverty or sentenced to lifetimes of lower economic stagnation.

The middle class grew rapidly and the American dream of home ownership, college educations and new cars every three years came to fruition.

The country was the model of innovation and exploration, sending men to the moon and producing lifesaving medicines as well as other remarkable achievements.

But some of those who benefited most from the prosperity, wanted to change the model and hatched a plan with a University of Virginia economist James Buchanan who had attended the University of Chicago graduate school under the tutelage of famed conservative economist Frank Knight.

Buchanan would win a Nobel prize for his economic theories but it was his social-economic ideas that captivated wealthy Virginians who wanted to avoid having to pay to educate black children after Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Koch brothers who were drawn to his theory that only the wealthy should be able to vote, because the average citizen would vote for their best interest requiring the wealthy to pay for much of it.

The theories found little traction because the vast majority of Americans could see it was not in their best interest and the movement went underground.

The first major breakthrough came with the election of Ronald Reagan, who significantly lowered the taxes of the nation’s highest earners and corporations and shifted the burden to the middle class.

But Reagan would not go far enough for Buchanan’s believers because he did not end Social Security although you could argue he accelerated its end by borrowing billions of dollars from the fund that has never been paid back.

Today Buchanan’s ideas have become more mainstream under the constant propaganda of the wealthiest folks in America who seek to retain their wealth and not use it for the public good.

Today there is a Supreme Court packed with ultra conservatives through the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation all paid for by some of the wealthiest people in the country constantly pushing to deny more and more people’s wishes by skewing the political process through billions of campaign dollars through dark money PACs that do not have to disclose their donors.

This movement is what has so polarized the country to the edge of civil war and 25 lunatic Republican House members controlling the agenda of Congress.

New Hampshire is a key state for the cabal as the Koch organization has poured money into the state through its Americans for Prosperity organization.

But before that, the state was in play for the best model of least government possible. The Wall Street Journal in 2011 called New Hampshire the Switzerland of the United States, not because of its majestic mountains and rich green valleys but because it protected the wealth of its most well-to-do citizens.

The adage of two New Hampshires, one below the notches and one above has been around for a long time, but it has become more complicated and more about economics and wealth than territory.

Government has always been small, and not really what you want government to be about.

This week, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee raised camping fees to be more in line with the private sector.

If the fees are lower than the private sector, maybe some state residents might be able to go camping that might not be able to afford a private campground.

The state once had two ski areas with tickets priced less than the private areas so state residents would be able to ski for a little less money, but no more.

The last vestiges of that theory is the free skiing for those over 65 years old during midweek at Cannon Mountain while Sunapee has long been leased to private operators who charge what the market will bear.

The most obvious issue dividing the state economically is taxes and who benefits from the actions of state government.

Over the last 10 years state lawmakers have gradually lowered the rates of the business profits and business enterprise taxes. 

The business profits tax rates have been reduced the most, while the tax is mostly paid by large, multinational corporations not small New Hampshire businesses.

The business enterprise tax threshold has been raised so fewer small businesses have to pay it and rates have been lowered but not as much as the profits tax. The enterprise tax changes impact mostly New Hampshire companies.

So the biggest winners in the tax reductions are large out-of-state companies, not local enterprises.

The one levy New Hampshire has that taxes a person’s wealth, is the interest and dividends tax and most of the payers are in the highest income brackets.

That tax has been reduced over the last few years and in the next biennium will be eliminated.

The NH Fiscal Policy Institute estimates the tax cuts for businesses have reduced state revenues by $500 million to $720 million while the interest and dividends tax produces about $135 million a year in revenue.

So that is almost a billion dollars of lost state revenue due to the tax cuts that helped the wealthy and large out-of-state corporations.

The only tax the average citizen pays that was reduced is the rooms and meals tax and that was a half a percent, much less than the business or investment taxes.

On the spending side, public education is one of the bigger expenses of government, not just state government.

The state pays the least to support higher education in the country leaving New Hampshire college students with the highest college debt in the country and the second highest number of graduating seniors going out-of-state to college.

That not only slows economic growth due to the high debt, it deprives the state of young well-educated students for the workforce.

For public education, the state pays the least of any state for kindergarten to grade 12 education instead relying on property taxes to pay 70 percent of the costs and property taxes are the most regressive of taxes possible with those having the least wealth paying a far greater percentage of their income than those with greater wealth.

The pandemic has resulted in the great housing boom driving up prices to put homes out of reach for average wage earners as investment firms and hedge funds buy homes as an investment driving up the costs.

Is it any wonder young people cannot afford to work in New Hampshire and homelessness has doubled in three years.

Oh and if you are a tipped employee, your “wages” are frozen at current levels so businesses can recover from the pandemic.

New Hampshire, like America, is a great place to live if you are wealthy, but in New Hampshire if you are not, you are on your own without much help from the government.

That model is not the liberal democracy that produced the greatest surge in prosperity just a few decades ago.

New Hampshire is more the Buchanan model designed to not pay to educate black students and pay the least taxes possible.

New Hampshire and America are on the road to oligarchy and the opposition is not strong enough to stop it.

Garry Rayno may be reached at garry.rayno@yahoo.com.

Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.

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