Laying it all out
A systemic study of government may be in order
Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.
July was an interesting month in national and state politics. The national conventions could not have been more different. This Republican was distressed watching the GOP Convention. The speeches, negative about the country, may have had some validity related to particular issues, but certainly did not provide the normal appeal of hope for the future, confidence and party unity.
The Democratic Convention, on the other hand, while demonstrating the fervor and disappointment of supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, had speeches that inspired hope, confidence, optimism and were professionally choreographed. The Democrats certainly won on points heading into the fall election.
In New Hampshire, a spirited gubernatorial primary in both parties is coupled with a GOP contest in the First Congregational District and that proves to be a heated and expensive contest between Senator Kelly Ayotte and Governor Maggie Hassan for the senate seat, the contest that may be influenced by the fate of the presidential tickets.
Addressing a group in Manchester, gubernatorial democratic candidate Mark Connolly faced several challenges on his promises to veto a broad-base sales or income tax. The criticism was that, given all of the proposals Connolly and other candidates make, pledging to veto a broad-base tax seems to take tools away from prospective governors.
Connolly’s answer, while pointing out that all of the candidates in both parties have taken the same position, was nuanced. He said he did not believe that a governor, with a two-year term, and given the historic position of the Legislature, could get such a tax passed in the first term, and that a systemic study of government, the tax system and all of the issues facing the state might be in order.
This was an interesting reference to history. In 1968, Walter Peterson, then the speaker of the New Hampshire House, was elected governor. A consensus Republican, Peterson brought with him to the corner office a cadre of young, bright people of both parties who wanted to move New Hampshire ahead and modernize its government.
Among those involved were Kimon Zachos, Warren Rudman, David Nixon, Stuart Lamprey, Rod Tenney, Martin Gross and others who would go on to serve the state well.
The first piece of legislation entered into the 1969 legislature was a bill to create a “Commission on Government Organization”. When passed, this commission, the steering committee of which included many of those referenced, was open to all citizens. Headed by Royden Sanders, head of Sanders Associates in Nashua (now BAE Systems), the commission became known as the “Governor’s Task Force” and spent the next year studying the structure and processes of state government, constitutional issues, tax and economic policy and much more. No issues were taken off the table in this study and the task force was broken down into subject matter areas and then subcommittees studying individual topics.
Any citizen could participate. The reports of the subcommittees were considered by the prime committees and then the entire study was put into the report, which became a set of recommendations for the next Legislature.
Re-elected in 1970, Peterson made many of the reports’ recommendations into legislative proposals and many of them were implemented. Those that could be implemented by executive order resulted in executive changes, and much of the legislation resulted in reorganization of state government and other changes.
Perhaps the most well-known of the task force’s recommendations was a proposal to replace the then-business tax in New Hampshire called the Stock in Trade Tax, with a business profits tax, a tax on the income of businesses.
The Stock in Trade Tax, which was based on the value of a business’s machinery and inventory, was a vestige of the late 1800s and early 1900s when agriculture and manufacturing were the basis of business, not intellectual property or those businesses which were dependent on brain power.
The reform of business taxation in the 1970 Legislature was a major step to modernize state government.
The Peterson governorship was cut short when he was defeated in the 1972 primary by conservative Meldrim Thomson, Jr.
In any event, Thomson’s victory put an end to additional implementation of the results of the task force and ushered in the era of the “pledge” which Connolly and the other gubernatorial candidates have taken.
Connolly’s idea of having a major study, if it could be implemented without limitation of topics to be studied, is an interesting one and, after 47 years, might be worth trying.