BIA issues results of business forums

Workforce housing and lower tuition at four-year and community technical colleges were two of the issues atop the agenda of businesspeople who took part earlier this year in a series of forums sponsored across the state by the Business & Industry Association of New Hampshire.

Also mentioned as a key issue by the participants were aging of the population as young people leave the state and the loss of manufacturing jobs to nations with low labor costs.

In his report about the forums – which were held to help the organization shape its agenda for the 2007 legislative session — BIA Vice President David Juvet warned the newly created workforce housing study commission is not enough to ensure a strong supply of skilled labor.

Health-care costs, the top BIA issue in previous years, ranked near the top again. Juvet voiced concern that a bill to study health-care cost drivers died near the end of the 2006 session.

The BIA was pleased lawmakers passed a bill to reduce mercury emissions from PSNH plants. The BIA helped kill attempts to pass new taxes on solid waste and beverages and protected tax breaks for pollution controls in a bill that stripped these exemptions from commercial landfills.

Other key issues on the list included the lack of a state economic development plan, the crumbling road system, high property taxes, the lack of mass transit, the threat of a broad-based tax, unchecked residential growth, loss of open space and community character, weak state support for tourism, and the lack of high-speed communications in the North Country.

Pamela Walsh, spokesperson for Gov. John Lynch, said “the work the BIA has done will be extraordinarily useful” in the governor’s effort to expand the availability of broadband and wireless access. She also said the report would be helpful in gaining passage of Lynch’s proposal to raise the high school dropout age to 18. The bill passed the Senate and died in the House in the last legislative session.

State Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton, said there was little lawmakers could do about the increasing median age of New Hampshirites.

“And I’m not sure there’s a problem,” she added. “A lot of retirees have higher discretionary incomes.”

Other issues discussed at the forums:
— Teach communities that affordable housing is different from subsidized low-income housing.
— Increase high school standards.
— Give high tech companies incentives to relocate here.
— Push to make health insurance more affordable through tort reform, universal health insurance and cost transparency.
— Reward developers who propose high-density subdivision plans that cut per-unit housing costs.
— Urge the state to help build water and sewer infrastructure needed for this greater density.
— Have the BIA play a greater role in regional planning by convening forums and spreading best practices in growth management.
— Boost funding for highways and make sure the gas tax continues to go only or roads.
— Participants at most of the forums also opposed broad-based taxes as a threat to the state’s economic advantage. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS

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