Statewide expansion of Coos tax break goes to governor’s desk

Measure offers property tax exemption for new commercial/industrial construction

The tax break available to developers in Coos County will be spread throughout the state, if House Bill 316 is signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The Senate on May 18 narrowly approved the bill, which would give towns and cities in New Hampshire the authority to offer a property tax exemption of up to 10 years on 50 percent of construction costs on commercial or industrial buildings.

That’s the same program passed in 2008, specifically to help the state’s most rural and economically depressed county. Since 2009, it has led to creation of 300 jobs, including such projects as the redevelopment of the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield and the Capone Iron Corp. facility in Berlin.

“What is good for one county is good for all counties,” said Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford.

But spreading this tax break would “be depleting the one tiny advantage that Coos County has,” argued Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield.

Coos is not like the state’s other counties, Woodburn argued passionately. “Poverty runs though it like a river and washes away decent jobs and hope. People in Coos County work twice as hard to make half as much as their neighbors to the south. If Coos County were a state, it would be the oldest in the nation.”

Yes, Woodburn said, the program could work anywhere, but that “misses the point. Do we target assistance for those who need it the most or do we give it to everyone elsewhere?”

Attempts to spread the Coos tax break – even just to Carroll County – have not been successful in the past. But this time, the Senate agreed with Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, who asked, “Why not spread the wealth?”

The bill was unchanged from the House version, so it goes straight to the governor for his signature.

Coos County will have one remaining advantage: a lucrative tax credit against the business enterprise tax as a reward for creating jobs.

Two other credits nixed

Meanwhile, the Senate ditched two other tax breaks during its May 18 session .

It killed HB 531, which would have increased the minimum gross business income required for filing a business profits tax return from $50,000 to $75,000. Proponents said that the change would mean less paperwork, but the NH Department of Revenue Administration said it would mean flagging fewer businesses that might be underestimating their tax obligations, which could cost the state $1 million a year.

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, called it a “tax giveaway,” and no one contradicted him. Instead, the Senate killed the bill on a voice vote.

It also re-referred HB 574, which would have increased from $5 million to $6 million the limit on contributions to the Community Development Finance Authority for which an investment tax credit may be taken. The program is used to sponsor various historical and not-for-profit projects that are seen to enhance the economic life of a community. Businesses that contribute get a 75 percent credit against their tax bill.

The Senate sent the bill back to committee without debate.

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