Wake up, New Hampshire business leaders
Our state’s technology and manufacturing-based economy was strong enough to weather the national recession, but can it really withstand the foolhardiness of the New Hampshire Legislature?After Gov. John Lynch proposed a downright conservative budget that would have made yesterday’s Republicans let out a victory cheer, today’s new partisans couldn’t help themselves. Community technical colleges that fuel our state’s labor force? Millions more in cuts. Lynch’s proposal to boost the successful research and development tax credit? Gone. As if to prove their zeal is unrelated to any genuine interest in balanced budgets, the House at the very same time is boosting spending on its own political staff by $1.4 million and repealing $16 million in cigarette tax revenues. Is this really the best way to strengthen our state’s economy? Cut technical education and R&D so that we can fund more political staffers and make a pack of cigarettes a dime cheaper?In the state budget debate thus far, outside light has rightly been shined on the dangerous cuts to our social safety net, and much heat has been generated by the undemocratic efforts to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights. But away from the light and heat of those debates, the Legislature’s decision-making reveals a naive disregard for our state’s economic climate – which should be their top priority.In March, the state Business and Industry Association and New Hampshire High Tech Council released a report by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies on the state’s smart manufacturing and high-tech sector, which contributes one in every five payroll dollars in the state.The report concludes with four policy recommendations, including three that are being specifically ignored – or worse, undermined – by the House budget. To preserve our economic advantage, lawmakers should be “ encouraging workforce development and education,  investing in infrastructure, and  implementing tax policies that promote manufacturing and high tech growth.” In fact, the report’s conclusions specifically cite the success of R&D tax credits and point to the need for robust technical education to maintain a well-educated workforce that will fuel continued economic growth. These are not partisan recommendations. If anything, the business community is a traditionally Republican-leaning force in politics. But today’s Legislature is systematically ignoring their good advice. Even when no government spending is involved, the Legislature is on an anti-government crusade – such as their work to lower the minimum dropout age.When the state increased the minimum dropout age from 16 to 18 a few years ago, the number of students leaving high school early was roughly cut in half. It didn’t cost tax dollars – it was just smart policy. And now, given the choice between more students graduating from high school or happy Free Staters who simply oppose any government regulations at all, the Legislature is choosing the Free Staters. Like Walter Peterson and Jeanne Shaheen before him, John Lynch knows that a governor’s job is to put competency first and ideology second. That’s why he is so popular (and, by the way, it is why he should not rule out running for re-election in 2012). But under Speaker Bill O’Brien, our state House of Representatives has adopted the opposite of the Lynch method: They are putting ideology over competency. If the State Senate can’t summon up the courage to stand up to them, they risk losing the future for our state.Colin Van Ostern of Concord, who led political campaigns for various Democratic elected officials in New Hampshire over the last decade, now works in the private sector.