Monday, April 18, 2011

Small Town New Hampshire Democracy in Action

So, tonight the Hampton Democrats invited the New Hampshire delgates to Concord to speak about the budget at a meeting in Hampton.

First a guy from a non profit, non partisan group outlined where New Hampshire gets its income on both the local (town) and state level.  What surprised me was how much comes from a tax on business and most of that is not on profits from business but from property owned by business. Then there is the cigarette tax (more on that later) and then some from tax on gasoline and sundry other places. The tax code is surprisingly heavy on things which exempt the wealthy and hit the modest income folks--taxes on gasoline cost the poor a greater percentage of their income.

Then he talked about where the spending goes--mostly health and human services and state services like police and highways and a big chunk on education.

Then one of the Republicans got up and said the difference between the two parties was the Democrats decide what they want to do and then decide how to raise taxes to do it and the Republicans look at what we have coming in from taxes and rather than raise taxes decide how to live within the income they have.

Of course, during the original presentation it was clear that only one state in the union (South Dakota) asks less of its citizens in terms of taxes.  New Hampshire citizens pay big property taxes, and while the rich tend to have more and bigger property, there is a whole class of people who are not rich whose property values keep rising while their incomes fall--the retired. 

During the question period various members of the audience suggested dozens of other taxes which could be used to raise income for the state, including a state rider on the federal income tax which would simply be one to three percent of your federal income tax. If your income is low enough to pay little or no federal income tax, you pay little or no state income tax. And, unlike the property tax which hits retired people with paid off homes hardest, the income tax would hardly touch this group. As someone said, "The Tea Party types are always screaming about big government. Well, I'm not afraid of big government; I'm afraid of bad government."

All of this fell on deaf Republican ears, of course. No, no, no they said, there is simply no way to raise new taxes in the state of New Hampshire and even if you could raise money for the state, it could not be transfered back to the towns. Apparently, this inability to send money to the towns and relieve taxpayers of heavy property tax burden is an eleventh commandment which was inscribed on the stones handed to Moses, but it chipped off in transit down the mountain, and found only later on Mount Washington.

What was really disturbing was not what the Republicans said, which was pretty much what Republicans always say. That was pretty well demolished by a Democratic delegate from Portsmouth, who rose to say, "You know, we are not really an impoverished state with no or low sources of income. We choose to be impoverished."

And having seen the way the tax structure hits the middle and low income people hardest (who pay about 8% of their income in taxes)  and leaves the millionaires paying only  2% of their income in taxes, you can see why the rich love New Hampshire and love the New Hampshire Republican party.

But what was most disturbing about the evening were the comments from a Democratic delegate who said, "You know the Republicans did win the election and they won because they promised to cut taxes."  Which was news to me. When I think of clear messages from the voters, I recall voters saying, on TV, they want the government to keep their hands off health care, most especially Medicare. That's how smart and coherent voters are.That's how much we can know what the voters have said. 

This lady Democrat had apparently some version of the Stockholm syndrome--that syndrome where the kidnapped captive comes to love and identify with her captors. During a discussion about the possibility of levying a capital gains tax she suggested rich people might move out of the state of New Hampshire if such a tax were imposed. The guy from the non profit responded that had been studied and basically nobody moves out of a state for that sort of reason. They move to be near family, to escape the cold or because they just cannot stand listening to the drivel coming from New Hampshire Republicans. (He didn't really say that last thing. I just sort of wanted him to.)

Then there was another fun part, when the Republican defended the whole lowering of the tobacco tax in an effort to entice Massachusetts smokers across the border to buy their cancer inducing cigarettes right here in friendly New Hampshire.  This brought questions from the audience about the reasons for the cigarette tax in the first place and did we really think it a good idea to sell our neighbors cancer? "Well, they come across the border to buy our liquor," he said and sat back as if he had just been made vice president of the bank, which for a Republican is likely next to being admitted through the pearly gates.

That same delegate asserted that as long as cigarettes are legal to sell in New Hampshire, there was no reason not to encourage their sale by lowering taxes and reaping the benefits of increased volume of cigarette sales. He actually shrugged when he said this. "If you don't want to sell cigarettes, then make them illegal,"  he said. This has the same ring of logic George W. Bush used to flaunt when he said, "If you are going to lower taxes, you have to lower taxes for those who pay them," by which he meant, the rich. Because, lowering the taxes of the middle class and not lowering them for the rich, was somehow not really lowering taxes. And if you are not determined to jump into bed with cigarette makers, then you should make cigarettes, illegal, otherwise, join the parade and profit.

The Republican Party, party of false choices.

For me, though, the highlight of the evening was one Republican delegate saying he didn't listen to voters who became unpleasant. And if you wanted to get to him with your opinion, you should not write or email because he didn't have time to read those things and they were all form letters anyway.  When one of the members of the audience said, "But I thought that's what tonight was all about, you're coming hear to hear from the citizens," the Republican said, "Well, I guess so." 

And then someone, I think it was the Democratic moderator, said something about how we could disagree without being disagreeable and how everyone had been spirited but respectful.

Of course, I heard the Republican delegates refer to the  "Democrat Party" more than once. Which is to say, the Republicans do not have to show the common courtesy of calling a man by the name he uses himself; they can turn a name into a pejorative, as George Wallace use to do by calling Negros, "Nigras,"  and that's just something Democrats are just supposed to turn the other cheek to, in order to maintain civility. 

One of the Republicans said something to the effect of how we could all disagree but we should remain agreeable.  And I thought, well, that must work for you. If you are the factory owner who is firing all the workers trying to unionize, you can do that in a pleasant way and demand they remain civil. Or, if you are a governor of Wisconsin, you can disband and destroy a union, with a smile and insist those ex state employees smile sweetly. 

Nice place if you can find it.

But isn't that always the way? Republicans bully and get their way and Democrats just say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

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