Op-Ed: Stop Partisan Politics on Property Tax Relief Act

By Reps. David Cote (D-Nashua), Mike Edgar (D-Hampton) and Mike O’Brien (D-Nashua).

New Hampshire has the highest property tax burden in the US and Granite Staters are struggling now more than ever to make ends meet.

While necessary to fund key municipal services, the property tax burden has risen over the past decade as Republican lawmakers have increasingly elected to “downshift” the costs of state obligations to the local level.

Downshifting state obligations is a smart political move for conservatives, as it allows them to claim spending cuts and fiscal responsibility while simply passing the buck onto others. This playbook was utilized with success in 2011, when ultra-conservative “tea party” legislators eliminated the state’s contribution to municipal retirement benefits that had been in place since the 1960’s.

The obligation to provide contractual benefits to municipal employees did not go away. Just the funding. With state support eliminated (state funds previously covered 25-35%), property taxpayers have been left to foot the entire bill ever since.

Democrats in the legislature have frequently tried to restore the state’s obligation, with proposals being blocked by the GOP on every occasion. This year, a bill sponsored by the late House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing would restore 7.5% of the state contribution, saving property taxpayers over $ 25 million annually. Aptly titled the “Property Tax Relief Act of 2022,” HB 1417 appears to have momentum as enough Republicans joined all House Democrats to pass it onto the Senate.

Here comes the partisan politics. Some Senate Republicans do not like that HB 1417 is sponsored by Democrats and that it restores state retirement funding permanently. They also know that HB 1417 is popular with the public, and that it would harm them politically to stop it outright.

As a result, Senate Republican leaders are attempting a shell game that would impress the most prolific street performers. This week, they unveiled a scam they are calling the “Property Tax Relief Act” which would restore 7.5% of the state’s contribution one time (in 2023), only if the Business Profits Tax is also cut for the 5th time since 2016.

This bears repeating. Senate Republican leaders are taking legislation they have consistently opposed, replacing sustained property tax relief with a one-time gimmick, calling it the “Property Tax Relief Act” as if it was their idea, and insisting it only take effect if combined with additional tax cuts for large corporations. What a bargain !.

The simple and prudent solution would be for the Senate to simply pass HB 1417 as they received it. But that would give Democrats credit, and permanently pull back on the downshifting of expenses that Republicans find so politically expedient. So instead, the GOP is amending another bill with a gimmick version of HB 1417 and trying to convince the public they’re here to save the day.

The taxpayers of New Hampshire deserve better. Over the past decade, expenses that were once subsidized with taxes from tourists and out of state corporations have been increasingly shifted to property taxpayers. It is time to get serious about supporting Granite State taxpayers, and HB 1417 does just that. When you see Senate Republicans promote their conditional, one-time rip-off proposal as “Property Tax Relief,” remember the shell game for what it is.

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