“The New Hampshire Advantage”—But, For Whom?

Ray Duckler recently wrote a disturbing column in the Concord Monitor about Pittsfield, one of New Hampshire’s property-poor towns, struggling to provide an adequate education for their kids. He quotes one of Pittsfield’s high school students, who addressed the Senate last summer: “every year, we’re set up to lose more and more, and at some point, there’s just going to be nothing left.”

I have many fond memories from attending Pittsfield High School many years ago and received, at that time, an education good enough to get into Columbia. But, over the years, our educational system has become increasingly unequal, hamstringing property-poor towns, increasingly unable to raise enough money to provide quality education, despite paying sky-high property taxes.

While it is gratifying that our nation is finally facing up to a history of gross discrimination in many areas like race, gender, and religion, no one talks about class: Class remains the third rail, shunned by polite company. But the truth is, it’s the poor and working-class in these towns who get hurt the worst. Our leaders have betrayed them.

The situation goes beyond improving education. With bipartisan support, the legislature has tried to start leveling the playing field by mandating a livable wage (our current minimum of $7.25 is a joke), affordable daycare, family leave, things like that. But Governor Sununu has vetoed every bill.

Now Covid-19 has magnified these already existing inequities. Sure, perhaps you are doing okay if you are working at home, still earning your old salary with benefits, yet still faced with the dilemma of whether to send your kids to school—or not. You might be okay if you are retired with a decent pension or IRA.

But what about the bulk⁠ of our residents who suffer from financial insecurity,1 or the 40 percent who don’t have enough savings to pay for a $400 car repair⁠?2 What about those laid off from jobs that may never come back and the health insurance that disappeared with it?

Or what about our fellow citizens still squeaking by on poorly-paid, essential jobs, worried first and foremost about getting Covid; and second, if school doesn’t open, will they keep their job or quit to homeschool the kids?

Without a functioning government or personal wealth, what do you do?

First of all, don’t vote for Chris Sununu. Yeah, I know he seems to be an affable guy. And, yes, he has done a pretty good job managing the Covid pandemic. But the heart of the matter is, he is the last in a long line of prominent politicians, anointed by the Union Leader to take the pledge, promising to ax the tax on rich people.

View Governor Sununu for what he really is: CEO of Club New Hampshire, a resort catering to the well-to-do and big business owners. The famed “New Hampshire Advantage” gives members a fantastic benefit, unsurpassed by any other state: all club fees are waived. No income taxes will ever be deducted from their bulging pocketbooks.

Without question, that’s the most unfair aspect of our tax system. It puts all the burden on those who can least afford it. And it did not happen by accident. Previous legislatures have consistently voted to increase taxes that affect the working class. Working people in New Hampshire now pay four times as much of their income in state and local taxes than our wealthiest residents.⁠3

Covid-19 only sweetens the pot for Sununu’s Club. Fat cats nationwide are fleeing congested cities to move to New Hampshire for its rural character and unspoiled lakes and mountains. They are snapping up high-end real estate within surroundings they are accustomed to: high value, property-rich towns, populated with fellow high-income families. Poor towns like Pittsfield and Franklin, as usual, are left out in the cold.

Of course, part of New Hampshire’s charm for these new-comers is not having to pay income tax. Even before Covid, our state had the seventh-highest percentage of U.S. millionaires, making up eight percent of all households.⁠4

As Duckler illustrates so well in his column, working folks, particularly in poor towns, are getting screwed: Paying an exorbitant four times as much of their income in taxes as the rich, yet treated like a skunk at a garden party by Governor Sununu, servant of his privileged class patrons.


1 Most Americans Struggling Financially Despite The Strong Economy

2 Many Americans who can’t afford a $400 emergency blame debt

3 New Hampshire Capital Gains and Estate Tax Amendments

4 American states with highest ratio of millionaire households per capita in 2020


Jean Stimmell publishes his writings and photographs at https://jeanstimmell.blogspot.com/.


[A Note to Any Irate Readers: Yes, we know Governor Merrill, originator of the phrase, “The New Hampshire Advantage,” died last Saturday. No, we are not publishing this in some cheap, mean-spirited effort to speak ill of the dead. Mr. Stimmell offered us this piece on Saturday morning, September 5th, and we accepted it immediately—at least six hours before we learned of Merrill’s demise. – The Ed.]

2 thoughts on ““The New Hampshire Advantage”—But, For Whom?”

  1. Thank you Jean, for a well-written and concise look at the inequities supported and promoted by our illustrious governor. What a mess this country is in … it’s so disheartening. Stay well.

  2. I just attended Governor Merrill’s funeral in front of the state house. This piece is not a hit on Governor Merrill, it is just a statement of fact.

    Steve understood when he got elected that even the wealthy class was hemorrhaging due to the economic downturn that hit N.H. at the end of the 80s and early 90s, and if bills were to be paid he might have to break the Loeb/Thomson pledge.

    Ahhh, but just before he got elected. The N.H. Advantage was hatched …

    It turned out to be N.H.’s reliance on a scam on the Federal Medicaid program, aka Mediscam, (it balanced the state budget for over five years, of course, local governments were on their own, Jack).

    I recommend you read the whole article, but I have included a nugget to explain the Merrill advantage, aka the N.H. Advantage, that protected Steve’s administration from admitting the structural failure of our tax system and maintain the illusion that the pledge worked.

    Note the following from a Washington Post story Medicaid Windfall Cut N.H. Deficit: (My favorite line from this pull quote is at the end).

    “The state of New Hampshire isn’t high on most lists of culprits contributing to the huge federal budget deficit.

    “Long dominated by fiscal conservatives wary of the evils of deficit spending and big government—and critical of the spendthrift ways of neighboring ‘Taxachusetts’—it is one of only two states with neither a sales tax nor a general income tax.

    “But since 1991 New Hampshire has been able to preserve its unique low-tax status thanks largely to a loophole in Medicaid law that enabled its Republican leaders to get the taxpayers of the United States to cover a yawning state budget deficit.

    “‘It was a scam, no question about it,’ said Douglas E. Hall, a Republican state legislator who helped devise the scheme in 1991 but now feels it enabled New Hampshire to postpone dealing with its underlying fiscal problems. ‘We’re funding our state judicial system, our highway program and everything else out of a Medicaid loophole, which is being funded out of the [federal] deficit….’

    “The Reagan administration’s elimination of revenue sharing and other grants to states had cut the U.S. share of the New Hampshire budget from one-third in the early 1980s to one-quarter in the mid-1980s. The Medicaid windfall brought the federal share back to the 1981 level.

    “‘It’s difficult to blame most states’ for using such schemes, said Victor Miller, a Washington consultant. ‘Tax yields were down and federal fiscal support was drying up. But New Hampshire is different. It’s a wealthy state with low taxes and saw the loophole as a way to continue its privileged status.’”


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