Protecting New Hampshire from a broad-based sales or income tax has been a major issue in New Hampshire elections for decades – and this year’s state races have been no different. Over and over, voters hear Republican candidate for Governor, Ovide Lamontagne, accuse his Democratic opponent, Maggie Hassan, of supporting an income tax. Over and over, Hassan reiterates her pledge not to support a broad-based income or sales tax.
But for all the talk around the income tax this season, the proposed constitutional amendment banning a personal income tax hasn’t gotten much attention. Here are some possible reasons.
1. Money And Time
After Kevin Smith lost the GOP primary for Governor to Ovide Lamontagne, he became the chair of the No Income Tax PAC. At a recent press conference in Concord, Smith hinted that the PAC wasn’t bringing in a lot of cash. “We don’t have a large budget,” he said, “but we have enough to get some signs done, some literature, and go up on radio.”
Smith says that had the PAC gotten started before the primary – back when he was still running for Governor — it may have been more successful at building excitement and turning out the vote.
2. Public Support
A UNH poll published in late October showed that 44 percent of voters support a constitutional ban on the income tax. The amendment would need a supermajority — 67 percent of voters – to become law. While Smith says he hopes a simple majority would send a strong message to legislators, others say the polls show a lack of public support for the amendment.
Jeff McLynch is the executive director of the often liberal-leaning New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute. He also works for a PAC that opposes the income tax ban, called New Hamphire’s Constitution Coalition. He believes that while New Hampshire voters may be opposed to an income tax in the present, they don’t want to rule it out as an option for the future. “It’s about the constitution,” he says, “and about the choices we’re going to allow our children and grandchildren to make.”
3. An Amendment Could Undermine The Party That Supports It
In January, Grant Bosse of the often conservative-leaning Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy wrote for his organization’s blog: “Let me reassure my friends and critics alike: an income tax is a really bad idea.” But, he continues, “Republicans hoping to hold on to power should cherish the enormous advantage that the threat of an income tax gives them.” Enshrining in the constitution a ban on the personal income tax may be appealing to fiscally conservative Republicans, but Bosse thinks it would make it much harder for them to win elections.
Bosse says that if Democrats want to win more elections in New Hampshire, they should vote for the proposed income tax ban even though they don’t support it. An interesting strategy – but not very likely.