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Sometimes smaller is better

Bruce, over at Mass Backwards, has discovered another reason to flee the Bay State and come north to Cow Hampshire. I answered him in the comments there, but I think it could stand a bit of expansion and elaboration.

Bruce pointed out that recently, the New Hampshire legislature just killed three bills: authorizing traffic cameras, mandating seat belts, and studying (merely studying!) a luxury tax. All three plans went down in flames.

(A brief aside: New Hampshire does require seat belts for occupants under the age of 18. Once you're a legal adult, though, you can be as stupid as you want to. We don't even have a mandatory motorcycle helmet law for adults, either.)

He compared that to Massachusetts, the land of mandatory seat belt laws. Massachusetts, the land of taxing everything. Massachusetts, where nearly everything is considered a "luxury."

One of the more subtle differences between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and I think it's one that is deeply profound.

In Massachusetts, lawmakers just voted themselves another pay raise. They now make, I think, around $50,000 a year. Nearly all of them list "legislator" on their tax returns. Their full-time job is being a lawmaker.

In New Hampshire, our legislators make $100 a year. That's no typo. They earn one hundred dollars a year.

In Massachusetts, the legislators are lawmakers, year round. Therefore, to justify their continued pay, they need to keep making laws. Passing new laws. Revising old laws. And to support their positions that we need all this regulation, they need an ever-expanding state bureaucracy to administer these laws. And to support that bureaucracy, they need more and more money. And to raise that money, they need more and higher taxes.

In New Hampshire, lawmakers tend to be either independently wealthy or retired. Legislating is purely a part-time duty for most of them. And they tend to be very unsympathetic to people asking for more money, when they have to make five Benjamins last 365 days themselves.

Another consequence is that Massachusetts legislators spend a lot of time on Beacon Hill (the location of the Capitol). They live fairly insular lives, and only spend a lot of time with their constituents when it's time for re-election. In New Hampshire, legislators either have real jobs or real lives away from Concord, and have to face the people who have to live with the laws they pass on a regular basis.

A third difference is in sheer size of the legislatures. Massachusetts has 160 Representatives and 40 Senators, serving a population of just under 6.5 million people. New Hampshire has 400 Representatives and 24 Senators, serving about 1.25 million people. (In fact, they boast about being the third-largest legislative body in the world, yielding only to the United States Congress and Great Britain's Parliament.) A Massachusetts State Senator has about 162,500 constituents, while a New Hampshire Senator has 52,100. It's even more extreme in the Houses: there, a Massachusetts representative has, on average, 40,000 constituents; his New Hampshire colleague has less than 3,500. And with those smaller constituencies, the representatives tend to be more responsive to their concerns.

Now, I'm not saying that a smaller legislature is a panacea, but it certainly seems to be working around here.

One last comment I made over at Bruce's site is a theme I've touched upon before, but it certainly bears repeating. Massachusetts boasts of itself as the "cradle of liberty," but as has been noted before, no one should remain in the cradle forever. We all have to eventually grow up and move out of the cradle and stand on our own. Remember that the government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.

But if you really feel the need for the ultimate in the Mommy State, for someone to take care of you forever, to worry about everything for you and free you of all personal responsibility, move to Massachusetts.

And since they're the only state that actually lost population in the last census, there's certainly plenty of room.

J.

(Note: I rounded up the above population figures for simplicity's sake. Therefore, the derived numbers are therefore also not precise, but they certainly are close enough to illustrate my point.)


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Comments (10)

Well you just listed many o... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Well you just listed many of the reasons I love living here, it is only in January I wish I lived in the South again.

New Hampshire is one state that definitely tries to live by its motto.

Just curious...I'd ask some... (Below threshold)
Governor Breck:

Just curious...I'd ask someone here at work, but it's Saturday and this place is a tomb, so no New Hampshirites to ask (no Vermonters either). I looked at various websites and couldn't find a good answer.
Is it true that in New Hampshire every year when you register your car you have to pay some kind of tax on that car's Kelley Blue Book value? So registering a car in NH costs a ton of money every year. That's kind of a matter of faith for Vermonters but I've never been able to varify it. Of course, I've never registered a car in NH either. It's 81 dollars for two years in Vermont.
Also, is it true that, if your house has a pleasant view, your property taxes go up because of that view?
I'm not trying to start a VT vs NH flame war here (those are almost as excruciating as Mac vs Windows flame wars) but I'm just curious and am entering the home buying market soon and want to keep my options open.

Governor, sounds like you'r... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Governor, sounds like you're describing Massachusetts' Excise Tax. My heap of a Cavalier costs me about a hundred bucks a year to register -- 32 or so to the state for plates and whatnot, the rest to the city based on its original sale price and current value. I dunno what other states charge, but that's how it is here in Cow Hampshire.

I'll leave Vermonsters and Massholes (and what the hell, Maineiacs too) to chime in on their own states' policies.

As to the view tax... I think it's been kicked around in a few places, but I don't really know much about that. I do know that while we have no broad-based taxes (sales or income), we do have pretty high property taxes and electric rates. I don't have specifics on those, either, I'm afraid.

J.

New Hampshire has 400 Re... (Below threshold)
Jim:

New Hampshire has 400 Representatives

Typo?

Yes, when I worked in MA, I lived in NH. Finally gave it up and moved to one of the other states with no state income tax - Florida.

I grew up in MA and CT, and for the life of me, I don't see why anyone still lives there.

What do you think of the id... (Below threshold)
Governor Breck:

What do you think of the idea that's making a comeback of the national sales tax, but no income tax and no IRS? It would kind of hose New Hampshire's status as being "The Place Where Vermonters Buy Big Ticket Items" andmake West Lebanon into a ghost town.

Jim: I grew up in CT and I agree with you. When I graduated from college and wasn't making a lot of money, my parents kept saying, "Move back to Connecticut! There's jobs here!" Screw that! I'll live in a damned cardboard box in White River Junction before I move back to that shithole. Pardon my French.

Jim: no typo. There are fou... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Jim: no typo. There are four hundred members of the New Hampshire State House Of Representatives, and twenty-four in the State Senate.

And Governor, I lived for a while in Lebanon. West Leb has ALWAYS been a shopping mecca, at least as back as the early 70's.

The only thing White River Junction ever had going for it was their VA hospital, as I recall -- but I moved away when I was 10 or so. Well, that and the crossing of I-93 and I-89.

J.

Jay my dh doesn't even like... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Jay my dh doesn't even like the VA hospital in VT (or NH for that matter, they all pretty much suck up here compared to NC).

As for the tax on cars, it is cheaper in NH than it would have been in NC or VA (which is why during dh's Navy and student years we maintained his residence in Alabama where he grew up).


I hear the tax on snowmobiles and other recreation vehicles here in NH is high, but I can't say from personal experience, we do not own them.


uh....California rules?... (Below threshold)

uh....California rules?

Jay, having been a (conserv... (Below threshold)

Jay, having been a (conservative Republican) legislator in Massachusetts for three terms (1985-1990), I am eager to confirm your perspective regarding the "professionalism" of the legislators and their expertise at "servicing their constituents" (servicing is right).

The pay is actually higher now --- base pay for back benchers is $55,000 (it was raised to $34,00 when I was there), and more than 50% of members qualify for bonus pay for "leadership" positions.

Most of this income is (federal) tax-free, due to a provision of the IRC that provides state legislators with a daily deduction for each day the legislature is in "formal session." When I was serving, therefore, my entire legislative salary was tax free --- solely because of the fact that the legislature (intentionally) stays in seeion a full 365 days. Their annual sessions would expire "by the clock" at midnight on the 365th day.

Oliver Wendel Holmes said "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Massachusetts legislature is in session."

How astute is that?

Most states have personal p... (Below threshold)
Ric Locke:

Most states have personal property taxes as well as real property taxes. Personal property taxes cover things like cars, boats, RVs, snowmobiles, etc. according to value, like any other ad valorem tax. In a lot of places they aren't collected very often because it's cumbersome. If NH charges the tax at registration time, it makes sense to me -- though like anyone I don't care for paying taxes.

And as a resident of Texas I can testify that having part-time legislators is not a panacea. The Texas Legislature is allowed by the Constitution of Texas to meet for 140 days once every two years; the Governor is allowed to call emergency sessions lasting thirty days each, max. I haven't noticed that this gives us particularly sensible laws.

It must be the number of them. At one Representative per 3,500 people, we'd need six thousand or so for the equivalent, and over 400 Senators at 52,000 population each. I'm in favor, so long as they aren't allowed to expand the Capitol to accommodate the new population.

Regards,
Ric




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