In a flurry of legislative activity this week, the New Hampshire House approved a tax cut on cigarettes even while cutting funding for education, and health care. The ten cent tax cut bucks a national trend of raising taxes on tobacco since “forever” and, according to multiple studies, could lead to a 6.6 percent increase in respiratory cancer deaths.
Republican lawmakers claim that the tax cut, which the New Hampshire chapter of the Koch-funded front group Americans for Prosperity strongly pushed for, will attract out-of-state smokers and raise revenue in the “long run.” Yet a spokesman for Gov. John Lynch (D) notes that the state already has the second-lowest tax burden in the nation. And with rising gas prices, the odds of smokers driving to New Hampshire for their cigarettes are slim.
Instead lawmakers have chosen to weaken an extremely effective policy tool: cigarette taxes not only reduce smoking but help limit underage smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, and related health care costs. The tax cut is just one part of a legislative agenda that New Hampshire Republicans pushed through this week that cuts programs that keep Main Street healthy and strong:
— Yesterday, The House’s powerful Finance Committee moved forward on legislation that would cause mass layoffs of physicians and nurses and result in more than 12,000 people, including 500 to 800 children, losing their health care coverage.
— Wednesday, the House approved a bill freezing funding for schools.
— Tuesday, lawmakers approved a bill that “removes compulsory school attendance for children.”
— The Republican-controlled Senate approved pension-reform legislation that increases health care costs and raises the retirement age for public workers.
— House members passed an amendment to the state Constitution “to bypass a Supreme Court decision ordering the state to pay for the cost of an adequate education for every public schoolchild.”
Last week at a public hearing, the state’s Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson called the recent legislation “a stubborn or selfish unwillingness by us, the privileged, to tighten our own belts for the good of our fellow citizens who are truly in need.” While similar cigarette tax cut bills have stalled in New Jersey and Rhode Island, Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both the Senate and the House, limiting the state’s Democratic governor and progressive lawmakers ability to de-rail the legislation.
Instead, it’s been left to the state’s Main Street Movement — a coalition of business leaders, union workers, social justice advocates and religious leaders — to stand up against the legislature’s right-wing agenda in public hearings and in demonstrations across the state.