I remember the first time I heard Bernie Sanders speak. He attended our county Democratic spaghetti dinner fundraiser, twice. Years before he decided to run for president.
He talked about economic unfairness and how the system was rigged to benefit the wealthiest and most powerful people in America.
He talked about raising the minimum wage to a livable wage.
About affordable and accessible healthcare for all.
About strengthening Social Security, not dismantling it.
He talked about sane environmental and energy policies.
He spoke to the needs of the people that I know.
He spoke to the needs of people you know.
He was saying those things in the 1980’s and they still ring true.
Apparently, these truths are self-evident.
Elizabeth Warren told Stephen Colbert that people are angry
and that they have good reasons to be angry.
Incomes are flat, expenses are up,
young people can’t get through college without being crushed by debt,
seniors can’t stretch social security checks to cover food and rent.
There are a lot of reasons to be angry.
But Donald Trump does not have the answers.
And frankly, I wonder about the presumptive Democratic nominee.
But that’s not why I’m here today. I’m here today to talk about keeping Bernie’s revolution alive and bringing it down to the state and local level.
You know me. I’ve tilted at a few windmills in my time.
You’ll recall we lost the fight against bringing a Bearcat into this town.
But we won assurances from the police that they wouldn’t use it indiscriminately.
We lost the first rounds to ban plastic bags, but kept it on the agenda and will bring it back again if business won’t do the right thing voluntarily.
We won the fight and took a stand on keeping the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to below 350 parts per million, and to be a sustainable community.
And, just this Thursday, we won the fight to tell the utility industry that they will NOT charge ratepayers a tariff for their dirty little pipelines.
But, the single biggest threat to people in Cheshire County New Hampshire is this state’s antiquated tax system.
The so-called New Hampshire Advantage.
Here we have a tax system that not only depends upon the property tax to fund most of state government, but actually protects the income of wealthy people in ways that guarantees that middle income people pay more than their fair share of those taxes.
How does it do that?
1) New Hampshire’s individual income tax system consists of a flat rate of 5%, which applies to interest and dividend income only. But, state law exempts all TRUSTS from interest and dividends tax.
This means a trust, including land trusts, can accumulate interest and dividend income free of any New Hampshire tax.
Not surprisingly, there is a cottage industry among New Hampshire lawyers to create trusts for wealthy clients.
The average taxpayer doesn’t have that option.
2) If you own 10 acres of land or more, you can put it under “current use”, meaning you receive a huge property tax discount. Once you’ve decided to sell or develop it, you merely pay a 10% tax based on the value of the property, a fraction of what you would’ve paid had it not been under current use. The average home owner doesn’t have that option and ends up subsidizing wealthy people’s obligations.
Using Census data, the leading tax advocacy organizations show that New Hampshire ranks third, behind only Connecticut and New Jersey, in property tax charges.
Since 2001, New Hampshire’s General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent. During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent. As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue.
And, it’s not working very well.
State contributions to their obligations to Keene’s local government have fallen by more than $1 million per year since 2008.
And guess what, those downshifted costs are picked up by local property taxes.
And who pays more than their fair share of property taxes?
That’s right, the middle class takes it right in the neck.
Those aspirations to send your kids to college? Forget about it.
Tuition costs to the UNH system have never been higher. And that’s because the state’s contribution to the state university system has never been lower. In fact, their contribution is so low I don’t know how they pass the red face test by still calling it a state university system.
The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the “general good.” It also states that each of us is obligated to “contribute his share” to the cost of government. But Concord is so focused on tax cuts that they’ve lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.
How much time could I take talking about the labor laws in this state?
Suffice it to say that it is not right for workers who work what in reality is a full time job, to not be offered full-time benefits and overtime. Splitting up shifts to avoid paying full time wages and benefits is wrong and should be illegal.
If it isn’t bad enough, the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a labor seminar for employers at the Hannah Grimes Center last week to talk about the effects of the new Federal overtime rules that take effect January 1st. I attended as sort of a fox in the henhouse.
What the attendees came away with were ways to reclassify employees so they can avoid paying the overtime the new law was designed to mandate.
Bernie sure was right when he said this system is rigged.
No one, including me, loves paying taxes. But if we must pay taxes then everyone should be treated equally and not given special treatment under the law.
People should be able to afford the price of a state university education.
People deserve the right to universal healthcare.
No person who works for a living should live in poverty.
These deceptive and unfair practices must end.
And the revolution that Bernie started is the KEY to ending them.
Don’t become discouraged.
Keep the pressure up.
Tell your legislators, your select board, your governor and members of Congress at every opportunity that they are going to be held accountable for these things.
And most importantly, vote.
Drag your friends and family to vote.
Vote in every election.
I want to thank you for asking me to speak to you today.
And, I want to thank Bernie Sanders for giving us the courage to stand up for our own best interest.
Don’t let him down!