O P I N I O N
The heart of the political season is here and it is a good time to remember soundbites do not necessarily make good public policy and are not necessarily factual.
When the advertisements and social media ravings are over, the votes counted and the winners known, reality sets in and politicians hope you have short memories so the promises and accusations are forgotten.
The old adage is “politics is a dirty business,” and yes it is, but “Does it have to be?” is the question.
This is the time in the election cycle when hyperbole reigns, long-forgotten votes and events are retold with enough spin to make a ballerina dizzy, and the best sounding public policy like cutting taxes is really meant only to boost your re-election.
You could not find a more perfect example of what is wrong with the political climate today than the first presidential debate.
Anyone watching that debate was hard-pressed to find a meaningful discussion between the two candidates.
It was an embarrassing donnybrook with almost all of the chaos created by President Trump. If you do not want to have a civil discussion about the issues facing the country, you do what he did.
One of Trump’s debate handlers, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the president’s constant interruptions and talking over Biden was intended to induce stuttering, a disability he has learned to overcome.
You have to have a taste for the jugular to do something like that and is indicative of the dirty business politics these days.
Everybody does it, is the usual response, and to some extent it is, but some make it much more a centerpiece of their campaign than others.
The president has long tried to sell the country on the idea that the coronavirus pandemic is in the rear-view mirror and the country needs to move on and focus on his efforts to restore the economy.
That is a little harder to sell when you test positive and spend three days in Walter Reed Medical Center. But his approach has not changed, praising the medications he received to make a quick return to the campaign trail and saying COVID-19 should not be feared.
That not only harms Americans, it diminishes the 200,000 plus Americans who died and their families’ grief, all done in the name of his reelection.
The pandemic has also created mingling of policy and politics in New Hampshire as well.
The political leadership of the state — although divided between Democratically-controlled legislature and Executive Council and a Republican governor — spoke with one voice during the early stages of the pandemic.
That changed when the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act money arrived to help the state deal with and recover from the coronavirus.
Gov. Chris Sununu and his legal advisors cited a law passed after the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. to usurp control over the money, leaving the legislature out of the loop except in an advisory role.
Sununu initially agreed with the legislative committee’s suggestions, but not the amount of money unanimously suggested.
Sununu put far more money into businesses and their recovery than non-profits, hospitals, long-term care, unemployment or education than the legislative committee suggested.
The emphasis on business is not surprising as it has always been the New Hampshire GOP’s foundational belief if you take care of businesses, that will help everyone including workers and their families.
It is essentially the trickle-down theory of economics.
However, not all the money poured into the state’s businesses was used and other programs to help businesses were announced during the summer.
The federal government had already sent $2.2 billion in what are essentially federal grants to state businesses through the Payroll Protection Program, although how much of that money actually went into payroll for employees remains to be seen as there is little accountability in the federal stimulus legislation.
The group hardest hit by the economic collapse from the governor’s stay-at-home order and shut down of all but essential businesses, the hospitality industry, is slowly rebounding.
Last week Sununu noted that fewer of those businesses closed this year than last year, touting the help from the Main Street Relief Program and then said he wants to lower the rooms and meals tax to help the still struggling industry.
First of all, the rooms and meals tax is what is called a pass-through in that restaurants, hotels and rental car companies collect it and send it to the state. It is not a tax on the business like the business profits or enterprise taxes are.
The state rooms-and-meals tax rate is competitive with other states in the region so it is not like the state’s liquor stores and cigarettes, which are cheaper than surrounding states.
So how is lowering the rate going to help restaurants and hotels? Is anyone not going out to eat again because they will save 50 cents or a dollar on their restaurant check?
Their biggest problem is convincing people it is safe to go out to eat again, and containing the virus is really the only way to accomplish that.
The other issue is the rooms-and-meals tax is the second-largest source of state revenue behind business taxes.
Budget writers set the projected revenue from this levy this fiscal year at $367 million, which is about 15 percent of all general fund revenue for the fiscal year.
The revenue from the rooms-and-meals tax has been lower than projections since last spring, but it is rebounding considerably from the early days of the pandemic.
So why suggest lowering the rooms and meals tax? It makes good soundbites and politically you look like a governor who wants to cut taxes.
And he will need the legislature’s approval to lower the tax rates so if the General Court remains in Democratic hands he can paint the majority party as taxers and spenders who do not want to lower your taxes. It’s not his fault, he tried.
At this time, the state needs all the revenue it can get so hundreds of millions of dollars in program cuts may be avoided.
Dems at Work
Democrats have tried to tie Sununu to Trump and portray him as beholden to the special interests that contribute to his campaign.
An ad from the state Democratic Party uses Sununu’s own words saying, “I’m a Trump guy through and through.”
The ad likens Sununu to Trump for supporting judges who want to make abortion illegal, voting to defund Planned Parenthood and taking contributions from insurance and drug companies that have “spiked the cost of health care.”
Sununu tried to appoint Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who is believed to be anti-abortion, as chief justice to the Supreme Court.
Sununu has not sought to fill the post hoping one Executive Council seat flips from Democrat to Republican after the election and will then nominate MacDonald again.
Sununu did vote to defund Planned Parenthood calling for an investigation into claims from an undercover video that the organization sells fetal tissue from abortions.
After the investigation found the videos were edited and were done illegally, Sununu voted to restore the organization’s funding.
However, this is one part of the Democrats’ attempt to portray Sununu as anti-abortion, although he says he supports abortion rights.
Politicians from both parties have accepted campaign donations from insurance and drug companies, not just Sununu.
An ability to read between the lines is essential this time of year and an ear to the political ground also helps or you could be buying into the spin. Critical thinking skills are required.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.