Legislator Battles N.H. Campground Tax
Editor's Note: The following story appeared in the Wissinquam Echo, a newspaper serving the panhandle of New Hampshire.
Rep. Herb Richardson, a Republican from Lancaster, N.H., is the prime sponsor of HB 1445, drawn up to eliminate the meals and rooms tax on campsites in his state. Campground users became subject to the 9% tax on hotel rooms and restaurant meals late in the 2009 session as a way to help balance the 2010-2011 state budget.
Richardson used his mid-day coffee break from his job as produce manager at Shaw's supermarket on Sunday (March 21) to explain the importance of his bill to the regional economy and had a copy of his short, but persuasive, speech in hand that he delivered March 11 to the legislature meeting in Concord.
"I ask that you overturn the Ways and Means Committee's 10 to 9 vote of 'Inexpedient to Legislate,' so I can offer a motion of 'Ought to Pass,'" Richardson told the 327 House members on hand that Thursday. "Yes, the 'Campsite Tax' — many refer to it as the 'Tent Tax' — finally had its public hearing (on Jan. 19) and all — I repeat, all — testimony favored repealing this tax."
Small businesses — the backbone of the state's economy — would pay the economic price, Richardson argued. Before the tax was put in place, in-state campgrounds had the same tax-free advantage as all the malls and businesses along the Massachusetts border.
"Gov. Lynch has said he would veto a sales tax — to protect our businesses," Rep. Richardson explained. "People drive to Newington, Salem, Manchester and Nashua to buy that $35 shirt to save that 6.5% Mass. sales tax — that's $2.28! But you say they'll pay a 9% camping tax? Do you honestly believe that? This will hurt all tourist areas."
"It will be devastating to Coos County, where all we have left is tourism," Richardson predicted, noting that Coos 2, his nine-town district, has 17 privately owned and operated campgrounds. "We all depend on the tourists these campgrounds bring in."
"These tourists visit and purchase from local shops, 'mom-and-pop' variety stores, gas stations, supermarkets and so forth. They buy all their needs, supporting the local economy. They also buy fishing and hunting licenses, as well as visit our state liquor stores," he explained.
Richardson pointed out that campgrounds provide affordable vacations for both out-of-state visitors, as well as Granite State families. "The campsite tax is an assault on low- and middle-income families; it does not affect the rich at all," he said. "It affects a family's opportunity to have quality family time together, to rest and relax, to sit around that campfire to enjoy quality family time."
"Are these people entitled to a vacation in tax-free New Hampshire? I think so," the genial grandfather said. "This tax hurts the people who cannot afford it. Don't turn your back on these families!"
Richardson noted that as the law now reads, the tax is levied on those who bring their own rooms and their own beds, who make their own beds and do their own laundry and cook their own meals and wash their own dishes, yet still must pay a 9% meals and rooms tax.
"How do you justify that?" he asked. Those who own campers and leave them in place and have access to them for more than 185 days and have a lease or similar document do not have to pay this 9% tax.
"Send a loud and clear message that New Hampshire loves campers!" he concluded.
The bill to repeal the 9% campsite tax passed the House overwhelmingly, 202 "yes" and 125 "no."
"I'm proud," Richardson said, explaining that twice House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Democrat of Portsmouth, had HB 1445 "special ordered," that is, arranged to have the vote delayed for another week under the impression that support for it would wane.
Richardson explained that, to the contrary, support for its repeal had gained strength.
Rep. Robert Theberge, a Democrat of Berlin, was very helpful in talking with reps that he knows and had lined up at least 20 more votes, explained Richardson, adding that Coos delegation members of both parties sometimes find that geography provides greater commonality than party affiliation.
All 10 members of the Coos delegation, including House Ways and Means member Rep. Bill Hatch of Gorham, voted in favor of repealing the campsite tax. Rep. Paul Ingersoll, a Democrat of Berlin, is a co-sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Gene Chandler, a Republican of Bartlett.
The bill will be heard next by the Senate Ways and Means Committee at 10:15 a.m. on March 30. Earlier the Senate voted to table its version of the repeal bill on a straight 14 to 10 party line vote to allow Democratic leaders to consider it in the broad context of how best to deal with the $140 million budget deficit.
Both Republicans Sen. John Gallus of Berlin and Sen. Bob Letourneau of Derry are sponsors of HB 1445 and are likely will speak in favor of its passage.
Richardson served two two-year terms in the House and then was defeated in his bid for a third consecutive term. He reclaimed his seat in November 2008 and is now serving his third term representing Coos 2 and plans to run for his fourth term on Nov. 2.