N.H. Newspaper: Repeal the 9% Campground Tax

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March 17, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor's Note: The Nashua, N.H., Telegraph offered this opinion on the status of the state's 9% tax on campgrounds.

Choosing to turn away money at a time when you need every nickel to make ends meet is rarely a sound fiscal strategy, whether you are running a household, a business or a state.

Nevertheless, we couldn’t help but applaud the House of Representatives’ decision last week to back repeal of the state’s 9% room and meals tax on those individuals who use New Hampshire campgrounds.

Not because the state doesn’t need the money; it does. But because applying a “room” and “meals” tax to campsites was a bad idea in the first place.

Legislative budget writers agreed to expand the tax on hotel rooms and restaurant meals to cover campgrounds while putting together the two-year, $11 billion state budget for 2010-11. At the time, state revenue officials were projecting that change would generate $4 million in revenue in each of the two years.

As it turns out, that was a bit generous. During the first four months of the current fiscal year, the state received only $500,000 under the campsite tax, and officials now expect it to bring in about $2.5 million per year.

But that wasn’t what prompted state Rep. Herbert Richardson, R-Lancaster, to sponsor the repeal bill (HB 1445), which passed by a solid vote of 202-125 despite the dire warnings from the Democratic leadership.

Richardson was more concerned with the impact of this tax on RV and campground owners in a North Country already reeling from the closing of paper mills and the resulting job losses.

“Are these people entitled to a vacation in tax-free New Hampshire? I say they are,” he said. “Send a message that New Hampshire loves campers.”

Repeal would be good news to people like Marj Rawls and Janice Pollack, who sold their home in Harpersville, Ala., a dozen years ago to buy an RV and travel the country.

Each year, they have made a practice of stopping at a small campground in Brookline to enjoy summer in New Hampshire.

“We love this area, and we love coming here,” Rawls told the The Telegraph last July upon learning of the new tax. “But now we might have to think about coming back.”

For seasonal campers, we’re not just talking a few dollars, either. Someone staying at the Field & Stream RV Park in Brookline from May to October, for example, would be expected to pay more than $200 in taxes on top of the campsite rental fee.

As it turns out, this new tax was just one in a series of bad decisions state lawmakers made in their 11th-hour bid to craft a balanced two-year budget that is now at least $140 million out of whack.

You can add this one to the ill-advised gamble to count on $110 million from a medical insurance underwriter (later deemed illegal by the state Supreme Court) and the controversial new tax on owners and investors in limited liability companies that even the governor – at one time among its biggest advocates – now believes should be repealed.

We don’t mean to make light of the extraordinary challenges facing lawmakers in a state without a broad-based tax during what has been officially dubbed the Great Recession. There are only so many places to go when you don’t have an income tax or a sales tax to generate revenue through difficult economic times – and that’s just a fact, not an argument for adopting one.

The repeal of the room and meals tax on campgrounds is hardly a done deal. The Senate voted last week to table its version of the repeal bill on a straight 14-10 party line vote so that Democratic leaders can consider it in the broader context of how to deal with a $140 million deficit.

We trust they can come up with a fairer way of doing that without putting state tourism dollars at risk by imposing a silly room and meals tax on camping enthusiasts who are neither renting a room nor partaking of a meal.

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