Who said bipartisanship is dead? Last week, SB 99, which would require the state to distribute more funding from the meals and room tax to cities and towns, unanimously made its way through the Senate on a 24-0 vote. Backers say the goal is to make it easier for local governments to provide property tax relief.
“It’s really great when we can all work together for what’s best for the people. That makes me truly happy,” said primary sponsor Senator Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford).
As NHJournal has previously reported, the state has pledged to give towns and municipalities 40 percent of the meals and rooms tax revenue. But since the 2009 economic downturn, Concord hasn’t been fulfilling that promise. Last year, for example, the state only sent 22 percent of the revenue to cities and towns.
“It makes me so mad. I mean, the state gave the towns $68 million last year, all the towns in total, but they took in $308 million,” Ricciardi said “You know, if I owe you money and I want to buy a car, I’m not buying the car till I pay you back. That’s just the way things should be done. So do what’s right by the people and do the right thing.”
If Ricciardi’s bill had been in place last year, she said it would have sent roughly $123 million to local governments, money she says could be used for property tax relief.
The Granite State currently has one of the highest property tax rates in the country. According to a new report from the data analysts at Wallethub, only Illinois and New Jersey have higher property taxes than New Hampshire.
Gov. Chris Sununu supports changes to the meals and rooms tax as well.
“After years of inaction at the state level, my budget makes a change and increases the amount of money the state sends back to cities and towns from our meals and rooms tax. The result is that, for the first time in more than a decade, the state’s providing an increase in revenue sharing and allows for up to $15 million more in additional money for cities and towns, an over-15 percent increase that goes directly to benefit our property taxpayers.” Sununu said in his February budget address.
The New Hampshire Municipal Association has been pushing for similar legislation for more than a decade, and they are excited by the passage of Ricciardi’s bill.
“This is a major win for cities and towns and their property taxpayers. NHMA has been advocating for the return of revenue sharing, which was promised by state law and against downshifting of state costs to local communities for many years now. Fighting for reinstatement of the 40 percent share of meals and rooms that municipalities are entitled to has been at the center of our efforts for over a decade now,” NHMA Executive Director Margaret Byrnes told the NHJournal.
“We have a long way to go, but we are incredibly encouraged and excited by the Senate’s unanimous vote yesterday to keep the state’s promise and to support local property tax relief,” Byrnes said.
State efforts to lower taxes may face federal scrutiny thanks to the new COVID relief bill signed into law last week. One provision bans tax cuts the Treasury Department determines relied directly or indirectly on money from the COVID aid package.
SB 99 will now be brought before the finance committee when the legislature begins work on the state budget.