By: DJ Bettencourt – Sept, 2016
It has been 40 years since Meldrim Thomson was last elected Governor of New Hampshire and permanently imprinted fiscal conservatism into the political landscape of the Granite State. It was Thomson who famously ran on the platform of “Ax the Tax.” The slogan was both a rallying cry and a celebration of New Hampshire having no sales or income tax.
However, there was much more to Gov. Thomson than his opposition to taxes. His tenure was a shining example that conservative and free market policies when given the opportunity to work can produce enormous economic and societal prosperity.
Thomson’s governing philosophy remained consistent throughout his career: “Whenever you find taxpayers struggling to keep the taxes on their homes paid, striving to provide an education for their children, wrestling with hospital bills or the problems of old age – there you will find men and women determined to see that public officials give them the full and honest value for every tax dollar spent. These are the people whom I strove to serve.”
Such a philosophy is as needed today as it was when Thomson was governor in the 1970s. It is a philosophy that is often lacking in our leaders in Concord and in Washington DC.
However, Thomson’s governing principles extended well beyond slogans and rhetoric. It produced tremendous results. From 1973 to 1979, New Hampshire had a balanced budget and a surplus every year. The combined state and local taxes were the lowest in New England and New Hampshire was the only state in the region with a AAA bond credit rating. Additionally, the state had the lowest unemployment rate and high school students led all Scholastic Aptitude tests in New England. He was also responsible for the creation of seven new vocational regional schools that provided critical job skills to generations of Granite Staters.
Thomson also did something else that is very unusual for political leaders today, he practiced what he preached. He turned back $1,500 of his own salary and urged the legislature to reduce his salary to $30,000 and asked that the money be used for library and recreational purposes at the State Hospital.
Mel Thomson produced a sustained a record of fiscal discipline and economic expansion that was a model for other states to emulate and is the reason that many in New Hampshire view him as the best governor in our history.
Unfortunately, New Hampshire has digressed a long way since Thomson’s tenure. The digression began in 1996 with the election of Jeanne Shaheen. Her administration oversaw an explosion of state spending, advocacy of a 2.5% sales tax and the implementation of an onerous and destructive state-wide property tax. As a result of these policies, the state lost more than 16,000 manufacturing jobs and our high school dropout rate skyrocketed to 25%.
In 2004, New Hampshire turned to John Lynch and elected him to an unprecedented four terms as governor. During his tenure, the state raised or implemented almost 150 taxes, depleted the Rainy Day Fund, was indifferent to the state’s unfunded liability crisis in the pension system and advocated an income tax on small businesses.
Now the state is suffering through another failed Democrat governor, Maggie Hassan. Under her leadership, she has pushed for reckless and unsustainable levels of government spending, higher taxes, has embraced expanded Obamacare with reckless disregard of the financial consequences, presided over a downgrading of the state’s bond rating, led efforts to eviscerate education reform, violated the state’s campaign finance laws, embraced wasteful and expensive junkets, and has completely lost focus on growing the economy in favor of an obsession with social issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and gun control.
New Hampshire is fortunate to have four well qualified candidates running for governor this fall. While my personal choice is Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, any of the Republican candidates would provide a critical course correction to the extreme liberal policies of recent years. After two decades of nearly uninterrupted Democratic rule in the corner office, New Hampshire needs a Republican governor. We need leadership that will preserve and continue to build on the accomplishments of Mel Thomson.
Gov. Thomson used to say that “New Hampshire is what America was.” We can only hope that this will continue to be the case for future generations of Granite Staters.
D.J. Bettencourt served as a State Representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2005 to 2012 and was the House Majority Leader for the 2011-2012 legislative term. He is the President of Bettencourt & Associates, a nonprofit solutions firm and serves on the Budget Committee and Economic Development Action Committee in Salem, NH.