It’s not easy navigating the troubled waters of state economic planning these days. Just ask North Carolina governor Pat McCrory. He’s facing corporate boycotts and a federal lawsuit in response to the so-called “bathroom bill” that simply codifies what previously had been considered common sense: People should use the public restroom associated with their biological plumbing.
Companies and entertainers are trying to change the will of the people by waging economic warfare. That’s their right, but it’s hard to fathom the logic of a group like Cirque du Soleil that cancelled three North Carolina performances but allows the show to go on in Dubai, UAE, where homosexuality is a crime and even cross-dressers face jail time.
“We just want to go back to Brazil and make clear that we merely came here to get to know the local culture,” explained one of two cross-dressing hairdressers detained by police in Dubai last year. Experience the “local culture” they did. Once authorities figured out what they were (and from their photo it’s clear that imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery) their vacation took a turn for the worse. One wonders what they would consider more of an affront, the “indignity” of using a urinal in Raleigh or being subjected to the tender mercies of Islamic law?
In a statement presumably for Western eyes only, Cirque du Soleil proclaimed that the group “strongly believes in diversity and equality for every individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form.” Yet North Carolinians are condemned in press releases while Dubai’s transgenders are condemned to prison. I suppose one should not expect moral clarity from a troupe of Québécois contortionists.
Here in NH we haven’t ventured into the economic minefield that North Carolinians are trying to navigate, but we have economic problems of our own: Slow growth, an aging population, difficulties attracting and retaining the young families and entrepreneurs needed to build a dynamic job base, to name but a few. To say that we have been poorly-served by our political leadership would be an understatement. Paraphrasing the first President Bush, Concord has a problem with “the vision thing.”
Gubernatorial candidate Jeanie Forrester’s recently released “An Economic Plan for the People” provides a measure of hope for the future. The guiding principles she’d bring to office show her to be a serious thinker on an issue of primary importance to our state’s well-being. It’s available for download and I recommend reading it.
Forrester puts the focus where is belongs: Making it easier to start and run a business in the Granite State, and fostering opportunities to earn a good living. She correctly points out that government can’t create jobs in the private sector, but it can ease – or make more difficult – the process of job creation. To take but one example from the news, significantly increasing the minimum wage – a “solution” supported by the one-size-fits-all minds in DC and Concord – would have vastly different impacts on low-margin businesses in the North Country and the Seacoast region.
She also recognizes the problem of categorizing our economic situation. For a small, relatively homogeneous state considered wealthy by most measures, whether you believe our economy is healthy or not depends upon who and where you are. A middle-age, blue-collar man in Berlin has a very different view than a young professional woman in Salem who commutes to Massachusetts for work.
Forrester states it plainly: “It is my considered opinion that the average Granite Stater is just getting by.” She points out that “New Hampshire actually lags behind Massachusetts in terms of job growth” and that “we rank a less-than-mediocre 38th in terms of tech job growth,” a main driver of well-paying jobs.
And yes, she takes “the pledge.” While our current system of taxation is far from perfect, instituting a broad-based tax would be like handing a bottle of whiskey to a drunk. Forrester addresses some needed changes to tax policy, such as making our state more attractive to the “angel investing” that fuels many high-tech startups. But just as important as how the state collects our money is how the state spends it. Forrester pledges to “push for a law that places a spending cap on all budget surpluses,” making 75% of budget surpluses untouchable. The remaining 25% could be used to reduce the overall tax burden and attract new businesses.
There’s a lot of space between a white paper and legislation, but this high-level overview of what new leadership in Concord could look like deserves your attention. For the kids graduating from high school next month, it could be the difference between getting by and doing well in the Granite State.
Ken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org