Welcome to New Hampshire: Live Free or Die.” You see that sign entering the state from the south, not long before you come to the first of three toll booths between Nashua and Concord. If you really want to “live free,” stay off our turnpikes. And out of our restaurants and coffee shops.
“Is this high test?” I asked the young lady who sold me a small (as in a large thimble) cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Coffee isn’t cheap anywhere anymore, but the state’s rooms and meals tax put this mini-cup of java up over $1.50. The croissant I bought was subject to the same eight percent tax. Live free, yes, unless you have to eat. Then we tax you — plenty.
Strange, but “tax-free” New Hampshire charges you if you stop or if you don’t — if you drive a few more miles or stop for a cup of coffee. That’s to make sure the tourists pay their “fair share” for the upkeep of New Hampshire’s roads and bridges and the general cost of government. Of course, you can stay home and make your own coffee, provided you can afford a home in New Hampshire. Property taxes are making homes unaffordable, even for a good many people who burned the mortgage years ago. And for those who are still interested in buying, the phenomenal price of a home reflects not only the inflated housing market, but the state’s real estate transfer tax as well. Face it, you can’t live free in New Hampshire, but it’s a little more affordable to die, since the state abolished the inheritance tax.
Buy a car? Great! No sales tax. Of course, you do have to have it registered and inspected every year and there are charges for that. And if you go to a concert or hockey game or dinner in the state’s largest city, you’ve got to park somewhere, right? Well, a parking lot or a parking garage will let you in for $10, $5 if you’re lucky. Or you might find some curbside parking, which is good if you remembered to load your pockets or purse full of quarters. Because you’ve got to feed the meters from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Manchester. Yeah, if you want to live free, don’t stop here.
And if you overstay your time, well, that can be expensive. If you haven’t gotten a parking ticket in Manchester lately, be prepared for sticker shock if you get one now. It’s $10 for overparking and another $10 for the added crime of procrastination. They’ll bilk you $20 if you haven’t paid within seven days for the egregious offense of staying too long in Manchester, enjoying too many of our downtown amenities.
It used to be $5 to begin with and $10 after seven days. But around the time we opened our brand new civic center, the merry band of mayor and aldermen doubled the fines in one fell swoop. Some of those who made that raid on the people’s wallets are no longer on the board, but others are out running for reelection — as friends of the taxpayer, of course.
In any other New Hampshire community, you can drive into town in the early evening and not worry about feeding the blasted meters — if there are any. But if you linger over dinner at a downtown Manchester restaurant, the cost of that dinner may go up by $10.
To really live free in New Hampshire, you need to not drive and not eat or drink and not live here at all. In the words of the song the Hollies recorded a few decades ago, “Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe.” We haven’t figured out a way of taxing that yet, so …
Welcome to New Hampshire: Breathe free and goodbye. NH
Jack Kenny lives in Manchester and writes for a number of Granite State publications.