We’re puzzled by the logic of lawmakers who recently turned down an opportunity to use federal pandemic aid to boost the state’s workforce in key areas while reducing student debt.
Put forth by by the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery, the plan would have used $17 million in federal pandemic relief funds to pay off up to $20,000 of student loan debt for more than 1,000 people who agree to take a position in New Hampshire and hold that job for four years.
That seems like a win-win to us.
The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee, however, in a rare show of bipartisan solidarity, tabled the bill in a 10-0 vote last month. Members of both parties cited the potential unfairness to those who’ve previously paid off their student loans without such aid, or who wouldn’t qualify for the program.
Fiscal Committee Chairman Bob Giuda, R-Warren, went further, telling those at a Dec. 17 panel meeting: “I don’t think we should be incentivizing people in pecuniary ways to come to a state that is already the best place to live. People that want to live here are here, and people who don’t want to live here are going to leave.”
So, good news for Granite State employers: No need to offer bonuses to new hires, nor even to beat competitors’ pay scales (good thing, given the relatively meager wages in many sectors compared to, say, Massachusetts). Just rely on the inherent awesomeness of the state to provide your workforce.
Despite Giuda’s somewhat Shangri-La vision of the Granite State, no place is perfect. And among the problems New Hampshire faces are these: a lack of skilled workers and a crippling degree of student debt. This plan would help with both.
The state annually ranks worst or next-to-last in the amount of debt incurred by its college students — in large part because it holds similar rankings in the amount of financial help its students get from the state.
As for employment, we’ll let Taylor Caswell, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Relief and Recovery and commissioner of the N.H. Department of Business and Economic Affairs, explain the situation.
“We could take all of the people currently not working in New Hampshire and assign them to jobs that are available in New Hampshire and still be short (of filling the available jobs),” said Caswell. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled a preliminary estimate of 50,000 job openings in New Hampshire in October, the latest statistics available, while the state had 16,270 unemployed people.
That’s a huge gap and one unlikely to be filled relying on the “New Hampshire Advantage” or the beauty of our lakes and mountains.
As for the specter of “unfairness,” we ask the committee members this: When voting to reduce business taxes, do you worry about the unfairness to those businesses who’ve paid a higher rate in the past? Or those business owners who don’t qualify for that particular tax break? Have the members cheered the news — when it’s happened — that the University System of New Hampshire planned to freeze tuitions to keep costs down or groused about the unfairness to those who’ve recently graduated and seen their debt rise each year?
Things change in life, and the timing of benefits will always favor some over others.
In this case, Gov. Sununu isn’t giving up easily. He’s asked the fiscal panel to reconsider its vote. The proposal is being reworked by Caswell’s office in anticipation of being brought back before the panel. We hope it won’t be tweaked into something that does little for students or employers. And when it does reappear, the fiscal panel ought to give it a fresh look, keeping in mind that gaping hole in the workforce and that mountain of student debt.