Concord (February 6, 2014) – The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) today said Governor Maggie Hassan’s first State of the State Address was largely positive but raised concerns over a higher minimum wage and a bill that could expose small businesses to unnecessary litigation.
“Small business owners in New Hampshire will be pleased by most of what she said,” said NFIB State Director Bruce Berke. “But higher labor costs and more lawsuits would undermine what is a largely positive agenda.”
Even in a weak economy a significant percentage of NFIB members report that finding qualified workers to fill open positions remains difficult. Hassan addressed that concern today by focusing on workplace development.
“There’s a big pool of available workers but too few qualified candidates,” said Berke. “It’s a serious problem for small business owners and we’re glad that the Governor made it a priority.”
Small business owners will also welcome the Governor’s call for workers compensation reform, said Berke.
“Workers compensation is financed by payroll taxes on small businesses,” he said. “It’s a tax on employment and ours is comparatively high. That siphons away investment capital and creates a disincentive to hire new workers.”
Hassan announced plans this afternoon to work with other states to bring more natural gas into New Hampshire as a way to reduce energy costs. According to Berke, energy costs are a major concern for small businesses.
“Small businesses consume a lot of energy in order to meet their customers’ demands and the high cost in our region a big disadvantage,” he said. “The Governor’s focus on that problem is very encouraging.”
Hassan’s emphasis on small business was dampened by her call today for a higher minimum wage.
“New Hampshire is a great place to start a business and create opportunities because of a traditionally bipartisan consensus that government should let the private sector work,” said Berke. “The Governor’s call for a higher minimum wage was disappointing in that regard and we would urge the Legislature to reject it.
“Forcing small businesses to pay more for labor regardless of sales, regardless of other expenses and regardless of the economic conditions would be detrimental,” he continued. “Let the other states in New England compete with each other to see who can alienate more small businesses. New Hampshire has always been the beneficiary of their short-sightedness and we shouldn’t jeopardize our competitive position.”
Hassan also publicly supported a bill addressing pay equalization for men and women. While small business owners agree with the goal of the legislation, and while it’s consistent with a law on the books since 1947, it does raise some practical concerns.
“The problem is that there’s no way to prove whether the disparity is the result of genuine discrimination or whether experience, skill level, job performance or other factors can explain the difference,” said Berke. “If we’re not careful about this bill it may as well be called the Trial Lawyers Full Employment Act.”
Berke said the legislation could give trial lawyers a green light to bring discrimination complaints against small business owners even if there’s no basis for the claim.
“Trial lawyers don’t have anything to lose by filing frivolous discrimination suits,” he continued. “So even if the complaint is provably false the small business owner still loses because he or she still has to spend a lot of money on legal fees.”
Another concern for small businesses is that it potentially risks the confidentiality of personnel information.
“It could be very disruptive because it invites conversation in the workplace between employees that many employees want to keep private. And it raises the possibility that an employee who refuses to answer questions about his pay could be in legal jeopardy.”