(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
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
“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
“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
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.”