The New Hampshire state budget leaves few happy campers.
The $11.6 billion plan, which the Legislature may finalize Wednesday, imposes the meals and rooms tax on campsites for the first time. It also increases the tax rate from 8% to 9%.
Campers and campground owners rallied today at the State House against the tax, which was quietly added to the budget last week, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester.
“Nobody comes and makes our bed. We make our own,” said Emily Laplante, a retiree from Jacob Brook Campground in Orford. “Nobody cooks our meals.”
Owners from around the state said the tax extension is unfair and hurts people who cannot afford it.
“You’re not being very transparent by sneaking it in,” said Scott Christophers, owner and operator of Seven Maples, a 125-site campground in Hancock. “We as campground owners do not supply meals or rooms.”
Others question how it will be implemented, and how far-reaching it might be, such as tax applicability to campers at or around New Hampshire Motor Speedway during busy race weekends.
It hurts campers and property owners, who are already suffering from a bad economy and a wet spring, said Jayne Cohen, president of Adventure Bound Camping Resorts, and owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in New Hampton.
“It feels almost like the world’s coming to an end, to be honest,” Cohen said. “To me it goes against what New Hampshire’s all about.”
Cohen questions how it would be implemented, given that some campgrounds have no had to collect the tax for the state, and the New Hampshire fiscal year begins July 1. And what about campers who have already paid for sites this summer? “Now what do we do? Are they exempt if they’ve already paid for it?”
Gregg Pitman, executive director of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association, had a scheduled meeting Sunday with state Revenue Commissioner Kevin A. Clougherty to try to answer some of those questions. One he hears often, if campers have paid, do owners have to eat the tax?
“We’d like to see the Legislature vote this budget down and get back to work on it,” Pitman said.
It would put many campgrounds on a competitive disadvantage, he said. The New Hampshire Campground Owners Association has about 155 public and private members; the association also promotes New Hampshire state parks and state campgrounds.
State campgrounds would be affected by the tax extension, but not federal campgrounds, according to Pitman.
Campgrounds with cabins already collect the meals and rooms tax for the state.
The budget bill defines “hotel” as sleeping accommodations for rent, with the term including cabins, dormitories, lodges, private clubs, cottages, barracks, camps and now campsites.
Pitman said the tax change would especially hurt seasonal campsites, where customers pay anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 for a long-term site.
A new 9% tax would hit these seasonal campers with another $270 in tax, said Dave Mankus, owner of Lake Forest RV Resort in East Wakefield. He owns and manages 130 seasonal sites, many of which are frequented by retirees who have already seen their savings depleted by the economy.
“It could be the last straw,” he said. “These people will just stay home.”
Mankus said he was mystified at the state lawmakers for rushing the tax imposition out without a public hearing or any notification for campground owners.
Members of the Legislature have struggled all year with overcoming a budget deficit for the two-year budget.
Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said Friday that the budget is “fiscally responsible, reflecting the very difficult economic times we are in.”
The budget plan will result in the layoff of about 200 state employees, potential furloughs, and cuts in numerous programs. Further changes include closure of the Lakes Region prison, a requirement for retirees under 65 to contribute to their health coverage, and a freeze on travel and equipment purchases.
Christophers, at Seven Maples, said campground owners appreciate the difficulty of state budgeting in this economy. What irks him, he said, is the legislative spin. “They are presenting this budget as ‘no new taxes,’ ” he said. “This is a new tax.”