MASS. AND N.H.: TWO ADJOINING STATES SEPARATED BY A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE

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I live just south of the New Hampshire state line and as soon as I cross the border, I can feel the difference.

It’s like another country. I filed a report last week on a bill before the N.H. Legislature that would mandate public kindergarten. And that’s difference No. 1. In New Hampshire, unfunded mandates are unconstitutional. In Massachusetts, they are common practice.

While we’re on the subject of state government, let’s look at the numbers. Massachusetts has 160 state representatives and 40 state senators. The average pay for these solons is about $55,000, more if you hold a committee chairmanship. Then there are per diems, which compensate lawmakers for food and mileage.

In New Hampshire there is, like, one state rep for every family. Not really, but close. The town of Hudson has 10 state reps. Pelham has only one, but they used to have three or four. New Hampshire state reps get paid $100 a year. That doesn’t even cover the cost of gas and an E-Z Pass.

New Hampshire’s legislative body is composed of truck drivers, firefighters, secretaries, painters and wealthy retired people. They serve their state and then go back to their contented lives. Not so in Massachusetts, where the Statehouse is filled with lawyers, bankers, attorneys, former legislative aides, more lawyers and wealthy, retired people. In Massachusetts, state government is a career, something to fiercely embrace, with both hands.

On an autumn day many years ago, while leaf-peeping in the “Live Free Or Die” state, my wife and I stopped into this quaint maple syrup shack way up north. The old proprietor came out of a back room and we engaged in small talk. He wore a cap, flannel shirt with suspenders and baggy trousers that were stuffed into his big, rubber boots. On the wall was a framed picture of former Gov. Meldrim Thompson and President Ronald Reagan.

I did a quick double-take. He was him. I mean, that was Gov. Thompson, right there, selling maple syrup. That’s the difference between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Think of the former governors of Massachusetts. Michael Dukakis is a sometime college professor who is usually out on the lecture circuit. Bill Weld has served as a CEO for several institutions, including Decker College in Kentucky, which fell into bankruptcy.

Argeo Paul Celluci went on to become the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. He is now a lobbyist for the horse racing and gaming industry. Jane Swift is, well, I think she operates a maple syrup shack in North Adams, Mass.

Massachusetts has a liquor store on almost every corner. We call them “packies.” In New Hampshire, you can get your beer and wine almost anywhere, but if you want the hard stuff, you have to buy it from the state.

New Hampshire drivers actually know how to use their turning signals. A New Hampshire teen can drive with their parents at 151/2 . They can get a license the day they turn 16 provided they have a certificate from an approved driving school and have passed the drivers’ test. My daughter just turned 16 and wants her drivers’ license. She will have to apply for a learners’ permit, study the drivers’ manual, and take drivers’ education courses. Nice to know that the Bay State does something right.

New Hampshire has high property taxes but there is no sales tax, no state income tax and a marginal tax on interest and dividends. Down here, everything is subject to a temporary tax. And by temporary, we mean, like, forever.

There are other differences that are obvious, like gun-control laws. Everybody’s packing in New Hampshire. Almost everyone is packing in Massachusetts, too, but in New Hampshire they do it legally. New Hampshire state troopers actually sit on the highway in plain sight, thereby causing drivers to slow down. Massachusetts has something called “The Speed Trap.”

And here’s the kicker. My children attend a private school in New Hampshire and get this, every Monday they get to go skiing. Live Free or Die.

Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail address is dshaughnessey@thevalleydispatchnews.com.