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Column: Gov. Sununu must make counteroffer on budget

  • Martha Hennessey



To the Valley News
Monday, September 16, 2019

New Hampshire Democrats ran on ending tax breaks to big corporations so that we could increase investments in our communities and provide property tax relief. We pledged to create a budget that works for everyone, not just those at the top. The Democrats who ran for the state Senate called it the Granite State Opportunity Plan.

Then, to the shock of our Republican friends who attempted to manipulate our elections, the Democrats actually won the state Senate in 2018, one of the most gerrymandered legislative bodies in the country.

Now, it is imperative that we deliver on our promises.

New Hampshire citizens simply cannot afford a state budget that continues reductions in business profit taxes. The business profit tax is primarily paid by big, out-of-state corporations. Those are the ones that benefit most from cuts in the taxes. Unfortunately, that is the only thing Gov. Chris Sununu appears to want, and it appears to be the sole reason he vetoed an entire state budget. His singular focus demands that we permanently reduce the business profit tax from the current 7.9%, which is already the lowest of surrounding states. In the meantime, our state suffers, our communities are scrambling, and the governor throws punches and digs in his heels. Come on. Let’s do our jobs.

The lack of transparency from the governor is also destructive. House and Senate Democrats have held public hearings to understand the public concerns and to measure the impact of the governor’s budget veto. To date, Gov. Sununu has failed publicly to propose anything he would cut from the budget to fund his additional corporate tax breaks.

Frankly, it is beyond frustrating — unacceptable — to veto an entire state budget and then say absolutely nothing. In good faith, House and Senate Democrats made a proposal to resolve the budget impasse — half of the continuing resolution savings to business tax credits and half set aside to cover the state employee contract the governor has failed to negotiate. The ball is now squarely in Gov. Sununu’s court, after he summarily rejected this very reasonable, common sense proposal. The governor should now make a counteroffer, and he should do it publicly.

One thing is clear: The governor and his allies principally want to attack Democrats, calling us “extreme,” “dishonest,” and much worse. It has been painful to watch how the Republicans are trying to impugn the motives of one of the most ethical people among us: Sen. Dan Feltes, the Senate majority leader. To serve in the Senate, Feltes left a job as a legal aid attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. He didn’t join a law firm, as most firms have lobbying or litigation practices with the state, and he wanted to avoid even a perception of favoritism with any one group. These decisions had significant financial repercussions for Feltes and his growing family.

Everyone knows Feltes is someone of the utmost integrity. No one works harder, and we all rely on his expertise and common sense as Senate majority leader. We understand why Gov. Sununu and the Republicans feel the need to portray him as some kind of foil on the budget, as he is highly effective and many expected that he would run for governor. The name-calling is outrageous and not unlike what is tweeted in Washington, D.C.

It has been a tough year for the Republicans in New Hampshire. We get that. We’ve been there. But their tactics do not help their cause. Attacking Feltes is a transparent effort to keep Sununu in the corner office; it certainly does not move us forward. We are better than this behavior, and our constituents deserve better.

The budget presented to the governor was extremely well crafted among broad interests. The members of the Finance Committee outdid themselves by working long hours across the aisle. In the end, a budget compromise cannot be an inside deal, either through favored relationships with special interest groups or by including only one or two legislators and excluding others who might be less likely to agree with the governor. The process must be beyond reproach. It isn’t about who gets credit for the budget, but about who is helped by it — and who needs help the most.

A well-crafted, thoughtful budget requires that Gov. Sununu and his party set aside personal political attacks and let the public know what he proposes to cut from the budget to fund his corporate tax breaks. The budget must also continue the commitments we made to voters who entrusted us with control of the state Senate. Only then can we do our collective jobs for the good of New Hampshire.

Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, represents District 5 in the New Hampshire Senate and is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.