Democrats Split on How to Fund Priorities

  • Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steve Marchand, right, and Mark Connolly are seen during a live debate at WGIR radio station Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. In background at right is candidate Colin Van Ostern. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) ap — Jim Cole

  • Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern is seen during a council meeting in Concord, N.H., on Wednesday Jan. 28, 2015 (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/5/2016 12:27:54 AM
Modified: 9/5/2016 12:27:50 AM

West Lebanon — Although the three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates have similar visions for New Hampshire, each has a different plan for how to get there.

All three support the state’s Medicaid expansion, continued Planned Parenthood funding and want more money set aside for education, infrastructure and addiction treatment. But there is disagreement on how to best fund those programs and to what extent reforms are needed.

Former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand is running on a progressive platform, one that calls for the legalization and taxation of marijuana as a means to fund important programs.

“I’m the only candidate that’s going to say it, but I think most Democrats know this to be true: we need more revenue,” he said in an interview last week.

Marchand’s plan calls for three ways to increase state coffers: a rise in the gas tax dedicated to roads and bridges, an increase in the business profit tax to 8.5 percent and the taxation of recreational marijuana. He predicts the latter two measures will bring in a combined $60 million, which could be devoted to opioid recovery programs, full-day kindergarten, and the expansion of funding toward English as a second language and special education classes.

Legalizing marijuana would also save the money by reducing the number of people incarcerated in the Granite State, and save on court costs, said Marchand, who also has experience as a director of corporate relations at the University of New Hampshire.

He also hopes to make the state's Medicaid expansion permanent. Signed into law with bipartisan support twice since the creation of the Affordable Care Act, the expansion provides health care coverage to about 48,000 Granite Staters. It's scheduled to expire in 2018, however, and some Republicans have opposed another renewal.

Marchand has had his own troubles with the health insurance system. His parents immigrated to New Hampshire from Canada, and when he was in high school, Marchand's father was forced to cut costs in his carpentry business.

One of those costs was health insurance. A few months after the family went off insurance, Marchand's mother had a heart attack, and the medical bills forced them to declare bankruptcy.

“I know firsthand how that feels (to lose coverage) and there's a lot of good reasons, in terms of policy, why you should have the expansion of Medicaid,” he said. “But on a visceral, personal level... I don't think anybody should have to feel the way that my parents did back in the day.”

Marchand said he doesn't support recent legislation that would have allowed school districts to use tax money to send students to private schools. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan in June, but came on the heels of a legal battle between the Croydon School Board and state over its decision to send students to the private Newport Montessori School.

With enrollment decreasing statewide, he said, more should be done to encourage collaboration and consolidation of services between districts so that less is spent on administrative costs and most money goes into classroom instruction.

If elected, Marchand hopes to tackle gun control legislation, saying he would support expanded background checks and greater sharing of information with the federal government. He also supports Planned Parenthood, and believes that protecting the institution's contract and ability to provide services are Democratic principals.

Concord Democrat Colin Van Ostern, who has served in the Executive Council for the last four years, is running partially on his experience tackling important issues there.

In 2014, he was part of the 3-2 majority that approved the $292 million contract that allowed for the state's Medicaid expansion. He called the program an “extraordinary success” on Thursday and said he intends to protect the it in the future.

Van Ostern was also part of the 3-2 vote that restored Planned Parenthood funding this year. A longtime advocate of the organization, he won its endorsement earlier this month.

“(Funding) is an issue that has been treated like a political football for too long,” said Van Ostern, who also served as a business manager at Stonyfield Yogurt and adviser at Southern New Hampshire University's College for America.

Since the Planned Parenthood money goes to health screenings and the organization’s efforts not related to abortion, he said it provides a needed service that should be free from political interference.

Van Ostern said fighting the state's opioid and heroin crisis is also important to healthcare. He proposes fully funding the alcohol fund, which supports prevention and recovery programs.

“We need to treat the addiction and opioid crisis like a public health crisis,” he said, adding that the way to do that is by finding people help rather than jailing addicts.

On the Croydon school bill, Van Ostern said he's against taking money away from public schools. He's also said he supports Second Amendment rights, but called for “common sense” measures to curb gun violence such as an assault weapons ban and sharing mental health information with the federal government.

Both Van Ostern and Marchand will be face off against Mark Connolly in the primary.

“What sets me apart is the breadth and depth of my experience,” said Connolly, a Seacoast businessman and former director of the state Bureau of Securities Regulation. “I think experience and time in the game matters.”

Like other candidates, Connolly said he remains concerned about the impact of opioids in the state and would like to see treatment take center stage in the addiction discussion. To pay for that, he would call for a 10-cent increase in the tobacco tax coupled with full use of the alcohol fund.

“When someone strays down this path, it's very difficult for them to get off,” he said in support of more recovery programs.

He also praised the Medicaid expansion, citing lower emergency room visits as proof that it's worth making permanent.

On gun violence, Connolly said he believes people should have the ability to own firearms, but the current background check system isn't functioning.

“We should have a complete universal background check,” he said, adding that if he were elected “we should consider looking at military-style assault weapons.”

Connolly said he's against the Croydon school choice bill and believes districts should only look to private entities when there's no other option.

“We need to support public schools,” he said.

To support municipalities, Connolly hopes to change the state funding formula to make up for federal shortfalls. While he encourages school consolidation to save costs, he said that's a discussion that should be happening in towns rather than at the state level.

“I think everything we do in terms of how we look at the economy (and) New Hampshire’s place in that economy has to stem from education,” he said.

Connolly also favors decriminalization of marijuana if it is accompanied by a strong regulatory structure for how it would be packaged and sold, but has also said, “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Ahead of the Sept. 13 primary, all three candidates are fighting to get their names into the public sphere, an uphill battle, according to a recent WMUR Granite State Poll. None of the Democratic candidates had name recognition higher than 20 percent, the poll found.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.
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