Sununu stumps for budget with mayor of Claremont

  • Gov. Chris Sununu talks with Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett after a news conference at Arrowhead Recreation Area in Claremont, N.H., on Monday, April 8, 2019. Next to the mayor is state Rep. Walter Stapleton, R-Claremont, and on right is D.J. Bettencourt, policy director for the governor. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Claremont School Board member Jason Benware asks Gov. Chris Sununu a question during a news conference at Arrowhead Recreation Area in Claremont, N.H. on Monday April 8, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 08, 2019

CLAREMONT — Gov. Chris Sununu continued to advocate spending $52 million for standalone infrastructure projects across New Hampshire during a stop in Claremont on Monday afternoon.

Speaking before a room of lawmakers and city and school officials at the Arrowhead Recreation Area, the two-term Republican framed the one-time grants included in his proposed budget as an investment in communities, including Claremont, that otherwise couldn’t afford needed upgrades to roads and buildings.

He also took aim at Democrats’ plans to redirect the money for education, saying the move could deplete state coffers during an economic downturn.

“If we keep investing in big government programs to check a box and score some political points, that’s fine for the next year or two — or the next election cycle I suppose — but it’s not necessarily the smartest thing to do,” Sununu said. “Our responsibility in Concord is to invest 5, 10, 20 years down the road.”

Sununu’s $13.1 billion budget proposal includes three projects in Claremont that were all recently stripped from the Democratically-controlled House’s version of the two-year spending plan.

They include $120,000 for improvements to sidewalks and drains, $30,000 in energy efficiency upgrades at the city’s visitor center and $100,000 for upgrades to the lodge at Arrowhead.

The money would help to replace the building’s 1960s-era windows, repair the roof and upgrade its heating and air conditioning system, officials told Sununu.

“By including these and other community projects around the state, the governor recognized the importance of strategic investments to local communities,” said Claremont Mayor Charlene Lovett, a former Republican state representative.

In her four years as mayor, Lovett said, “this is the first time that a governor’s proposed budget included this type of funding.”

But while some commended Sununu for the projects, others questioned why he’s unwilling to join Democrats’ efforts to increase education aid to property-poor communities.

The House on Thursday will vote on its $13.4 billion budget proposal that would allocate $164 million in statewide education aid.

Of that total, about $5.3 million would go to Claremont, which would also receive about $233,000 under a new revenue sharing program.

“(The school funding programs) are actually going to help our town year after year,” said Claremont School Board member Jason Benware, who pointed out that the city has a $32 million school budget and the highest property tax rate in New Hampshire. “If the majority of the people in the House feel this is a good idea, why would you choose to veto it?”

Sununu replied that his budget proposal calls for “more dollars per student than any budget in history” by allocating $63.7 million for school building aid, $8.6 million for tuition and transportation to vocational schools and a $4 million increase in special education funding.

The Democrats also hope to fund their education goals by creating a capital gains tax pegged at the state’s existing 5% interest and dividends tax.

The governor said that idea amounts to raising “massive amounts of taxes just to pile more money into the system.”

“You’ve got to be careful about doing that because once you open that door, it never closes,” he said.

Benware later said the governor’s budget wouldn’t meaningfully alleviate Claremont’s property tax burden or solve its education funding problems.

Through the statewide property tax, each Granite State school district receives a base payment of about $3,700 per student.

But it gives Claremont on average $16,475 per student last year, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education.

“We have a shortfall in this state in education to begin with,” Benware said. “So let’s take any surplus money we have and throw it out all over the place, then come to all these towns and tout how wonderful you’re doing for these towns. When really, what’s sinking this town is education.”

Sununu said he’s not sure if he’ll veto a budget that doesn’t include the infrastructure projects, “but my fear is that these funds are going to be kind of pulled out and used for a long term operational expenditure.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.