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State Senate candidates Youssef and Hosmer square off over university funding, role of government

The two candidates hoping to be the next senator for Franklin, Laconia and several towns just outside Concord can most quickly be described this way: Republican Josh Youssef likes what he’s seen from the sitting Legislature but would cut the state budget further. Democrat Andrew Hosmer doesn’t and calls the deep budget cuts to the state’s hospitals, community colleges and universities a grave mistake that will cost the state jobs.

Both men are from Laconia and neither has previously held elected office. They are also both businessmen. Hosmer, 48, is the general manager of the AutoServ car dealership, which employs 150 people in Tilton and at locations across the state. Youssef, 36, owns Same Day Computer, a computer repair business with five franchises in New Hampshire. Asked how many employees he has, Youssef has said “one to 10 people” at each of the franchises, but has declined to be more specific.

Youssef and Hosmer are seeking the District 7 Senate seat that represents Franklin, Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Laconia, Gilford, Northfield, Salisbury and Webster.

The two share a few positions.

Both candidates support legalizing medical marijuana and doing a line-by-line review of the state budget to look for waste and duplicate services. They both oppose a sales or income tax. Each says a well-educated state is good for the economy, and they cite job creation as a top priority.

But Hosmer and Youssef would take vastly different routes to get there. That’s especially clear when they talk about budget cuts to the state’s community colleges and university system.

Hosmer said he would have voted against cutting the state’s contribution to the university system’s budget by 50 percent and the community colleges by 20 percent, as the Legislature did last year. Hosmer said he isn’t sure the budget solution recently proposed by university trustees – freeze tuition for two years and restore the budget cuts – is feasible. But finding a remedy for climbing student debt is necessary, he said.

“If we don’t (figure this out), our best and our brightest (students) are going to be driven out of this state for education because they can’t afford it,” Hosmer said in a recent interview with Monitor editors. “Or they will end up going to (a university here) and graduate with what is now the highest student debt in the country. It will be staggering and have long-term consequences to our economy. That’s our next generation, and we are going to drive them away.”

That, Hosmer said, would cost the state the well-educated workforce it needs to attract businesses to the state.

Youssef said he supports the deep budget cuts to the colleges and universities, although he suggested it might have been “too much too soon.” He said he would like to privatize the state’s colleges and universities and believes the budget cuts were done to force the schools to trim bloated budgets.

Those budgets still need cutting, he said.

As evidence, Youssef cited professor salaries as high as $196,000 at the University of New Hampshire, and he said UNH provides faculty free housing. Those statements aren’t quite true.

Erika Mantz, a UNH spokeswoman, said faculty can rent housing on campus within the graduate student complex but at their own expense. She said some professors do earn $196,000 a year, but that many of them earn 25 percent of that with external grants. Mantz also said UNH needs to pay competitive salaries to attract quality professors.

Business taxes also divide the two candidates.

At a recent debate in Franklin, Youssef said he would “shelve” the business enterprise and profits taxes for five years to make the state more attractive to new companies. Those taxes bring the state about $500 million a year – or 40 percent of the state’s revenue.

In a meeting with Monitor editors this week, Youssef scaled his proposal back and said he’d instead extend that tax “holiday” to new businesses that locate in New Hampshire.

The tax exemption would last three to five years, Youssef said. Asked how that would be fair to businesses already here and paying those taxes, Youssef said: “There are a lot of economic circumstances that the (existing business owner) was able to take advantage of in prior generations. Again, we are in an . . . economic climate right now that we need to dig out of, and we have two options. We either can increase taxes and suppress the growth of business or we can provide incentives.”

He continued, “My view is you need to give something to get something.”

Hosmer has called Yossef’s proposal “naive” and misguided.

Hosmer said he would double the research and development tax credit available to businesses, and he’d make it permanent. The Legislature tried to do that this year, but the bill languished after House members attached abortion restrictions to it. “That was a missed opportunity,” he said.

Hosmer also favors using the economic revitalization tax credits to encourage development in places like downtown Franklin and Laconia.

“What (those incentives do) is send a message that we are open for business and that we want businesses to stay here and to recruit new businesses.”

In addition, Hosmer thinks the state needs an economic development plan that incorporates and leverages all the state’s offerings: travel and tourism, a manufacturing base, strong schools and quality of life.

Health care divide

Given the chance to expand Medicaid to thousands more people under the federal Affordable Care Act, Youssef and Hosmer would make opposite choices.

Youssef said he’d reject the federal money because he doesn’t want the state obligated to the federal government. Hosmer would accept it.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost to insure an additional 36,000 Medicaid patients in New Hampshire for three years beginning in 2014. Eventually, the federal government’s share would begin to shrink annually and the state would assume part of the cost.

Supporters have said the additional money – projected to be $1.1 billion between 2014 and 2020 – would allow the states’ hospitals to absorb the growing cost of uncompensated Medicaid care without cutting staff or shifting costs to paying patients.

That’s good for the local economy, Hosmer said.

He said hospitals in Franklin and Laconia both lose money treating Medicaid patients, especially since the state cut Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals last year. Doing so allowed the Legislature to balance the budget, but Hosmer said the cut is being paid for by local business owners with health insurance plans.

Hosmer said health insurance officials have told him 30 percent of insurance premiums, which keep increasing, are charged to cover the uncompensated Medicaid bills. Hosmer has felt that because he pays 70 percent of his employees’ health care premiums. Some small business owners have told Hosmer the jump in their premiums has cost them more than their business profits and enterprise taxes.

Youssef said he agreed that there would be “an apparent shot in the arm” for the hospitals in Franklin and Laconia under expanded Medicaid. But the money is just federal taxes reallocated back to the states, and he opposes the federal control he believes will follow.

“Health insurance needs to be dealt with at the state level and below,” he said. “As locally as possible. Health care needs to be dealt with as education is – in the most local manner possible.”

Different priorities

Asked about other priorities, Hosmer said he is determined to change the polarizing, antagonistic tone of the sitting Legislature, though he blamed that mostly on the House, not the Senate. He also wants to chart a new course on issues.

“To be a state senator, I think you have to be thoughtful and you have to be moderate,” he said. “What are we going to do to grow our economy? What are we going to do about our infrastructure, our education system, our health care?”

Hosmer said the sitting Legislature’s “radical right turn” and focus on social issues was the result of “an extremist agenda.”

“I think there’s some buyer’s remorse out there (with this Legislature) because of there’s a lack of civility and a lack of ability to put the radical politics and nastiness aside and address these issues in a thoughtful manner and realize that compromise isn’t the enemy. It’s not a sin.”

Asked the same question, Youssef said he intends to cut the state budget further.

One option, he said, would be for the state to shed some of the federal programs it is required to pay for. When asked to name some, Yourself said, “I don’t have any nagging at me right now.” The more obvious wasteful spending, he said, is in the state budget.

“My very first and foremost objective is to examine all the areas of state government that are wasteful, excessive and duplicative,” he said. “I want to trim them back, and I want to make them more efficient. I want to make state government more lean.”

As evidence of waste, he pointed to the $22 million in unemployment overpayments stretching back 10 years that the state is trying to collect. Youssef also said he doesn’t believe state commissioners need deputies, and questioned whether the state Liquor Commission needed three commissioners.

“If the commissioners are doing exactly what is expected of them, why do we have this whole series of deputies?” Youssef said. “They are just areas of spending on the state government level that are just irresponsible.”

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