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Forrester, Lamb focus on state aid cuts in Senate District 2

Republican state Sen. Jeanie Forrester of Meredith and her Democratic challenger Bob Lamb of Holderness describe themselves as open-minded thinkers who seek out conflicting opinions before making decisions.

But when it comes to making those decisions, Forrester, who represents District 2, has voted with her party rather than in the best interest of her constituents, Lamb says.

“The vast majority of her votes have been lockstep with the Republican majority in the Senate, and even when I look at the votes she has taken, it appears to me that it’s part of an ideology, as opposed to a practical, problem-solving approach based on facts and analysis,” Lamb said last week in an interview with the Monitor’s editorial board.

Forrester, in a separate interview with the Monitor, said the state’s budget shortfall forced her to make tough votes.

“The first thing I like to point out to people is, we came into this with an $800 million deficit,” she said. “If anyone thinks that I – believe me, I’ve never been the type of person who is controversial – that I would go into a job wanting to make enemies or make people mad at me, it’s not why I did this.”

While Lamb said he doesn’t believe the state’s deficit was as dire as the $800 million figure Forrester cited, Gov. John Lynch opened the budget cycle by proposing significant cuts, Forrester said.

“If we didn’t have a problem, why would the governor lead with cuts?” she said. Forrester, who has served as the executive director of Main Street organizations and as town administrator in Tufton boro and New Durham, is running for a second term as the state senator for District 2, which spans Belknap, Grafton and Merrimack counties.

She prides herself on constituent service – she notes that she visited all 31 of her communities this term – and has played a prominent role opposing the Northern Pass project, which would bring hydroelectricity to the U.S. from Canada via 180 miles of power lines running through the state.

Lamb, a former bank executive and West Point graduate, said he decided to run for state Senate because he is “very disappointed with the decisions Concord has made over the last 18 to 20 months.”

“This Legislature, in my opinion, has spent too much time focusing on social matters, and they’re making the wrong decisions about cutting expenses,” Lamb said.

Lamb said he opposed votes to create a school voucher program, cut the tobacco tax and halve the number of state revenue auditors.

Those choices cost the state money, Lamb said, and if lawmakers hadn’t made them, they could have restored cuts to the state university system.

More broadly, the cuts downshifted costs to property taxpayers, Lamb said. He said the Legislature has avoided addressing structural problems with the state’s revenue sources, instead passing on costs “to the people in the state who are least able to deal with it.”

Forrester, who served on the Senate Finance Committee, said the committee “had priorities, and our priority was to help our most vulnerable citizens.”

After participating in hours of public hearings, “if I have to choose between arts, and (lowering) in-state tuition, and a child who needs help, and this is the money we’ve got, you’ve got to make some tough decisions,” Forrester said.

While she didn’t want to make cuts to the state’s universities or hospitals, “it was a situation we found ourselves in,” Forrester said. She couldn’t think of a specific cut she would have handled differently.

Forrester was a leading cosponsor of a bill signed into law this year that bars the unnecessary use of eminent domain to take private property.

Passing the measure, intended to block the Northern Pass project from seizing the property it needed for power lines, “was really an uphill battle,” Forrester said.

But, she said, “I’m very persistent when I get on an issue I believe in.” Forrester worked to win bipartisan support for the bill, leading to its passage, she said.

Though she counts the eminent domain law as a victory, the Northern Pass project is far from resolved, Forrester said. She chairs the legislative commission studying whether the project’s power lines could be buried – an approach that would also allow the state to collect a tax, if the lines run along existing rights-of-way.

Burying the lines may not be feasible, Forrester said, “but at the end of the day this state should direct how we’re going to see energy come through the state and how we’re going to benefit from it.”

Lamb – who credited Forrester for her work on the project – said the state should take a different approach to block the current Northern Pass proposal. If elected, he said he would work to pass a legislative resolution that shows “the will of the state government of New Hampshire is organized against this.”

The resolution would state that the Legislature will work to allow electricity to pass through the state as long as it’s buried and the state can tax it, Lamb said.

He would also take the state’s leaders to Washington, D.C., to voice their opposition to the U.S. Department of Energy, and focus on negotiating with the project’s local sponsor, Northeast Utilities, rather than Hydro-Quebec.

On expanded gambling, Lamb said a casino is “the last alternative I would look at to balance the state budget.”

He would consider one casino – provided it is regulated and produces jobs and revenue that go beyond covering the costs of increased social ills, “which worry me more than anything else,” he said.

Forrester would not support a casino, which she said would hurt local businesses.

“It’s hard enough right now,” she said. “I don’t think we need to be diverting dollars to a casino.”

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