Cilley: 'Every tool is on the table'

Last modified: 7/27/2012 12:00:00 AM
Ask Democrat Jackie Cilley to explain her plan for New Hampshire and she'll point to Milton, Mass., a Boston suburb named the second-best place in the country to live last year by Money magazine.

The town, population 27,000, was able to attract new families and businesses only after it spent money on its local schools and services. The upside? A stable real estate market and higher property values. The downside? "Higher taxes," Money magazine said.

In her run for governor, Cilley is campaigning on what New Hampshire could be - with the right investments, meaning investments of money. And that's partly why she, alone among the main gubernatorial candidates, has refused to sign a pledge against new taxes, including a sales or income tax.

"The goal is to provide world-class education in state of New Hampshire," Cilley said. "The goal is to have a sound economy. The goal is to have a very healthy environment. I don't think I'm breaking news to anybody when I say those cost money."

Cilley continued. "But I think every family knows that if they want to make an investment in a child, you send them to college. If you invest properly, then the returns will be so much higher."

Cilley sat down with Monitor editors yesterday for a wide-ranging interview that touched on her opposition to the Legislature's "immoral" budget cuts, her mixed feelings about the Northern Pass and her opposition to privatizing the state's prison.

Cilley, a former state senator from Barrington, is one of three Democrats seeking the governor's office. The others are Maggie Hassan, a former state senator from Exeter, and Bill Kennedy of Danbury. There are also three Republicans: Kevin Smith of Litchfield, and Ovide Lamontagne and Robert Tarr, both of Manchester.

 Cutting 'underpinnings'

The sitting Legislature, which Cilley says is led by Tea Partiers, not the kind of consensus-building Republicans she served with, is cutting the "underpinnings" out from under the state, she said. Cilley cited legislative budget cuts to state universities, child health care coverage, mental health services and hospitals.

The consequences are serious, she said.

The state recently dropped from 10 to 34 in an economic ranking, and Forbes magazine now ranks New Hampshire the 28th best place in the country to live, she said. In 2010, the state was 19th. "We are behind Massachusetts," she said. "We are behind New York, the most taxed state in the country."

The rate of young people moving to the state is at 1950 levels, and instead, New Hampshire has one of fastest aging populations. While campaigning, Cilley said business and education leaders have told her they need good schools turning out a skilled work force if the state wants to attract good jobs.

How would she have dealt with the budget gap that greeted legislators two years ago?

She would not have reduced the cigarette tax, which cost the state between $12 and $20 million, depending on whom you ask. Nor would she have eliminated the $35 surcharge on car registration fees, which she said cost the sate $90 million.

Nor would Cilley had done away with state auditors whose job is to find the state savings, she said. And she opposes a change in business regulations that allows companies to carry out their losses over a longer period because that extension also cost the state millions.

 'Simply cut'

"Their philosophy seems to be, 'simply cut,' " Cilley said. "If they think they can cut their way out of this, they are sadly mistaken. They have left us in a very, very vulnerable place."

When asked how she'd pay for the investments she believes the state needs, Cilley said she'd begin by looking for state efficiencies. She cited three state agencies that have begun sharing mapping tools rather than each buying their own. When asked what programs or budgets she'd cut to balance the state budget, Cilley said she couldn't think of one.

She did not commit herself to adopting a sales or income tax, but she would consider them. She believes the state already has both in its rooms and meals tax and the business enterprise tax.

"Every tool is on the table," she said yesterday. "If I went in and I needed exploratory surgery, and the doctor laid out all of the tools of the trade, I would want to know that once the problem was fully diagnosed . . . that he would exercise or she would exercise her judgment."

Some have said Cilley can't win with a stance like that. Cilley disagrees, and says her campaign is about more than winning on election day.

"You need to govern the day after," she said. "And that is where my eye is."

Cilley would oppose efforts to privatize corrections because she doesn't believe it would save the state money. It's also not in the state's interest, she said, because private prison companies want a guaranteed occupancy rate before they'll do business with a state.

"Their focus is keeping prisons full," she said of the private prison companies. "This isn't about justice. This isn't about rehabilitation. It's like a hotel."

 Northern Pass

On Northern Pass, a proposed hydropower line from Canada to the New England energy grid, Cilley said she'd "like to find a way to 'yes.' " The proposed project is especially unpopular in the North Country, where Northeast Utilities and Public Service of New Hampshire would have to clear an 40-mile right of way for the lines.

Cilley opposes taking any private land by eminent domain for the project. She doesn't want the state to be used as a conduit from Canada to the rest of the country. And she opposes any plans that would harm the tourist industry in the North Country, she said.

She'd like to see the project's partners look more seriously at burying the high-voltage lines, she said.

 Different backgrounds

Cilley's closest challenger in the Democratic primary is Hassan, who, like Cilley, served in the state Senate. Hassan is a business attorney whose campaign has also focused on investing in education so the state can attract good jobs.

Cilley was asked what, aside from refusing to take the tax pledge, sets her most apart from Hassan. She pointed to her upbringing in Berlin, where her family struggled financially and many kids didn't finish high school. And to her master's degree in business and the company she and her husband have run for 20 years shoeing horses.

"A reporter asked me that and said, 'You wear your poverty as a badge of honor,' " Cilley said. "But I do understand the struggles families go through from a very personal place. On the other hand I also understand the whole concept of personal responsibility."

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Updated on 7/27 to correct length of Northern Pass right of way.




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