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Fact-checking the State Senate District 15 candidates in Concord

Last modified: 10/23/2014 12:13:33 AM
At a breakfast forum hosted by the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, the two candidates for state Senate District 15 fielded questions yesterday morning on gambling, marriage equality, higher education, energy and other topics.

And based on a fact-check, their comments were mostly accurate.

Dan Feltes, a 35-year-old Democrat, is a Concord attorney and worked for New Hampshire Legal Assistance for eight years. This is his first bid for elected office. Republican Lydia Harman, a 43-year-old Warner real estate broker, is running on the Republican ticket. She challenged state Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord for this seat in 2012 and lost.

Larsen announced this spring she would not seek an 11th term in the state Senate. Feltes and Harman are now vying for her seat; the district includes Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner. The election is Nov. 4.

Harman on marriage, abortion

During her 2012 bid for state Senate, Harman signed the Cornerstone Family First Pledge against gay marriage and abortion rights. At yesterday’s forum, a guest asked whether her position had changed during this campaign.

“I’m not interested in making private life choices for people,” Harman said. “That’s something they have to do for themselves. I have my own beliefs, and I will continue to foster my interest in those beliefs, but as a legislator, no.”

So she did not sign the Cornerstone pledge this year, she said.

Fact check: Harman did not sign the Cornerstone pledge this year. Feltes, who is pro-abortion rights and supports marriage equality, also has not signed the pledge. For a full list of the candidates who did, visit nhcornerstone.org.

Feltes on job training

Both candidates told theiaudience they wanted to increase the state’s resources for job training. Feltes said bolstering those programs will help grow the workforce in New Hampshire.

“Right now, we have jobs that are open but not filled, because people don’t have the skills to fill it,” Feltes said.

Fact check: For the most part, this is accurate. Annette Nielsen, an economist at the state Department of Employment Security, said that statement is also very general.

Even when the unemployment rate was higher, she said employers struggled to find skilled labor. For example, she pointed to tech and engineering jobs as difficult to fill.

“There are niche areas where there are always not enough workers,” Nielsen said.

Currently, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is 4.3 percent. About 706,880 people are employed in the state, according to September statistics from the Department of Employment Security, and the number of unemployed residents is slightly greater than 32,000.

Harman on casino gambling

One guest pressed the candidates for their positions on casinos in New Hampshire. Feltes said he is open but cautious on gambling, and he wants to ensure the estimated revenue would be real before moving forward with a casino bill.

Harman said she is against expanded gambling in New Hampshire.

Building a casino “is saying to the impoverished people here in New Hampshire . . . ‘You are our ticket to more revenue,’ ” Harman said.

The poor “will, statistics show, tend to be the gambling sector,” she added.

Fact check: Sort of – it depends on which report you look at. When asked for her sources, Harman pointed to a 2011 report from a Buffalo, N.Y.-based nonprofit called the Partnership for the Public Good. Based on a range of research from the past two decades, that report states people with low incomes are more likely to develop a pathological gambling problem.

For example, that research includes a 1994 survey in Wisconsin that determined 53.7 percent of casino gamblers had an income below $30,000 per year, 37 percent below $20,000 per year and 13.7 percent below $10,000 per year. In 1999, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission reported more than 7 percent of people with incomes under $24,000 were at-risk gamblers. However, more than 13 percent of people with income greater than $100,000 were also reported to be at-risk gamblers. Living nearby a casino increases the risk of developing a gambling addiction, the report also states.

But there are other factors as well, according to a 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“Gambling problems show some association with adolescence and young adulthood, ethnic minority status, low income and low socioeconomic status, high school education or less, and unmarried status,” the report states.

But to Dr. Rachel Volberg, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Harman’s statement was too broad. Volberg specializes in gambling research and is working on a study of the social and economic impacts of gambling in Massachusetts.

“As far as I’m aware, there is no research showing that people in lower income groups gamble more often or more frequently than people who are in higher income groups,” Volberg said. “It is pretty clear that lower income people spend a greater proportion of their income on gambling, but that’s because they have less income, not because they gamble more frequently.”

The demographics are also nuanced, Volberg said. Low-income people do tend to play the lottery more often than people in other income groups, for example, while the people who frequent casinos are more likely to be in middle-income brackets.

“You can’t just make a blanket statement about every kind of gambling,” she said.

Feltes on capital gains

“I’ve talked about capital gains as relieving pressure on property taxes,” Feltes said. In basic terms, a capital gains tax is a tax on the profit gained by selling an asset – stocks, bonds, property or other investments. New Hampshire does not have a state capital gains tax, but increasing revenue by creating one has been a talking point in Feltes’s campaign.

Then he cited this statistic: In 2013, the top 1 percent of income earners in the state paid an effective tax rate of 2.4 percent of their incomes toward their state and local taxes. The bottom 20 percent paid 8.6 percent of their incomes toward those taxes, he said.

Fact check: Feltes got his dates wrong, but the data checks out in a 2013 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington. The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute has publicized that report on its website.

According to that report, Feltes’s numbers are right – but they come from 2010 data, not 2013 data. ITEP has not published a report with more recent data.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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