Our Turn: Sununu’s veto pen doesn’t help New Hampshire

For the Monitor
Published: 7/3/2019 9:00:33 PM

On this day 243 years ago we declared our independence from a monarchy. July 4th is a yearly reminder not just of why we declared our independence, but what form of government we choose and why.

We opted for a Constitutional Republic and a democracy, with dispersion of power both between and within the federal government and the several states. Our founders designed divided government, in large measure because they were leery of power concentrated in the hands of the few or even one – and that person getting everything they want at the expense of others.

There is no place this is more true than here in New Hampshire. Working together, ensuring progress for the broader good, and recognizing that the hard work of government is often uncomfortable compromise, not the comfort of an uncompromising ideology. That’s the job people elected us to do. That’s the New Hampshire way.

But that hasn’t been Gov. Chris Sununu’s approach. Sununu just vetoed an entire state budget, simply because he didn’t get everything he wanted. The lone issue the governor raised was his fixated desire on even more tax breaks for corporations, most with headquarters out-of-state. Sununu elevated this singular issue above child protection, the opioid epidemic, the mental health crisis, affordable housing, job training, prescription drug relief for seniors, and education funding.

Specifically, Sununu is choosing more tax breaks for out-of-state corporations instead of over $200 million in property tax relief for Granite State businesses, families, and seniors.

During this process, House and Senate Democrats gave up our top priorities at the behest of Sununu in an attempt to build a balanced budget that represented true compromise for the greater good. But then, at the 11th hour, he moved the goalposts. To us, it is now clear the governor never intended to sign a state budget. His track record supports this conclusion.

In March, well before any substantial legislation even reached his desk, Sununu held an event in front of the State House surrounded by signs that read, “Happiness is a Governor who vetoes!” Sununu even signed those signs with the note: “Signed with my favorite veto pen!”

Now, he is well on his way to breaking the record number of vetoes by any governor. He has vetoed paid family leave, clean energy, and emergency funding for opioid and mental health providers. He recently said he wanted to veto 50 bills – not specifying why or for what reason, just that he wants to veto 50 bills. He thinks that’s a good number.

Just last month, Sununu told reporters that he would “absolutely” veto Democratic priority bills, including efforts to raise the minimum wage, prevent gun violence, and protect voting rights. He dismissed these initiatives as “just political stuff” and he is there to “manage” the state.

But it’s poor management to veto an entire state budget, especially just because you didn’t get everything you want.

It’s also poor management to simply refuse to come to a contract with our state employees.

While the governor continues to lead wild-eyed chants of “veto, veto, veto”, we listened to his concerns about the budget and worked together to build a true compromise. Sununu said he would veto a budget that closes the capital gains loophole to fund education. We took that out. Sununu said he would veto a budget because he opposes paid family and medical leave insurance. We took that out, too.

Before seeing the budget, the governor all but committed to a veto, regardless of what the budget contained. That isn’t governing. That is putting politics ahead of the people of the Granite State.

The governor’s lone remaining reason for a veto was this: the House and Senate stabilized the business tax rates, which further cuts would mainly benefit out-of-state corporations. Sununu wanted to give out-of-state corporations yet another handout, even though they have already received two business tax cuts in the last three years.

It is unsurprising to us that many of the corporations who would benefit from the governor’s veto also are his largest campaign contributors. But, on policy, it defies basic reality, since we already have the lowest corporate tax rate of surrounding states and we have the 6th lowest overall business taxes in the country. The only reason we are not number one: we rank the worst in the country on property taxes on businesses.

In the end, these corporate tax breaks Sununu wants amount to over $90 million in lost revenue that currently supports our children, our communities, and relief for our property tax payers, including small businesses right here in New Hampshire. That’s not right, not fiscally responsible, and not a justification to put our entire state budget and our fiscal standing in peril.

On this July 4 we recognize, once again, that we don’t live in a monarchy, and that even if your last name is Sununu, you cannot get everything you want.

With so many crises facing the state, Sununu’s veto of an entire state budget over one issue he didn’t “win” on is reckless, tone-deaf, and Trumpian. Our families, our economy, and our property tax payers all deserve better. They deserve a budget. 

It is long past-time for the governor to heed that most basic advice of Bill Belichick: Do Your Job.

(Dan Feltes lives in the South End of Concord, represents the 15th District in the State Senate, is Majority Leader in the Senate. Doug Ley lives in Jaffrey, represents Cheshire County District 9, and is Majority leader in the House.)

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