On State House steps, Sununu headlines rally against Democratic policies

  • Gov. Chris Sununu stands in the crowd before speaking at a rally outside the State House in Concord on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/30/2019 8:38:41 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu railed against Democratic initiatives at a Concord rally Saturday, taking aim at proposed tax increases in a hard-charging speech months ahead of an expected budget standoff.

Addressing a crowd of several hundred people, Sununu spoke against moves by the Democratically-controlled legislature to roll back certain cuts to the business profits tax and institute a mandatory paid family leave plan, which he characterized as an income tax.

And he painted his governorship as a conservative backstop to a wave of left-leaning bills that had put the state “on the precipice of something very dangerous.”

“Our responsibility is five and ten and fifty years down the road,” the governor said. “To say we will not let an income tax come into our state, we will not let our personal freedoms be infringed upon.”

Democrats have made a partial reversal of business tax cuts a central piece of their legislative agenda this year, proposing to set and keep the rate at 7.9 percent, rather than the 7.5 percent it is scheduled to reduce to by 2021 under current law.

And they’ve continued their push for a statewide paid family and medical leave plan, replacing last year’s quasi-voluntary plan with a mandatory one that includes a 0.5 percent payroll tax on private sector businesses. That tax is levied on businesses as a payroll tax, not an income tax, but gives the business the option of deducting the amount from employee wages.

Both policies would deliver benefits desired by the public, whether in the form of additional revenue or additional services, Democrats argue. But Republicans have portrayed the proposals as disruptive tax increases at a time of economic strength, and have sought to turn them into political liabilities.

Saturday’s rally, held in front of the State House steps, was put on by the Granite State Taxpayers, a near-30-year-old advocacy group staunchly opposed to new taxes. Titled as the “Preserve the New Hampshire Advantage” rally, the event featured Republican leaders in the House and Senate, addressing an audience that crossed the conservative spectrum.

Yet while other speakers addressed issues around voting bills and firearms, Sununu steered clear of social issues. He did not mention his positions on legislation to expand background checks or impose purchase waiting periods for firearms, nor on bills to roll back recent Republican voting law changes, all of which he was urged to oppose.

He did make one promise: a veto on Senate Bill 1, the Democrat’s family leave plan. Sununu also took aim at an approach that’s been championed by Democrats this year: raising state revenues to pass to local towns and offset property taxes.

“Somebody came into my office recently and said ‘you know maybe we should really start considering, you know, doing more on the tax side at the state level to lower property taxes,’ ” the governor said. “That’s not just a bad idea, it is a failed policy time and time again across this country.”

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, a Democrat, swiped back in a statement Saturday, assailing the governor’s opposition to that policy as misguided.

“Governor Sununu said he doesn’t believe in property tax relief and his budgets show it, with our property taxes going up while taxes for big corporations go down, including those corporations who contributed to his inaugural slush fund,” he said.

Sununu’s remarks came several days after a Democratic rally at the State House saw 150 members show up to support their paid family and medical leave plan, according to the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy, an advocacy group.

And they dropped months ahead of a potential budget impasse driven by widely divergent visions between Sununu and Democratic leaders. House budget writers are rushing this week to finalize a budget proposal to send to the Senate next month, one which they say better prioritizes funding for schools and public health. But both parties are girding for a gubernatorial veto in June and a potentially difficult negotiation process.

That prospect attracted plenty of support from the crowd, which included past and present state senators, representatives and the odd Congressional candidate. Chants of “veto” broke out sporadically; “Get out your pen, governor!” one man yelled.

At one point a child presented the governor a visual prop: a four-foot inflatable Sharpie marker. Sununu signed it in red.

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