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State senator says voters shouldn’t be detered by tax debt record

Monitor staff
Published: 11/2/2018 6:10:42 PM

State Sen. Harold French says he’s like many of the voters he represents – he’s trying to make a living and doesn’t always have the money to pay all his bills.

“It makes me more aware of the tax burden on people,” said French, a Republican who owes close to $4,000 in property taxes to the city of Franklin and even more to the IRS. “It makes me want to keep taxes low.”

But officials from one New Hampshire organization, Granite State Progress, say French has skipped opportunities to pay his taxes in order to fund his political campaign.

“Your average granite stater is not contributing thousands of dollars to his political campaigns,” said Zandra Rice-Hawkins, Granite State Progress’s executive director. “To say that he is representative of people who can’t pay is blatantly untrue.”

In 2016, French made a $3,105 personal loan to his campaign instead of paying the $2,600 in property taxes he owed to the city of Franklin, state records show.

French pledged to pay his taxes by the end of 2016, but his financial trouble grew. By the spring of 2018, he owed more than $13,000 to the city. He made a $12,800 payment for his property taxes on April 30, 2018, which settled his debts for 2016, 2017 and part of 2018.

As of Thursday, French still owed $3,933.69 to the city of Franklin for a property he co-owns on 232 South Main St. He said he’s also been in negotiations with the IRS over federal tax debt, which he said exceeds $50,000.

French’s opponent, Boscawen Democrat Mason Donovan, said French’s lack of payment doesn’t bother him. Donovan paid his property taxes in full in June, according to the town of Boscawen.

“My response is always, ‘Does this issue effect whether he can do his job or not do his job?’ ” Donovan said. “I don’t think it stops him from being able to do his job, but it does bring up the fact that there are so many people that struggle to pay their property taxes.”

“I never feel good about kicking someone when they are trying to pay,” he added.

French sits on the judiciary committee and is vice chairman of the commerce committee. He said he is proud of his accomplishments in the Senate, which include abolishing fees for arrest record annulments for people found not guilty, as well as passing legislation allowing individuals who need to negotiate with the insurance commission to have an attorney present.

French also cosponsored a bill to abolish the death penalty, which was vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

French said the time commitment and low pay – $100 a year – involved with serving on the New Hampshire Legislature has forced him to put some tax payments “on the back burner.”

“I have put my fortunes on hold while I serve the state and the people of the state ... If I wasn’t serving, I would have more of an opportunity to address those,” he said of his missed payments. “I hate to say, ‘Oh, I’m self-sacrificing myself,’ but that’s what it is.”

This isn’t the first time French has been behind on his taxes. In total, French has faced 33 tax liens or foreclosures in 37 years, and has filed for bankruptcy. From 1981 to present, he has owed back taxes to at least eight different New Hampshire communities including Franklin, Boscawen, Henniker and Warner.

District 7, which French represents, includes the communities of Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Franklin, Gilford, Laconia, Northfield, Salisbury and Webster.

In French’s home city of Franklin, taxation has been a hot topic. Franklin is the smallest and poorest New Hampshire city. It operates under a tax cap, which city councilors narrowly voted to keep in place last year after facing a close to $1 million school budget shortfall.

The senator said he has worked as an auctioneer and real estate broker for 40 years. He would not say what his annual income is, but said with his earnings, in combination with his wife’s salary as a licensed nursing assistant, his family is mostly able to keep up with their bills.

“We pay the current bills. You slip a little bit, but you keep up, just like everyone else,” French said. “It’s week to week.”

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