Editorial: Sununu’s path toward bipartisanship

Published: 1/5/2017 9:35:35 AM

Today, New Hampshire residents will learn what the goals of their new governor, former executive councilor Chris Sununu, will be. They’re also likely to hear Sununu say, as he has in the past, that despite Republican control of the Legislature and the corner office, he wants to achieve his goals in a bipartisan way. That means listening to and working with Democrats and independents.

The first test of whether Sununu’s talk of bipartisanship is sincere could come today if he announces what he intends to put on the legislative table first.

If the starter course comes from the back of the Republican fridge and includes moldy old ideas like right-to-work legislation and restrictions on the right to vote, bipartisanship would and should be out of the question.

This week, President-elect Donald Trump, whose party controls both houses of Congress, warned against focusing on narrow ideological goals at the expense of issues important to all Americans. His warning should apply locally as well.

As Sen. Dan Feltes, a Concord Democrat, said in a recent opinion piece, the issues voters care about do not include looser gun laws or the end of same-day voting. Their concerns include the high cost of child care, the need for early childhood education and affordable housing, high and growing property taxes, education, health care and the need to attract and keep young residents.

Those are the real issues; the others are a sideshow.

Sununu will take over a state that’s in better shape than it has been in past years. The unemployment rate is low, the economy, if not exactly booming, is in decent shape, and the state ranks at the top in terms of safety, health and the best place to raise a family.

But problems remain and some, like the income gap between the well-off and poor, and the child poverty rate, are growing.

Which issues might enjoy bipartisan support? On the campaign trail, Sununu spoke of his support for finding money to restore, at least in part, school building aid and state assistance for cities and towns, which must now shoulder the whole burden of municipal employee retirement costs. He’s expressed strong support for legislation that would require employers to grant paid family and medical leave and for measures that would slow or stop the flight of college students and graduates to other states.

He and his party also want to take steps to ensure that the state’s children are protected from domestic abuse.

Accomplishing most, if not all, of those goals will cost money.

State government expected a surplus, but it may not materialize. The Department of Health and Human Services is on track to not only fail to return the $20 million lawmakers thought would go unspent during the current budget cycle but also exceed its budget by $50 million. If that happens, poof goes the surplus.

The problems experienced by HHS and its Division of Children, Youth and Families, as well as the problems with the state’s corrections and mental health systems, are in good measure caused by a shortage of staff, and staff costs money.

So the perennial problem – some call it the New Hampshire advantage – of worthy goals but insufficient revenue to achieve them will limit what the new governor can accomplish.

There may be a bipartisan way out of that box. If so, we hope Gov. Sununu can find it.

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