My Turn: Sununu must step up and resolve budget conflicts

For the Monitor
Published: 9/8/2019 7:30:06 AM

Our party ran on ending tax breaks to big corporations so that we could increase investments in our communities and provide property-tax relief.

We pledged to create a budget that works for everyone, not just those at the top. The Democrats who ran for the state Senate called it the Granite State Opportunity Plan. Then, to the shock of our Republican friends who attempted to manipulate our elections, the Democrats actually won the state Senate in 2018, one of the most gerrymandered legislative bodies in the country. Now, it is imperative that we deliver on our promises.

New Hampshire citizens simply cannot afford a state budget that continues reductions in Business Profits Taxes. The BPT is primarily paid for by big, out-of-state corporations. Those are the ones that benefit most from cuts in the taxes. Unfortunately, that is the only thing Gov. Chris Sununu appears to want, and it appears to be the sole reason he vetoed an entire state budget. His singular focus demands that we permanently reduce the BPT down from 7.9%, which is already the lowest of surrounding states. In the meantime, our state suffers, our communities are scrambling, and the governor throws punches and digs in his heels. Come on! Let’s do our jobs!

The lack of transparency from Gov. Sununu is also destructive. House and Senate Democrats have held public hearings to understand the public concerns and to measure the impact of Gov. Sununu’s budget veto. To date, Gov. Sununu has failed publicly to propose anything he would cut from the budget to fund his additional corporate tax breaks. Frankly, it is beyond frustrating – unacceptable to veto an entire state budget and then say absolutely nothing. In good faith, House and Senate Democrats made a proposal to resolve the budget impasse – half of the continuing resolution savings to business tax credits and half set aside to cover the state employee contract the governor has failed to negotiate. The ball is now squarely in Gov. Sununu’s court, after he summarily rejected this very reasonable, common-sense proposal. Gov. Sununu should now make a counter offer, and he should do it publicly. 

One thing is clear: Gov. Sununu and his allies principally want to attack Democrats, calling us “extreme,” “dishonest” and much worse. It has been painful to watch how the Republicans are trying to impugn the motives of one of the most ethical people among us: Sen. Dan Feltes, Senate majority leader. To serve in the Senate, Dan left a job as a legal aid attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. He didn’t join a law firm, as most firms have lobbying or litigation practices with the state, and Sen. Feltes wanted to avoid even a perception of favoritism with any one group. These decisions had significant financial repercussions for Dan and his growing family. Everyone knows Dan is someone of the utmost integrity. No one works harder than Dan, and we all rely on his expertise and common sense as majority leader.

We understand why Gov. Sununu and Republicans feel the need to create an alternative universe in which Dan is portrayed as some kind of foil on the budget, as Dan is highly effective and many expected that he would run for governor. Their name-calling is outrageous and not unlike what is tweeted in D.C. It has been a tough year for the Republicans in New Hampshire. We get that! We’ve been there. Their tactics do not help their cause.

Attacking Dan is a transparent effort to keep Sununu in the corner office; it certainly does not move us forward. We are better than this behavior, and our constituents deserve better.

The budget presented to Gov. Sununu was extremely well crafted among broad interests. The Finance Committee outdid themselves by working long hours across the aisle. In the end, a budget compromise cannot be an inside deal, either through favored relationships with special interest groups or by including only one or two legislators and excluding others who might be less likely to agree with the governor.

The process must be beyond reproach. It isn’t about who gets credit but about whom the budget helps – and who needs help the most. A well-crafted, thoughtful budget requires that Gov. Sununu and his party set aside personal political attacks and let the public know what he proposes to cut from the budget to fund his corporate tax breaks. The budget must also continue the commitments we made to voters who entrusted us with control of the state Senate.

Only then can we do our collective jobs for the good of New Hampshire. 

(State Sen. Martha Hennessey of Hanover is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

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