Where they stand on business issues: Gubernatorial candidates

  • FILE - This pair of 2020 file photos shows Democrat challenger Dan Feltes, left, and Republican incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu, right, who are running for New Hampshire governor in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. (AP Photos, File)

NH Business Review
Published: 10/29/2020 10:09:39 AM

Although this election cycle has been nasty and personal at the national level, complicated by COVID-19’s infestation of the entire country including the White House, a U.S. Supreme Court nomination and protests over systemic racism, other issues crucial to business are on the line.

NH Business Review asked the major party candidates running this year for four key offices — the U.S. Senate, the two congressional seats and governor — about seven topics: labor and employment, taxes, housing, healthcare, infrastructure, energy and COVID-19. Answers are unedited unless they exceeded the word limit. Biographical information is also included.

Chris Sununu

An environmental engineer by trade, Chris Sununu has spent his life — whether in public service or the private sector — devoted to designing systems that improve the quality of life for Granite State families.

In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Sununu took unprecedented action to protect the well-being of Granite Staters.

Just days after declaring a state of emergency and transitioning New Hampshire schools to remote learning, Sununu acted swiftly to expand New Hampshire’s unemployment benefits and provide financial relief to a historic number of New Hampshire residents.

Following passage of the CARES Act by Congress and signature into law by the president, Sununu established the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Economic Recovery to oversee the transparent investment of over $1.25 billion in relief funds and the prompt restoration of New Hampshire’s economy.

As governor, Sununu has worked to decrease government regulation, and instead, open as many doors of opportunity as possible for Granite Staters.

Dan Feltes

Dan Feltes spent almost a decade with New Hampshire Legal Assistance as a legal aid attorney, and now serves as majority leader in the New Hampshire Senate.

At age 41, he is the youngest majority leader in New Hampshire history. He represents Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner in the Senate and is the Democratic nominee for governor of New Hampshire. A champion for working families, he sponsored legislation to establish a paid family and medical leave program, expand access to healthcare, invest in job training and workforce development, and fund full-day kindergarten.

He lives in Concord with his wife, Erin, and their two daughters.

COVID-19

Do you support current restrictions on businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19? What else would you do? Do you support a mask mandate? What kind, and how it will be enforced?

Sununu: As governor, we made the tough calls early and have worked to slow the spread of the virus. We invested over $500 million into small businesses, farmers and nonprofits — more than any other state in America. New Hampshire continues to lead the region in safely reopening our economy, which has allowed businesses to remain open while safeguarding against COVID-19.

I support empowering localities to make a local decision when it comes to mask mandates. Currently, at the state level, we are not looking at a statewide mask mandate, but can always play that card down the line. New Hampshire continues to have one of the lowest percent-positive case rates in the nation, and so long as we remain low, we are not looking to enact a statewide mask mandate, especially when a majority of towns in New Hampshire do not have a single active case of COVID.

Feltes: Like Trump, Sununu refuses to listen to the medical experts on masks. New Hampshire is the only state in New England without a common-sense mask requirement, and now we have much worse COVID numbers than either Maine or Vermont.

Most business owners, including retail and restaurant owners, would prefer a common-sense mask requirement, so that every business plays by the same set of rules and both patrons and employees remain safe. It could be implemented through existing public health and code enforcement. In addition, small businesses should be provided free PPE by the state, which was part of legislation we passed that, unfortunately, Sununu vetoed.

What kind of additional stimulus package do you support, especially for small businesses? How would it differ from previous packages?

Sununu: Congress needs to get to work and do their job by passing another relief package that provides flexibility to states and local governments. When it comes to relief packages at the state level, we are always looking for additional ways to help small businesses, which is why we established the Main Street Relief Fund to provide unprecedented support for our small businesses.

Moving forward, we will continue to explore additional areas surrounding small businesses that we can provide supports for.

Feltes: Early on, I proposed real relief for small landlords and small businesses (less than $5 million in annual revenue), prioritizing those unable to access the PPP and prioritizing our restaurant and hospitality industry, as well as using existing and reliable structure of the Business Finance Authority to get the relief out the door quickly and with confidence.

Instead, Chris Sununu’s business fund included major law firms and corporations with up to $20 million in annual revenue. Sununu made up an entirely new fund and structure without any rules, and then required multiple applications that left many businesses completely ineligible.

Moving forward, business owners must have confidence in how the relief is distributed, and there must be a specific focus on industries that will be hit the hardest when the weather changes, especially the restaurant industry which will no longer be able to offer outdoor dining.

hould businesses receive any special liability protection?

Sununu: Given the New Hampshire economy is so closely tied to our neighboring states, any liability protections must be done at the federal level to ensure there is consistency at the regional level.

Feltes: I don’t support blanket immunity for corporations. The vast majority of businesses and business owners treat their employees right and put public safety first, but the unfortunate reality is some do not and some cut corners on basic public safety measures.

Chris Sununu signed onto a letter urging blanket immunity for corporations be passed into federal law — that’s the wrong approach. We need to support businesses by listening to how certain restrictions are impacting them and how the state can support worker safety, because worker safety is public safety.

Labor and Employment

What should the minimum wage be and why?

Sununu: I continue to believe that the minimum wage should be established at the federal level, and have twice vetoed a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to unsustainable levels. Now is the wrong time to pursue any policy that will reduce the chances of Granite Staters being able to get back to work.

Raising the minimum wage in the middle of a global pandemic would hinder our employers who are already struggling. It would mean fewer jobs and fewer available hours for our workers who are unemployed or underemployed. Our small businesses are fighting for survival, and raising the minimum wage would just become another burden placed on our employers’ backs as they try to recover.

Feltes: We should gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, similar to what Rep. Pappas and Rep. Kuster supported in the U.S. House. No one should work a full-time job and live in poverty. Unfortunately, as governor, Sununu vetoed the minimum wage increase while simultaneously taking $31,000 in pay increases for himself. I will reject and return the pay increases Sununu took until we reinstate and raise the minimum wage.

Do you support paid family and medical leave? To what level and in what form?

Sununu: I support paid family medical leave and have put forward multiple innovative plans to get it done that are voluntary, affordable and income tax-free.

My plan has been vetted by insurance experts in both the public and private sector, and they concur that my approach is viable and will work. I have sought compromise with the Legislature, but it is unfortunate that the Legislature refused to compromise and insisted on an income tax.

The plan I was forced to veto stated “insurance premium payments shall amount to 0.5% of wages per employee per week for each week of the preceding quarter. Employers may withhold or divert no greater than 0.5% of wages per week per employee.” That is an income tax, and neither I nor the people of New Hampshire would ever support it.

Feltes: Paid family and medical leave is critical to the challenges facing working families across New Hampshire — from dealing with COVID, to our caretaking crisis for seniors, to combating the opioid public health epidemic, to attracting and retaining the workforce of tomorrow. No one should have to risk their family’s economic security simply to take care of a loved one, take care of oneself or be there for a new baby.

My bill, SB 1, had bipartisan co-sponsors and would have established paid family medical leave, giving businesses a variety of options for supplying it to their employees, without a mandated tax of any kind. Chris Sununu has vetoed this bipartisan legislation twice, even calling paid family and medical leave a “vacation.”

Sununu provided a so-called “voluntary plan” that received no testimony in support at the public hearing — not a single person testified in support of his plan. Sununu opposes paid family and medical leave, even auctioning off a copy of his veto of SB 1 at a partisan political fundraiser, then auctioning off the flags of New Hampshire and the United States flown over the State House the day he vetoed SB 1.

Taxes

Do you think that the current state business tax rates or federal corporate rates should remain the same, go up or go down during your term?

Sununu: I support lowering taxes on our small businesses even further, and called on the Legislature to freeze the tax triggers that had the potential to raise taxes on our small businesses over 12% in the middle of the pandemic. Thankfully, due to strong management and smart decision-making, our economy got back on track in record time, which has allowed business taxes to remain flat this year. I vetoed a state budget that included automatic tax increases, and have signed two state budgets that did not include any new taxes.

Feltes: In the last state budget we enacted business and corporate tax reform that generally helped relieve the burden on New Hampshire-based businesses as well as helped ensure that large multi-state and multinational corporations that sell products or services into New Hampshire were included in New Hampshire’s corporate tax code and paid more of their fair share. The continuation of business tax reform that looks out for New Hampshire-based businesses that I led on is my strong preference.

Housing

What would you do increase the availability of workforce housing?

Sununu: In the summer of 2019, I assembled a housing task force to develop recommendations to address our shortage of affordable and workforce housing. Working with the task force and a bipartisan group of young legislators, we developed a comprehensive legislative package in the form of two major bills.

The first bill, HB 1629, focused on enhancing local control and improving predictability of the development process. It included, among other things, providing free training materials to zoning and planning board members, enhancing inclusionary zoning, streamlining the decision-making process for zoning boards and planning boards, updating and expanding the definition of workforce housing, and ensuring equal treatment for workforce housing in awarding of development incentives.

The second bill, HB 1632, focused on accelerating investment in housing. The bill included, among other things, allowing TIF districts to be used for residential development, expansion of the use of the Community Revitalization Tax Relief Program, and the creation of a voluntary Housing Champion Certification Program to incentivize development of workforce housing.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic severely shortened this past legislative session, and these bills, despite passing the House, were not enacted due to lack of time for full consideration by the Senate. However, I plan to push for passage of these bills during the 2021 legislative session.

Feltes: Affordable and workforce housing is the foundation for success for our businesses, our workers and families, and our future. The advancement of affordable and workforce housing means less homelessness, less spending on healthcare and social services through housing stabilization and housing first, and more places to live for workers who can meet businesses’ needs throughout New Hampshire.

In the Senate, I continued the effort to advance affordable and workforce housing, including advancing accessory dwelling units, the first-ever recovery housing appropriation, and the first-ever annual appropriation to the affordable and workforce housing fund.

There is more we can do including using $10 million in CARES Act funds to capitalize the affordable and workforce housing fund of New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, with priority given to hardest-hit areas of the state, and increase from $5 million to $10 million the annual capitalization of the affordable and workforce housing fund, as well as use at least $1 million, to help develop workforce housing along the commuter rail line.

Would you and how would you continue to support eviction and/or foreclosure bans or continue assistance to renters and homeowners?

Sununu: One of the first actions we took to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic was to put a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to ensure no one would worry about losing their home or business due to the pandemic. In an effort to help those struggling to pay rent and their mortgage, I established a $35 million fund to help renters and homeowners with financial assistance.

Feltes: Right now, thousands of Granite Staters are facing mounting bills with no source of income. That paired with Sununu’s refusal to continue the eviction moratorium and his veto of modest housing protections for tenants and homeowners has already led to a spike in evictions. We must address housing for those struggling due to COVID-19 by providing conditional relief to landlords, direct support for homeowners facing foreclosure, expanding rental assistance, and immediately expanding the affordable housing fund. Landlords and tenants both lose when apartments are vacant.

Infrastructure

Tell us your plan to improve infrastructure and what should be the top priority: roads, rail, broadband, the grid or another concern?

Sununu: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the paramount need for online connectivity as many schools learn remotely and employees work from home, which is why I committed nearly $14 million to finish the last mile of broadband connectivity, helping thousands of properties across the state gain access to broadband. We returned over $60 million to cities and towns for road maintenance, bridge repairs and safe school infrastructure, and allowed legislation to move forward that would study the feasibility of commuter rail in New Hampshire.

Feltes: We need to get out of the economic crisis in a way that puts working families and small businesses first. Right now, the gaps in access to broadband are glaring as students learn remotely and workers telework.

We must invest in expanding high-speed internet to all corners of our state, advancing through public-private partnerships, enabled flexibility and coordination at the local level, and real state support. We need to finally move forward on commuter rail, and we must finally address the red-listed bridges in our state. We must also continue the grid modernization efforts underway at the Public Utilities Commission.

Healthcare

 What have you done and will you do to lower healthcare costs for businesses?

Sununu: As governor, I signed legislation into state law to ensure those with preexisting conditions are protected, reauthorized bipartisan Medicaid expansion that ensured 50,000 low-income Granite Staters could keep their healthcare, directed our Department of Justice to defend the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court, secured a 1332 waiver from the federal government that lowered the cost of premiums, and continue to support Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs). I will continue to fight to lower health care costs on employees and employers.

Feltes: Even prior to COVID, New Hampshire had the highest healthcare costs in the country. I helped to achieve bipartisan workers’ compensation reform, reducing costs, removed costly prior authorization hurdles from health insurance companies, and led the effort on association health plans, including requiring a 1332 waiver to help reduce costs in the individual market.

More generally, we must prioritize preventative care, as the most expensive way to deliver health care is in the emergency room, driving up costs on everyone. In doing so, we must finally pass paid family and medical leave insurance so Granite Staters can take the time they need to get healthy, we must pass Medicaid adult dental benefit, and we must get serious on the opioid crisis with actual expanded treatment capacity, not simply this intake and referral program Sununu brags about.

We must also make Medicaid expansion permanent. As the lead Democratic negotiator on Medicaid expansion, I can tell you that providers on the ground need certainty — and certainty means savings.

Finally, we must continue to reduce prescription drug costs. I led the effort to import safe, low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and to cap out-of-pocket insulin costs at $30 per month.

Energy

What specific measures would you support or oppose to lower the economic and environmental costs of energy?

Sununu: I believe our energy policy should focus on lowering the cost of electric rates on New Hampshire families and will never support legislation that raises rates on seniors and those on fixed incomes. I supported and signed legislation that expanded access to net metering while still protecting ratepayers, banned offshore gas and oil drilling off New Hampshire’s pristine coastline, and signed an executive order to prepare New Hampshire for the development of offshore wind. I continue to believe that any net-metering legislation should place a priority on low income families and seniors on fixed incomes, not big developers looking to line their pockets.

Feltes: Chris Sununu opposes net metering — his brother recently challenged net metering nationwide (unsuccessfully), and Sununu vetoed three net metering bills. All three were bipartisan compromises that would have unlocked the small business potential in clean energy right here in New Hampshire.

And while Chris Sununu has vetoed over a dozen clean energy initiatives, mostly bipartisan, the clean energy initiatives that did make it through were my bills, including community solar and community power/aggregation. As a leader on clean energy in Concord, I understand that we do not have to choose between the interests of ratepayers, our local economy and the environment.

Instead, we advance all three by making New Hampshire a leader in solar, offshore wind, battery storage and energy efficiency, while adding thousands of new middle-class jobs and reducing energy bills for all.

The biggest driver of energy bills is regional transmission costs, which are driven by New Hampshire’s peak demand relative to surrounding states, and because we have not shaved our peak demand through common-sense measures like solar, offshore wind, battery storage and energy efficiency, surrounding states are eating our lunch on rates. In short, Sununu’s vetoes have increased your rates — period. As governor, I will act swiftly to declare New Hampshire’s clean tech economy open for business.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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