Gatsas says state should pay its fair share of retirement costs

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    Ted Gatsas talks about New Hampshire retirement costs, the opioid crisis and education funding at the "Monitor" editorial board meeting Monday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/2/2016 2:54:45 AM

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ted Gatsas is all about fiscal responsibility. But with the recent downshifting of costs from state government onto cities and towns, the Manchester mayor said he’d like the state to pay its fair share.

“Doing city budgets, I’m certainly one of those folks that has had to look at what the downshifting with Concord is,” he said in a Monitor editorial board meeting Monday.

Gatsas said he’d like to see more state money go to municipalities to cover retirement costs. In 2011, the state stopped paying its share of retirement contributions for teachers, police and firefighters, leaving an additional $125 million to be paid by cities and towns.

Gatsas said Manchester and other communities are tied to the state retirement system, even though the state no longer contributes anything to it.

“There’s no question that I would veto any budget that downshifts to the local communities,” Gatsas said. “I would think that maybe the state would take a look at it and come back with some funding to local communities to fund retirement.”

Gatsas said he thinks municipalities would like to see the state’s retirement system contribution returned to its original 40 percent, but “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

With stints in the private sector and the state Senate, the Manchester mayor is fond of saying he’s the only gubernatorial candidate with business, legislative and executive experience.

On Monday, Gatsas outlined key issues in his vision for the state, including expanding school choice and increasing the number of vocational and trade schools in the state, putting in harsher penalties for fentanyl dealers and rolling back business taxes.

He often cites changes he’s implemented in Manchester – the state’s largest city – as examples of what he would do as governor.

When it comes to education, Gatsas’s plan calls for traditionally Republican measures like expanding school choice, expanding funding for charter schools and getting rid of Common Core.

But his plan also includes measures popular with Democratic candidates, including a plan to expand full-day kindergarten statewide.

Gatsas said as governor, he would not issue a mandate that towns and cities have to implement a full-day program, but would instead “encourage” all communities to do so.

“The most obvious barrier is funding,” Gatsas said in his education plan. “To encourage districts to adopt full-day kindergarten I will work with the legislature to adjust the education funding formulas to count each kindergarten student in a public full-day program to be reimbursed at the full-day rate.”

Gatsas’s plan does not expand on how he would pay for that increase if adopted.

“Maybe it’s time that we have a constitutional amendment for educational funding and say, ‘Let’s base it on need,’ ” Gatsas said during the editorial board meeting.

When it comes to the state’s business taxes, Gatsas said he would like to see the Business Profits Tax and the Business Enterprise Tax either rolled back or cut altogether.

Gatsas called them stifling for small and new businesses.

“I don’t have a problem supporting a reduction,” he said, adding that he would support eliminating the taxes if that meant more businesses would come to the state.

Manchester has been on the front lines of the state’s opioid crisis, and Gatsas is vocal about the need to expand treatment and recovery centers in the state.

However, he’s also adamant that New Hampshire needs harsher penalties for fentanyl dealers. Fentanyl is a drug 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, and it has been blamed for the sharp increase in the state’s drug deaths.

He is proposing that dealers who sell fentanyl be charged with attempted murder, and if the fentanyl kills someone, that dealer would serve a life sentence without parole.

“If you just killed my son or daughter, I think it should be lifetime,” Gatsas said, adding that he was talking about organized dealers rather than small-time ones selling drugs to support their own habit. “They have to be tougher so you find a place other than the state of New Hampshire to deal drugs.”

Gatsas does not agree with decriminalizing marijuana, calling it a “gateway drug” for heroin.

However, Gatsas does not think the same label can be put on alcohol.

“I don’t see that as a gateway drug to heroin or fentanyl,” he said. “Probably you and I could sit down at a table and drink an awful lot of beers, and one of us is going to pass out, but we’re not going to die from it.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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