CONCORD — Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein today upped the ante on the traditional New Hampshire governor’s pledge to veto a sales or income tax.
Contending Gov. Maggie Hassan is spending the state toward a broadbased tax, despite having taken the anti-broadbased tax pledge twice now, Havenstein signed a “Pledge 2.0” that stating that not only would he oppose and veto a sales or income tax bill but he would also “oppose any policy that commits New Hampshire taxpayers to unfunded obligations.”
Hassan’s campaign immediately labeled the initiative by Havenstein a “media stunt.” In a Hassan campaign statement that followed the Havenstein event, Democratic former state Senate Finance Committee chairs Sylvia Larsen and Lou D’Allesandro said Hassan has delivered a balanced state budget without a broadbased tax and has protected the state from future by settling two lawsuits.
Havenstein, at a news conference, surrounded by more than a dozen Republican legislators, including Senate President Chuck Morse, said, “The pledge can’t be simply a political commitment. It can’t be simply a way of protecting yourself in politics.”
Hassan, he said, has shown that while she has opposed an income tax or sales tax as governor, her policies are spending the state toward such taxes.
“By committing New Hampshire taxpayers to unfunded obligations,” she is “ensuring that we will be spending to the point that exceeds our current revenue capability,” he said.
Havenstein pointed out that the Hassan’s first budget “was based on $80 million in revenue that was predicated on a casino that didn’t exist.” He said her version of Medicaid expansion would have obligated the state to $135 million in spending in future years.
He said the problem is exacerbated “anemic” economic growth of the state, at .9 percent.
“My commitment to the people of the state of New Hampshire is to make sure I don’t put anything in place in terms of policy that will obligate the state’s taxpayers to future spending obligations. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
Havenstein said it is “difficult to tell” the current status of the state budget because Hassan has not released revenue and spending figures. But he noted she imposed spending restraints during the summer. He said he has proposed a 2.5 percent overall spending cut but said it is difficult to say specifically where cuts should be made because of what he dubbed a “lack of transparency” by Hassan.
When Havenstein was asked for more details on where he believes Hassan has overspent, Senate President Morse stepped in to say that Hassan agreement to settle two lawsuits – regarding the Medicaid Enhancement Tax and for the mentally ill – “will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Morse said the MET settlement will cost the state $250,000 in the next budget suit, while the mental health suit, he said, “is going to cost the state $100 million.” He said she settled the suits with no discussion with lawmakers.
“We right now do not know where we stand on spending in the State of New Hampshire,” Morse said. “I honestly believe in 2015 we do have a $100 million problem.”
Larsen, defending Hassan, said that while the governor has opposed broadbased taxes, “At the same time, we managed to support investment in education, innovation and jobs to grow our economy,” said Larsen. “Governor Hassan has been a strong, tough, and responsible leader on the budget, working with both parties to achieve something that is almost unprecedented: unanimous budget support from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.”
“Because of her leadership in making both sides work together and her willingness to make the tough decisions, our state is in stronger fiscal condition than it was when Governor Hassan took office, our economy is growing, our unemployment is one of the lowest in the country, and poverty saw the second-largest decline in the nation. That is a solid, strong economic record.”
D’Allesandro said that by settling “costly lawsuits against the state, we have protected New Hampshire from huge costs down the road and we have protected our bond rating. The thing that really makes no sense is Mr. Havenstein’s proposal to blow a $90 million hole in the budget. I’d like to see him explain where he’s going to cut, especially when it comes to health care and public safety.”
New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said the fact that Morse “had to step in and throw a life-saver to Walt shows that there is no ‘there there’ with Walt.
“Just months ago he said the pledge was puffery but now it’s puffery 2.0,” Buckley said. “His record of losing 5,000 jobs and seeing the stock of SAIC going down 32 percent under his leadership – and he suddenly departed and too $20 million. Clearly Walt does not understand the basic tenets of how to run a government.”
He said the state Senate, led by Republicans, “helped draft and unanimously voted for the budget he’s complaining about. The irony is not lost.”
Republican candidates for governor have long tried to tie Democratic candidates to a sales or income tax. The last governor to propose such a tax was Jeanne Shaheen, in 2001, in the wake of the landmark Claremont school funding decision. Shaheen had taken the pledge in her first two terms in office, but did not do so when she ran for a third term.
Gov. John Lynch took in all four of his successful campaigns. In earlier years Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen proposed an income tax in 1992 and Mark Fernald did the same in 2002.
Hassan took the pledge in 2012 and has done so again this year.
Havenstein said he does not know whether Hassan desires an income or sales tax. He noted she did not take the pledge to oppose a broad based tax when she first ran for the state Senate in 2002, but changed her position when she ran successfully for the seat and for reelection in ensuing years.
He said her pledge was merely a political move, and said, “Frankly, her policies and her indications are that she want to increase spending that will take us in the direction of an income tax.”
He said that in the past decade, “We have had gimmick after gimmick after gimmick in terms of revenue producing actions. More than 100 fees and tax increases, little incremental increases, that all affect the pocketbook issues of the people of this state. They all impact us one way or another – in terms of how much we pay at the pump, how much we pay at the grocery store, impact us on how much we pay when we go the restaurant.
“And we’ve run out of those gimmicks. The spending profiles we’ve seen over the last decade, if they don’t get under control – and I see absolutely no indication that the Democrats will put them under control – will lead us to an income or sales tax.”
Havenstein said, “For someone to say, ‘this is the same message,’ it is a message of controlled spending, consistent with our ability to generate the appropriate revenue, and that’s always a fiscally responsible message.”
Former Gov. Steve Merrill and anti-tax activist Tom Thomson supported Havenstein in statements.
Thomson said the pledge, originated by his father, the late Gov. Meldrim Thomson, Jr., “has become used as a shield by Democrats who take it and then spend money we don’t have. The pledge was always as much about cutting spending as it was about cutting taxes, so Pledge 2.0 embodies the original intent which my father had to protect our New Hampshire values.”
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler said in a letter he and House Republicans back Havenstein’s pledge.
“Our state needs a strong leader who will stand up for taxpayers rather than constantly propose measures that will ask for more of their hard earned dollars,” Chandler wrote.