Lynch, Gatsas, Scamman field questions from business

Gov. John Lynch, Senate President Ted Gatsas and House Speaker Doug Scamman outlined their competing legislative goals before 200 small-business leaders Wednesday, fielding tough questions on topics ranging from education to smoking in restaurants.

Lynch, echoing themes he touched on in his State of the State address, said the needs a jobs cabinet, government fiscal restraint, better control of energy costs, a smoother way of doing business with the state, and more sophisticated infrastructure to help businesses compete.

He also praised lawmakers for passing small group insurance reform last year and called for a research & development credit against the business profits tax.

He also told the businesspeople that keeping teenagers in school until age 18 will help the economy because dropouts are doomed to low-income careers.

Gatsas said the new education-funding formula gives industry some tax stability, but high heating and electrical costs threaten the economy.

He urged local control of illegal immigration if the feds fail to deal with it, but encouraged people to come here lawfully.

“I’m the second generation of legal immigrants,” Gatsas said, “and we need to open doors for them to the American dream.”

Scamman called his listeners the driving force in the state’s economy. He acknowledged the Business & Industry Association – which put together the event — backs the proposed R&D credit, but said reducing the business enterprise tax might help small businesses more.

The House leader called for better control of health insurance costs, passage of the child predator act, and local policies to spur construction of affordable housing for workers.

Richard Ball of Cartoonist in Milford said education should be the building block of society, but the public schools are too disruptive.

“It’s already hard to learn or teach,” he told Lynch. “Don’t keep students who are discipline problems.”

Lynch said the age 16 limit dates to 1903, when a 10th-grader could still work at a factory or farm.

“I envision night school, internships, apprenticeships, vocational schools and alternative schools for them,” the governor said. “Without a diploma, even the military won’t take them.”

Scamman and Gatsas praised charter schools in their districts that reach kids who might leave school early.

“Putting glue on a kids’ pants won’t make them learn,” Gatsas said. “If they want to leave, you’ll need a truant officer for every student.”

Henry Ahern, owner of the Bonnie Brae deer farm in Plymouth, urged the three policymakers to save the family farm.

“Open space is vital to the tourist industry. It could become houses,” Ahern said. “Open fields need no police and fire services.”

Scamman said he’s been a dairy farmer all his life, a hard business, but the current use tax shelter helps.

“Farmers are borrowing long term to cover their short-term loans,” Lynch said. “We need to encourage conservation easements by funding LCHIP (the Land and Conservation Heritage Investment Trust) better.”

Gatsas said he grew up on a pig farm. The construction of Interstate 93 took it out.

“It was a treat for my friends to visit our farm on Saturdays,” he said.

Nancy Clark of the Glen Group in North Conway suggested rewarding businesses for helping people relocate here. Lynch said it will take state/local and private/public partnerships to tackle the underlying need to bring housing costs down.

“A lot of towns are unwilling to encourage affordable housing,” he explained.

Carol Huber, president of the Newfound Area Chamber of Commerce, asked the trio if they support a proposed ban on smoking in restaurants (House Bill 1177).

“I’m 100 percent against it,” she said. “Restaurant owners are adults. Nonsmokers are free to stay away from places that allow it. If this bill passes you might as well remove ‘Live free or die’ from license plates.”

Scamman said he could live with the legislation. “I’ve seen enough cancer,” he said.

Lynch said he’d follow the bill and hear the arguments before making up his mind.

“You took the difficult position on that one,” joked Gatsas, who last fall announced his opposition to a smoking ban. – CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS SERVICE

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