Sununu discusses taxes, energy with rotary club

HOLLIS – If U.S. Sen. John Sununu had been wearing a button Wednesday morning when he spoke to the Hollis/Brookline Rotary Club, it might have read, “Taxes Matter.”

“They really do affect how much income you’ll have for your family,” the incumbent Republican told a small audience of Rotarians, who, according to tradition, were wearing their official, pancake-size nametags.

During a half-hour talk, Sununu discussed taxes, including his reasons for opposing a capital gains tax. He also discussed health-care insurance and the federal government’s energy policy.

His views reflected what is commonly accepted as a conservative platform: no to taxes, including increased taxes on the wealthy; no to big government, including government-negotiated contracts with pharmaceutical companies rather than the current free-market model; and yes to protecting business interests, both large and small.

During a brief question-and-answer period at the end of the program, the senator took questions about the tax impact of President Bush’s Iraq policy, which Sununu has continued to support, and was asked why there is no government-negotiated prescription drug plan, since buying in quantity drives down prices. He was also asked about his views on the federal deficit.

Over and over again, the senator repeated his mantra: “Taxes matter.”

“The key is don’t raise taxes. The argument is, ‘Raise them only on the rich.’ But the owner of a small business is in that category,” Sununu said, adding that he opposes a raise in the capital gains tax for similar reasons.

In his anti-tax arguments, Sununu focused on small business, pointing out a chain of events he said begins with a tax increase levied on the employer, who in turn passes it on to the employee.

“Don’t make the situation worse by raising taxes in any of these areas,” Sununu said, observing that as an engineer who once worked for a small New Hampshire business, he understands what small business owners need to stay viable.

“The higher the taxes, the less there is to put into a business,” he said. “It affects the paycheck, health coverage.”

He said an example is legislation he introduced, and which was passed last year, to ban Internet access taxes, including taxes on e-mail.

Sununu said he also supports tax credits for alternative energy use: solar, wind, geothermal, and wood-burning systems.

In addition, Sununu, who faces a challenge for his seat in November from former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, said he favors increased competition in the health-insurance market, including a system that allows small businesses to negotiate prices as a group on a state and national level.

He said he also wants Americans who don’t receive health-care insurance through their jobs to have the chance to shop nationally for the best coverage at the lowest price.

“More choices, more competition, will bring down prices,” Sununu said.

In addition, Sununu said he favors greater access to health savings accounts – tax-free accounts companies can set up to help employees pay for routine medical care.

Sununu endorsed a “balanced energy policy,” a strategy for producing “more energy here at home” by lifting the federal ban on offshore drilling, he said.

“We use the best technology possible to protect the environment,” Sununu said. “Venezuela, Russia, Mexico don’t. We can do a better job, produce more in the United States, use less, balance the supply and demand.”

To that end, Sununu said he supported a 2007 bipartisan energy bill that increased fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

He also noted he was a co-sponsor of the Clean Energy Tax Stimulus Act, legislation that included his provision for a 10 percent tax credit on purchases of wood-pellet stoves.

Sununu said he has also supported legislation to increase federal funding for fuel assistance to low- and middle-income residents, was behind a federal law to preserve 35,000 acres of forest in the White Mountains and endorsed an amendment to the Patriot Act to protect privacy and civil liberties.

He concluded his talk with a subtle reference to the upcoming elections. The New Hampshire U.S. Senate election will take place Nov. 4, following the Sept. 9 primary.

“There’s nothing less sincere than a politician that says, ‘I’m with you on every single issue,’ ” Sununu said. “You can’t do that, but I certainly vote with New Hampshire in mind every single time, and I listen on every single issue.”