Sununu: ‘New Hampshire is open for business’

In inaugural speech, governor calls for tax cuts, energy projects

Right to work, supporting Northern Pass, cutting business taxes and a three-month freeze on new regulations. Them’s fighting words, yet Gov. Chris Sununu intermingled them in his inaugural speech Thursday with platitudes about the need to work together after an ugly election cycle. On the other hand, he also promised that he would be blunt.

Sununu’s first substantive words were aimed at business. “When we talk about business, what are we going to do about business, not two or four years down the road, but five, 10?

He started by laying out the problems: workforce issues, and rising health care and energy costs. Even when he discussed social issues like education and substance abuse, it tied into the economy.

Substance abuse “infiltrates everything in society” including the workforce. Education should result in “kids are coming out of highs schools, community colleges, even the four-year schools with certifications and workforce-ready skills on day one.” One of his solutions is greater school choice, but that’s a proposal that likely won’t go over on the other side of the aisle.

Most of his speech was aimed at creating more jobs to fill, as opposed to finding qualified workers to fill them. He reiterated his pledge to visiting 100 out-of-state companies in 100 days to “entice” them to come to the state. He said he has already met with companies from Canada and China and our neighbors in Massachusetts and Vermont. He didn’t expect to get them all, but “you can’t catch any fish if you don’t go fishing.”

As bait, he hopes to cut some of the costs of doing business in the state.

He said he wants to continue reducing business taxes, which are already scheduled to go down. The business profits tax, for instance, is scheduled to drop to 7.9 percent, a tenth of a percent below Massachusetts, at the end of this year. So it wasn’t clear whether he meant that or proposals to cut it still further, including a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, to reduce the rate to 7.5 percent by July 2021. Others want to see even deeper and faster cuts, as well as various tax breaks, such as lifting the cap on the research and development tax credit.

Energy needs

Sununu also said he asked his commissioners to “take a little pause” on passing new regulations, pledging that “we are going to break down those burdensome regulations, and there are a lot of regulations in this state. For such a small state, it is unbelievable.”

Sununu spent the most time in his speech talking about energy, charging that the state has “disregarded our responsibility of lowering energy costs for individuals, the businesses. We know it. We see manufacturers leaving in part because of high energy costs.”

“Do we need more natural gas in New England? Sure we do. We know that.” But he added, “we aren’t going to let companies some in here and drop their plans on us any old way.”

As for Northern Pass, with its “1,100 megawatts of clean renewable energy. How do we say no to that when we have the highest rates in the country?”

But when it comes to renewable energy, “you have to design a portfolio that is meant for us. So when we are making choices on our renewable energy portfolio, we are looking at the economic and the environmental impacts. We are not just signing off on everything that comes to our desk.”

Sununu didn’t mention energy efficiency, despite the continuing debate over membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or the energy-efficiency standard, which is being promulgated by the Public Utilities Commission and could result in a small surcharge in electric bills.

Indeed, what might be telling were the topics Sununu didn’t mention. The only concrete proposal when it came to labor law was his strong endorsement for right to work, which would allow employees to opt out of paying union fees even while benefiting from the contract negotiated by the union. Since only 4 percent of the private workforce belongs to a union in New Hampshire, and most of them are in larger companies, right to work would affect an even tinier fraction of businesses. But advocates say it would attract more jobs to the state.

“We are going to give employees the flexibility in the workplace by passing right to work, and let’s tell these companies New Hampshire is open for business,” Sununu said.

Praise and criticism

Sununu didn’t say anything about paid family leave, which he said he would “absolutely” support during the campaign.

And despite talking about the high cost of health care, Sununu didn’t mention the looming issues of Medicaid expansion. The program now covers more than 50,000 people, but even under Obamacare, the federal government’s contribution was expected to drop from 95 percent to 90 percent in 2020. And President-elect Donald Trump and Republican supporters pledge to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as soon as possible, including eliminating all support for Medicaid expansion.

Instead, Sununu said he wanted to “increase competition on the insurance side and provide low-cost alternatives for individuals for independent groups and businesses. There are lots of options out there.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, while grateful for the rhetoric on bipartisanship, said he was disappointed that Sununu didn’t talk about Medicaid expansion and family-friendly legislation.

The Democratic Party, in an e-blast, was more blunt in an email entitled “Stop Sununu, charging that the new governor wanted to “make it harder for NH employees to earn a fair wage, by tilting the playing field in favor of big corporations; make it harder for our kids to get a great education by diverting money away from public schools toward private schools; “make it harder to advance renewable energy by slowing down investments in solar energy in favor of fossil fuels.”

However, the National Federation of Independent Business praised the speech, saying Sununu hit “all the right notes for small business,” including right to work and reducing government regulation. Americans For Prosperity praised his support for business tax cuts and the right to work.

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