Thursday, GOP gubernatorial candidates Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith will square off in a televised debate. One of the biggest challenges that awaits the state’s new governor – building the next two year budget.
With only a modest economic forecast ahead, it will be difficult to find enough money to even fund the governor’s top policy priorities. So what agenda items would the two push for with limited resources?
Dan Gorenstein (DG): There’s a little secret in New Hampshire – that’s really....not so secret.
The governor in this state doesn’t have much power.
What other executive has to contend with 424 lawmakers...and don’t forget the Executive Council – the 5-person body that approves nominations and all contracts more than $5000.
So what can a governor do?
They can build budgets.
It’s through the budgets that voters get a feel for a candidate’s personality, philosophy and policy priorities.
Smith: “I’m running for governor to finally get stuff done.”
DG: Kevin Smith is a Republican activist from Litchfield.
More than his competitor Ovide Lamontagne, when it comes to budgetary matters, Smith is swinging for the fences.
When he says ‘getting stuff done’ he’s talking about his signature economic policy proposal - slashing business taxes.
Smith: “This is the time to restructure state government. This is the time to make state government work more effectively and work more efficiently.”
DG: Smith’s plan calls for steep business tax cuts over the next decade... reducing current state revenue by about $1 billion dollars.
He believes this would entice other businesses to relocate to the Granite State – ultimately replacing and perhaps increasing those losses.
But first, Smith has to get elected.
In the first two years, he says the tax cuts would create a $60 million dollar deficit.
How would he pay for that?
Smith: “I’m going to be looking for more efficiencies that we can find in state government. I know they are there. For instance, some states have combined agencies, their Labor Department and Employment Security Agency, that’s something we haven’t done yet.”
DG: Manchester attorney Ovide Lamontagne has his own way to trim business taxes.
His plan is, well, more conservative.
Lamontagne: “It’s called the ESE Plan, ESE. It’s on our website, ovide2012.com.”
DG: Lamontagne would lower the Business Profits Tax resulting in an estimated $20 - $30 million dollar shortfall in the first two years of the biennium.
The candidate says he won’t cut the tax – as much – if the state can’t afford to.
Lamontagne: “That’s part of the pay-go approach. You don’t just take a poke in the dark....you have to have some integrity with this process. So if I can’t find those spending reductions, we won’t be as aggressive as my plan is.”
DG: Some of those spending reductions could possibly come from the state’s largest agency – the Department of Health and Human Services.
Lamontagne says he’s heard from voters around the state who are concerned about the integrity of the social safety net.
Lamontagne: “Instances where EBT cards are used for purposes that go well beyond what ordinary citizens would go well beyond basic necessities.”
DG: Both Lamontagne and Smith say if elected they would like to roll back certain reductions from the current budget.
Lamontagne says returning money to the hospitals for charity care they provide is a top priority.
Smith says he’s worried about the state’s education system.
Smith: “We’re faced with a challenge now where tuition costs for in-state residents are becoming so high that we are pretty much on par with out-of-state schools. So I would like to see if we could restore some of the funding back to the University System.”
DG: If you combine Smith’s business tax plan and money for the University System – New Hampshire would face a $110 million dollar hole.
Smith isn’t only candidate who is maybe over-promising right now.
Everyone running for governor is laying out their vision – their wish list.
Steve Norton with the Center for Public Policy Studies says regardless of who wins, gravity trumps dreams.
Norton: “You have to take with some degree of salt, the candidates expressions of what they will or won’t do with the state budget. The constraints and opportunities they will face are often more about circumstances they find themselves in than it is their own ideology.”
DG: In other words, if either GOP candidate wins the corner office, but has to work with a Democratic legislature... business tax cuts won’t be terribly popular.