Primary 2014: A Conversation With Gubernatorial Candidate Walt Havenstein

Aug 29, 2014

Walt Havenstein in NHPR's studios
Credit Brady Carlson/NHPR

We continue our conversations with Republicans running in the gubernatorial race with former BAE Systems CEO Walt Havenstein.

You've proposed as part of your jobs plan cutting business profit taxes by just over 1%. Given the shortfalls that we've seen in business tax revenue in this current budget, how confident can we be that revenue will offset those cuts?

Well, you can't always be exact but I'm very confident it will. But at the same time, as part of my budget proposal I'll be proposing 2.5% effeciency reductions across the state government.  That in and of itself will also contribute to offsetting the business profits tax reduction.

So 2.5% across every aspect of government?

Yeah, it will...we'll negotiate through the departments but my expectation is that we can achieve a 2.5% reduction when you look at it in total.

Now at the same time, going forward, the state is looking at some big changes. I'm thinking of the recent settlement over mental health care, there's been changes to the hospital tax and the operating costs for the women's prison which is still a few years down the road. But there are costs associated with that...are there ways to build those into the budget?

Well, there are ways to build those into the budget, but the best way to built it into future budgets is to get the economy going. So, one of the things in my economic development plan which I title 8.15.17/25,000 private sector jobs is making sure that as we look at any initiative that's coming to the governor from the legislature or from the administration, is we do a job impact assessment to make sure that we're focusing not just on the budget which we do now, but also focus on how any action is going to impact our ability to grow the economy.

With that kind of impact assessment are there any possible areas where, if the assessment came back "there's no job growth in this measure or there might even be jobs lost in that measure," that you might still say this is worthy going forward?

Sure, I think you take a balanced approach with a general direction of job growth, but you always have to consider the necessities at the time. 

Conversely are there any areas that may promise jobs such as expanded gambling that you would then oppose?

Yeah, I've opposed casino gambling, expanded gambling in that context, and the reason I've opposed it is that it's a market that's going the wrong way. If you look across the east coast of the United States, we see casino gambling's going under and becoming a tax burden on their states, whether it's New Jersey, Delaware, or Pennsylvania. And so from a strategic point of view, I've never been in favor of casino gambling as the cornerstone of economic development for our state.

Some of the economic forecasts that have been released lately say that whatever the business climate happens to be in New Hampshire, there are other factors like, say a lack of skilled workers going forward in the state that would pose a big challenge.  As governor you might be able to say to businesses that we have a better business climate or our tax rate may be lower than Massachusetts, but then Massachusetts could say "we've got M.I.T. or we've got the lifestyle in Boston that may appeal to young workers more so than in New Hampshire. How do you address those issues outside of what the state has to say about the business climate?

You got to do them in parallel, right? But you have to set where your priorities are going to be. My priorities are in the business climate, economic growth and job creation. But necessarily, we have to have an integrated approach that includes health care, includes energy, includes our education system, and how do we make our education system more a conduit to our employers.

I had to do that, frankly, when I came to Sanders fifteen years ago. We weren't getting the kind of engineers we needed out of UNH, and I went with my engineering lead Mike Hefferan and went over to UNH, met with Mary Hart [sic*], the president at the time, sat down, figured out what we could do in the curriculum in Durham that would be much more helpful for us at BAE Systems (Sanders at the time and then BAE Systems). We made some significant investments in the university. In a relatively short period of time we started interning more engineers and technical people from UNH and hiring them after their internships.

So, that model I know works, and it has to be integrated into the broader picture when it comes to economic development for our state.

This has been a bone of contention in some conservative circles to talk about where you stand on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Is that something you would move to repeal as governor?

I've always been against, and strongly against and sometimes outspoken against Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. I was before I was running for office and I still am. But the fact of the matter is we have a law, we have a law with regard to Medicaid expansion, and we have a law that would sunset in two and a half years, and that's problematic. And we need to face into that problem now, not wait two and half years and not do anything about it.

We've  had a lack of leadership into facing into problems like that. I'm going to face into it, work with the legislature that voted in and approved this current bill to find a solution, a long-term solution that we can afford.

On energy, you've said that we can't afford to keep picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Does that mean that an energy project like Northern Pass should then go forward?

I'm not in favor of the current proposal at it pertains to Northern Pass, but I think sometimes we ask the wrong question, "are you for or against Northern Pass." And I think the real question is, "what do we do to make Northern Pass or projects like Northern Pass work?" Cause clearly we have to bring lower cost energy, base electricity in this case, into our region, into the grid. That's good for New Hampshire, that's good for our citizens, anything that can reduce our rates, but do it in a balanced way and right now I don't think we have a balanced approach to that project, so I'm not in favor of it.But I would work hard to see that we got a balanced approach.

By the same token, I want to make sure that the rate-payers aren't paying for what I think is a normal business decision when it comes to expanding our gas capacity in the state, natural gas coming into the state, actually propane coming into the state, other forms of energy that are coming into the state. So I support initiatives that are market-based, have a favorable impact or overall rate structure, and frankly at the end of the day, give us greater diversity in energy or in fuel.  

Finally, assuming you win the primary and the general election, what do New Hampshire residents point to in two years and say, "This is where Walt Havenstein had a big impact as governor?"

What I hope they will see and what I expect them to see is a renewed business climate, a state government being the advocate for business growth and job creation.  A governor who's out selling the state of New Hampshire, we've recreated the New Hampshire Advantage, restated the New Hampshire Advantage economically, and jobs are on the rise at double the rate they are going today. And that those jobs are high-paying sustainable jobs, much like the environment that I saw in New Hampshire when I got here fifteen years ago. 

*The former UNH President is Ann Weaver Hart.

Listen to the radio version of our interview with Walt Havenstein, edited for time:

Listen to the full audio of our interview with Walt Havenstein: