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Budgeting Without The Pledge

When talking about the Democratic gubernatorial primary it’s almost impossible to NOT think about...the pledge.

Former state Senator Jackie Cilley is the first prominent candidate in a decade to say she’s willing to consider a new broad-based tax.

Her main opponent, former state Senator Maggie Hassan opposes a sales or income tax.

Given their very different starting points here's a look at how the two candidates would build the state’s next two-year budget.

Dan Gorenstein (DG): Why won’t Jackie Cilley do what so many other gubernatorial candidates before her have done...and just take the pledge?

There’s a story she likes to tell.

Cilley: “Barbara had lost her husband several years ago. And they had built a house together.”

DG: Cilley says the couple raised a family in that house, paid off the mortgage on that house.

But Barbara’s property taxes are through the roof.

Cilley: “She’s losing that home. And what she didn’t have to tell me but was so clearly etched in her face, was that when she loses that home, she will lose the last physical connection to the husband she lost. That’s the prototypical story of the burden of property taxes on our citizens.”

DG: One of the first things a new governor does - after getting sworn in – is build a budget.

It’s THE moment where governors lay out policy priorities, really their vision for the state.

Lately, governors have had to juggle calls for more government services against trying to find ways to not increase taxes...at all.

It’s an exercise that people around Concord often call reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But by being open to a new tax, Cilley is changing the rules of the game.

Cilley believes she can create a budget that expands government services over what’s available today...and enhance the state’s attractiveness to business.

But she doesn’t have a specific proposal to do it.

Cilley: “We can do this today if we are willing to take a look at everything and say, what’s the solution. Not what fits some political framework or some ideological framework.”

DG: Cilley won’t directly – with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – answer whether the state needs to increase taxes or fees.

Her primary opponent – former state Senator Maggie Hassan – is clear on that point.

Hassan: “I think we can fund our priorities within our current overall tax structure.”

DG: That’s a no to raising any new taxes.

Hassan’s budget ideas aren’t paradigm shifts like Cilley’s.

Her budget would possibly more closely resemble those submitted by Governor Lynch.

Hassan wants to roll back cuts made by current lawmakers, including $50 million dollars to the University System and money for mental health services.

Hassan: ”What I’m hearing from the healthcare community is that ER are becoming holding spaces for people who are in urgent need of professional, secure mental healthcare.”

DG: Hassan says there are ways to fund those measures.

Hassan: “You look at undoing some of the cuts this Legislature did. The cigarette tax cut. They laid off auditors in the Department of Revenue those revenues have also been down.”

DG: But even with an improved economy, it’s not clear that would be enough revenue for Hassan to accomplish all of her goals.

Steve Norton from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies says you have to take candidates statements with a grain of salt right now.

Norton: “At this point it’s very hard to assess where candidates would actually put their priorities because we are in a political season. And they aren’t constrained by the public policy constraints that a governing Governor actually experiences.”

DG: Norton says people who have never been governor can’t really know how they’ll build a budget.

He says only after sleepless nights, trying to balance competing interest between childcare subsidies, legal services for the poor and business tax cuts, will the person know their priorities.

Of course, by then, voters will find out too.

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