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With focus on N.H.'s housing crunch, Sununu lays out priorities for coming year

Gov. Chris Sununu delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the N.H. Legislature at a Manchester convention center, Feb. 17, 2022.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the N.H. Legislature at a Manchester convention center, Feb. 17, 2022.

Gov. Chris Sununu used his State of the State address Thursday to tout his accomplishments over the past two years and lay out priorities for the months ahead, identifying the state’s housing crunch as a challenge needing immediate attention.

In remarks before a joint session of the New Hampshire Legislature, meeting at a Manchester convention center because of COVID-19 protocols, Sununu repeatedly described the state as the “gold standard” on numerous fronts: its approach to COVID-19, the economy, law enforcement and energy policy.

“We didn’t get here by accident,” Sununu said. “We did it through smart management, prioritizing individuals over government, citizens over systems, and delivering results with the immense responsibility of properly managing our citizens’ tax dollars.”

Sununu’s remarks were largely retrospective, ticking through what he considered the highlights of the past year, but he did lay out a handful of new proposals. The most significant was a call to create a $100 million program, funded by federal money, to boost housing construction across the state.

Sununu said a shortage of affordable housing was one of the biggest challenges facing New Hampshire and that government investment was necessary to fix it.

As presented, the new program would devote $60 million to fund developers who already have multifamily housing projects underway. He also proposed incentives to encourage cities and towns to approve new housing projects more quickly, and devoting money to pay for the demolition of dilapidated buildings.

“These investments are critical to ensuring New Hampshire is the number one destination in New England,” Sununu said. “This housing is for workers and families who work in our communities, go to our schools, and contribute to our economy.”

The money for these incentives would come from the American Rescue Plan, one of the major coronavirus relief bills passed by Congress during the pandemic.

Tax policy also got plenty of attention from Sununu. He credited tax reductions with stimulating the state's economy and filling New Hampshire's rainy day fund. He said this has allowed the state to "download cash" to communities in the form of increased local aid, and said cities and towns should be cutting their tax rates as a result.

"If your town is not lowering their property taxes, town meeting is like a month away, right,” Sununu said. “Go to town meeting, fight for it, because your towns have an unprecedented amount of money, unprecedented amount of opportunity."

Near the close of his remarks, Sununu urged lawmakers to reject what he called “extreme” and “radical elements” in society. Sununu didn't name names or even identify issues where he's seen extremism influence State House debates but was pointed when he told lawmakers that the public didn't elect them "just to be political ideologues."

“And if you are here to get attention over the fights that frankly get us nowhere, I don't think any of us has any patience for that,” Sununu said. “And I have never, and I will never, let our process and our opportunity be hijacked by radical elements on either side of the aisle."

While Sununu cast blame at members of both parties, many of the more radical ideas in Concord these days – including bills to limit the government’s ability to require vaccines or masks, and numerous election law bills motivated by unfounded doubts about the 2020 election – are originating within the Republican caucus. Many of them are being pushed by activists driven by conspiracy and disinformation.

Sununu himself has been the target of protests from anti-vaccine activists, who have picketed outside his house and disrupted Executive Council meetings.

Sununu criticized the federal government multiple times for its partisan gridlock, while also touting accomplishments or proposals – like his $100 million housing initiative – that rely partly or solely on federal money.

“At the end of the day, that’s where it all gets bogged up," he said, describing the national capital. "We know that. That’s no secret. Right? And unlike Washington D.C., when we say we are going to do something, we do it.”

Near the end of his speech, a member of the Legislature in attendance required medical attention, forcing Sununu to conclude his remarks. The lawmaker, Rep. Ralph Boehm of Litchfield, fell from his chair and struck his head. He was taken to Catholic Medical Center, where he was reported to be in good condition.

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