Wolfeboro hosts lively debate for house and senate candidates
Full debate to be rebroadcast this weekend on WCTV
October 28, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Nine local candidates running for state senate and state representative seats faced a full house at the Wolfeboro Meet the Candidates night last Monday evening, Oct. 25.
Held in the Region 9 Vocational-Education Center, the forum featured District Three Senate candidates Jeb Bradley and Beverly Woods, along with District Four House of Representative candidates Chris Ahlgren, Gary Chehames, Louise Graham, David Knox, Betsy Patten, John White, and Steve Schmidt. The nine contenders sat among their constituents for a two-hour question and answer period.
In the State Senate race Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley and Democrat Beverly Woods saw eye-to-eye on very few issues.
Bradley is in favor of establishing targeted school aid as an option in order to equitably distribute education funding and raising the age of workers eligible for retirement in the public safety sector of the retirement system (tier two). He want to emphasize job creation and is opposed to legalizing medical marijuana.
"The reason that I'm so concerned in running again is that the business climate, while we are better than other states, is not good. We have among the worst corporate tax rate in the nation and because of the budget deficit that is going to be produced over the next two years, we're on the verge of a sales and an income tax. These will undermine our ability to grow jobs."
Of the opinion that New Hampshire is "at a tipping point in the direction of how we're going to go," Bradley wants to maintain the state's tradition of low taxes and limited government which he said have been threatened by the growth in spending that we've seen over the last two to four years as well as the new taxes that the state will see. As a former business owner Bradley said he could relate to how government and government policies affect small businesses and the state. He has led efforts to repeal the LLC tax (income tax on small business) as well as the camping tax because he said tourism is so important to our area.
"Are we going to take the route of the high taxes states with large budget problems… I say no," he said.
As a self-employed Wolfeboro resident Beverly Woods knows "full well what it means to patch together a living from everything that you can do, working one and two and three and four different jobs as so many people do here in Carroll County." Also concerned about the direction that the state is going in her opinion the best way of looking at the economic picture is to "build our strength form the grass roots up."
"I think that we desperately need to be working to build green economy here in Carroll County from the ground up," she said, using Ossipee Main Street Group as an example of the strengths offered through this method. As the secretary on the board of this group whose initiative was to revitalize Ossipee's economy Woods gained "a lot of training on how to attract and nurture small business" such as proposing the idea of "local currency," like the Ossipee Dollar used at farmers' markets throughout the town.
Woods spoke in favor of lowering the state's property tax reliance, the right to bare arms, legalizing medical marijuana, and a homestead exemption.
House District 4 Candidates
Most like-minded and sharing a lot of the same opinions were Republican State Representative incumbents Chris Ahlgren, David Knox, and Betsy Patten, who have all served on the House of Representatives for multiple terms now.
Knox, a Wolfeboro resident and retired public school teacher, said that constituent service is very important to him.
"Let me know how you feel and if you need help," he said, adding that he is very interested in learning of New Hampshire residents feel about legalized gambling and their opinions on balancing the budget without devastating the needy.
As a small business owner for 16 years now Ahlgren, who was initially drawn to public service after the tragedy of 9/11, said his purpose is much clearer now, citing eliminating the "outrages spending that's going on through the corner office," and resolving the school funding crisis as two of the most important problems the legislation currently faces. He is in favor of passing a constitutional amendment that will allow targeted aid and to change the formula that is designed to determine how much each school district gets for each child, as a means of doing so.
Patten used her intro to express her frustration at "the cycle of poverty New Hampshire has been getting into with the amount of spending and lack of revenue," over the last four years of her 16-year tenure.
"I believe we have a spending problem," she said. As a single working mom she can relate to the cycle of poverty and how to rise above it, and despite her feelings of discouragement she wants to go back to make a difference again.
"I want to give back to this state and help and work for the N.H. advantage," said Patten.
Newcomer Republican Steve Schmidt, and Democratic challengers Gary Chehames, John White, and Louise Graham each held their own throughout the debate.
Schmidt has been a resident of Carroll County since 2001. Retired after 35 years of working for Verizon, he's running for state rep. because he now has the time, the interest and the energy to do so.
"What I'm most concerned about is the fiscal state of our state," he said adding that the budget crisis, educational funding and the N.H. Advantage are of high priority.
Chehames, a retired resident of Tuftonboro, takes a "great deal of pride in the way we handle our local government."
"I feel we have a need for representatives in Concord who will represent without regard to party politics or political agendas," he said. "We need practical solutions to our problems in the district and we want information that's not distorted. I will do that in Concord."
Chehames promised that if he is elected, "you and I will have back and forth communication," and shared his intentions of holding community forums to inform residents on upcoming decisions and what's before the legislation in order to get local input.
A recently retired public school teacher, Louise Graham says her main concern is that the current tax structure is very selective, causing small businesses to get hit hard.
"The tax system in N.H. is unfair," said Graham, "property taxes are practically the only way for a town to get money."
It's Graham's hope that the state finally connects cash flow and income to the tax burden.
White said that "our problem in New Hampshire is not a big tax load, but is tax distribution and a lack of revenue."
"We have a functional deficit because we rely so heavily on real estate taxes," he said before explaining that 61.6 percent of the revenue in the state is real estate taxes.
"We spend it wisely," White continued, "we are 47th in per capita spending, we're frugal people. We're not throwing it away."
While he does agree that the state faces some budget shortfalls in the near future he said can't comprehend how it's been predicted in a budget we haven't even seen yet.
" There's nothing left to cut – that's not the answer," he said.
White proposes an income tax as a possible solution.
"I would propose two percent on individual incomes of $25,000 and household incomes of $40,000," he concluded. However he would exempt social security income from taxation.
When asked "Whose fault is it that the N.H. retirement system is under-funded and what do you propose to do to correct the problem?" Woods said she couldn't quite make a specific suggestion on ways to correctly reestablish funding for the system until "we actually get to the process of discovering what can be done and what parts are cast in stone." Bradley said that in addition to raising the age of eligible retirees in the public safety sector of the retirement system, the state should eliminate "spiking" (using overtime to raise an employees level of benefits). Chehames agreed with Bradley, but added that offering incentives for early retirement to cut down on payroll costs might be another way to save.
Knox and Ahlgren agreed that by eliminating spiking and raising the retirement age the problem could be righted while Patten suggested lessening the number of group two people who sit on the retirement board in Concord so that it would be less of a conflict of interest. Schmidt added that a number of things could be addressed, such as contribution levels and the age of service when an employee can collect a full pension.
Graham was of the opinion that while we can't go back and fix what wasn't done right, the state should fund the system the best it can with more income and change the rules for those still working. White took the opportunity to reiterate his proposed income tax as the solution. With an income tax we can do away with the state's real estate portion, giving everyone, rich and poor, a break in their real estate taxes and lessen the burden on the working class, he said.
When asked about school funding, Bradley responded, "The funding formula for education is irrational." He is in favor of targeted aid for education, retaining local control, and extending the "collar" on a short term basis to allow for more time. Ahlgren, Knox and Schmidt agreed.
Imposing an income tax was again the response from White.
Of a different opinion Patten said that White's plan would take away local control and with it the need for school boards and other local organizations that make decisions for the districts' school systems. She was instead in favor of redefining the definition of adequate education and implementing it.
To this Graham said that often with state funding, decisions are made at a local level, therefore instilling local control. Targeted aid is the only move that make sense, she concluded.
When asked how will you balance the budget, every candidate agreed there would need to be some "belt tightening," but just how much and to what extent that would be done varied. Graham and White were of the opinion that not much else could be cut from the budget and that there is no easy answer. Knox noted that one possible way to handle the budget is to consider the five percent departmental cuts.
Schmidt said there has been a 24 percent increase in state spending over the last two budget cycles, and there is definitely room to cut. A combination of the five percent cuts to be initiated by Governor Lynch, changing Medicaid to managed care rather than a fee basis, and contracting in state government to consolidate areas such as human resource departments would be a good start.
White and Woods both took the opportunity to explain that in actuality the state budget is really only up two percent, pointing out that the higher figure includes one-time money such as stimulus funding. Bradley took issue with this opinion, however, and said that stimulus money was still coming out of tax dollars.
When asked if the property tax is a fair way to raise revenue and whether they support an income tax, sales tax, higher business taxes and a state tax capital gain tax, Schmidt, Ahlgren, Patten, Knox and Bradley all said they would not support an income or sales tax and Chehames was not in favor of an income tax.
"Under both our overall tax burden is going to climb," said Bradley after Patten shared a similar opinion that the property tax is the best for N.H.
Property taxes are not connected to income, said Graham who added that as your income decreases our property taxes don't fluctuate, causing a negative effect on any community. She was also not in favor of a business tax, which she said are too selective and too high.
"An income tax for our district would be bad," said Ahlgren when explaining why he is against imposing an income tax. While it might help a community in the southern tier of the state, he said, it would not help us here.
"The problem with our tax system," White said, "is that it is antiquated and unfair. The N.H. advantage is an advantage for the wealthy – the higher your income the less of it you pay in taxes, the lower your income the more you pay and if you loss it you still pay because it is real estate based. Every other state I know does income taxes – that is the measure of wealth."
Woods stated that New Hampshire already does have a broad-based income tax, a fact that Chehames agreed on.
"Our business climate is doing better because we don't have a sale or income tax," added Bradley. By adopting a property tax cap a partial solution could be found.
When asked what specific program would they cut, Chehames said making program cuts would be fool-hardy because the economy is starting to turn. He said he did like the idea of looking at various support functions throughout the state and centralizing them as a means of cutting costs on purchasing, personnel, and the like.
On the other end of the spectrum Bradley stated that now is not the time for new programs. The best social program, he said, is a job. Creating jobs and allowing for department heads to make cuts at five percent is key to stabilizing the state of New Hampshire. White agreed that jobs are the answer. Finding ways to attract businesses to the area and by looking at an inventory of local resources would be one way to create local employment.
Ahlgren recommended changing Medicaid into a managed care program run by doctors and not the government, an opinion shared by Bradley as well.
Knox and Chehames agreed that asking department heads to make cuts in their budgets as needed to reconcile the loss of revenue through spending rather than cutting programs entirely would be a softer approach.
Patten suggested looking into voluntary state health savings accounts used for reducing health care insurance costs. She is also in favor of creating more competition for providers by allowing individuals to purchase health care in other states, an idea also favored by Bradley.
Woods said it would be even more beneficial to the state to expand groups such as the local Tamworth Community Nurses program, which through its efforts saves Medicaid and Medicare a lot of money.
While all the candidates are in favor of the N.H. Healthy Kids program, not all agreed on what could be done in regard to healthcare costs and health insurance for New Hampshire taxpayers.
At the end of the questioning period moderator Randy Walker posed several questions to the candidates to which they were allowed to simply respond with a "yes" or a "no".
To the first, "Are you in favor of legalizing gambling" Schmidt was the only candidate to answer in favor while Knox and Chehames replied with a "maybe" and White adamantly said "never". Graham replied that gambling is already legal, but she is not in favor of an expansion.
When asked if in favor of privatizing state liquor stores Knox was the only candidate to answer "maybe" while the rest were opposed to the idea.
All of the candidates support the second amendment and the right to bare arms. White, Graham, Chehames, and Woods agree with legalizing medical marijuana.
The full debate will be aired on Wolfeboro Community TV channel 25 Friday Oct. 29 at 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 30 at 4 a.m., 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., and again on Sunday, Oct. 31 beginning at 4 a.m.