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Ayotte answers reader questions on Berlin stop

Senator Kelly Ayotte, right takes a minute to visit with Elaine Gamache, in accounting and Steve Griffin, president, at Isaacson Structural Steel in Berlin on Thursday. The stop was on the senator’s recent visit to Berlin to check in with her constituents. Melissa Grima. (click for larger version)
March 03, 2011
BERLIN — Senator Kelly Ayotte was in Berlin last week to check in with her constituents in her first post-election visit to the state's northernmost city.

In an interview at Isaacson Structural Steel, Ayotte took questions from Berlin Reporter and Coös County Democrat readers that were submitted via email and Facebook, and offered her views on the deficit, the federal prison, power lines, biomass, and a variety of other topics important to North Country citizens.

The overarching message from the senator is that tough choices need to be made to reduce the $14 trillion federal deficit. That does not mean, however, that local projects like the already-built federal prison should not open, she said.

Ayotte said it would be "absurd" to spend millions to build the prison and not staff it. "Otherwise it would be a waste of taxpayer money," she explained.

When asked if she would support using earmarks to ensure the prison staffing was funded, she was flatly opposed. "I don't support seeking earmarks," she said, noting instead that the funding should be done through the federal budget process. She added that the point was moot since there is a moratorium on earmarks in Congress, and the president has vowed to veto any bill that includes them.

Ayotte said she could best support efforts to open the prison by speaking with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and being an active participant in the federal budget process.

Energy issues came up numerous times, with questions from both sides of the county about domestic drilling, biomass plants and, of course, the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project.

The senator said that she is closely watching the international high-voltage Direct Current power line permitting process and has joined with Senator Jeanne Shaheen in calling for transparency and a close look at any possible conflicts of interest. In addition to the request for an additional scoping hearing, which was granted in Plymouth, Ayotte said she is also requesting one in Haverhill at the urging of constituents there who could be impacted by an alternate route. Making sure that the North Country residents are heard on this project is important, she said. Ayotte plans to carefully monitor the process and people's opinions as this project moves forward.

When asked about biomass and recent news that the state's smaller biomass facilities are struggling, Ayotte noted that the issue could be addressed at the federal level with a comprehensive energy policy. Part of that policy needs to pursue domestic resources as well as renewables, she said. If a comprehensive plan looks at all energy sources to reduce dependence on foreign oil, it would need to ensure that biomass was part of the picture, Ayotte explained. The tax code could also use a look, to see how renewable energy producers are treated.

In a related question about domestic fossil fuels, Ayotte said she supports lifting the ban on domestic drilling. She agrees that it was important to scrutinize the practices and events that led to the Gulf of Mexico Spill, but added that it is now time to look at issuing permits that could help explore domestic oil and natural gas resources in an environmentally friendly way.

She believes that others in the Senate share her opinion and that it only makes sense to explore what we have, given the skyrocketing costs of oil. "What other country wouldn't access their own supply?" she asked.

When asked about jobs, a hot topic in the county with the state's highest unemployment rate, Ayotte said her committee appointments put her in a unique position to help with job creation. She sits on the Small Business Committee and the Commerce Committee. Since 96 percent of New Hampshire businesses are small businesses, she hopes to use her position to make it easier for people to start and expand small businesses. She believes it is important to re-authorize the Small Business Innovation Research grant program, which allows new research and development grants for technology companies.

On the Commerce Committee, the senator explained, she has a policy stake in telecommunications, technology and Internet concerns. She noted that the North Country still needs broadband and she will continue to look for opportunities to expand access in rural areas, allowing businesses to locate here and people to potentially work from home.

Ayotte added her own timely point to the question-and-answer session, noting that in addition to the topics covered, she'd like to see the tax code reformed. The tax code could be much simpler without the "special-interest loop-holes" that it currently holds. She also is in favor of lower corporate tax rates and lower taxes in general that could make it easier for businesses to invest. Ayotte added that she is in favor of small businesses receiving permanent write-offs for depreciation and a research and development tax credit.

When asked about the President's bi-partisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Ayotte called it a "good starting point," and explained her view that getting the nation's fiscal house in order needs to be the number one priority. She said that she is sponsoring a balanced budget amendment that she described as a Gramm-Rudman bill "with teeth." (The Gramm-Rudman bill was officially known as the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.)

She said that since the country is operating without a budget, we need to sit down and prioritize, to make choices and have a responsible budget, much like anyone else would have to do.

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