Primary Crash Course: How Democratic Gov. Candidates Say They Would Rev-Up The Economy

Amanda Loder / StateImpact New Hampshire

Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan is pushing education funding as key to bolstering the state's economy.

Next week, New Hampshire voters will decide who gets to run for governor this November.  And despite the fact that most states would envy our 5.4 percent unemployment rate, jobs and the economy are the issues driving the primary elections. StateImpact lays out the similarities–and differences–between the plans of the leading Democratic candidates.

Q: What is each candidate proposing?

A: Broadly speaking, they’re very similar.  Of course, on some level that’s not surprising, considering Maggie Hassan and Jackie Cilley are both Democrats.  But unlike the Republican proposals, where you can pretty much go down the line and point out differences on how much they would cut various taxes or their stances on tax credits, it’s a tougher job to boil down their Democratic counterparts’ views at this point.

In a nutshell, though, based on their campaign materials, it seems that Hassan is more heavily emphasizing education funding for the future knowledge-based workforce.  And as the only candidate refusing to take the pledge against an income or sales tax, Cilley’s staked out the taxation (or revenue) reform position.   Although, again, the pledge aside, in a lot of ways, they’re hitting a lot of the same points.

Q: So what about the specifics?  What’s Hassan’s plan for boosting the state’s economy?

A: You don’t hear a lot of “We’re going to do this to bring jobs to New Hampshire next year!” chatter coming from the Democrats.  That in itself is interesting, because as we’ve heard before, New Hampshire’s relatively good economic position aside, national issues are affecting the state’s electorate.  But UNH political scientist Dante Scala notes that with a relatively low 5.4 percent unemployment rate, that’s not all that surprising.

So instead, what we’re hearing more of is a long-term approach mainly tied to enhancing math and science instruction in schools.  And also reversing the higher education cuts that the legislature recently passed.  Tied to that, Hassan wants to freeze tuition at public colleges, universities, and community colleges for two years.  She also wants to increase the number of lower-tuition slots for in-state students at these schools.  The philosophy guiding this policy is that more high-tech and high-paying businesses will come into New Hampshire if the state has a ready-made educated workforce

Of course, having taken the pledge, the obvious question is, how do you pay for all of this?  The way Hassan’s campaign explained it in an email is that she would repeal the legislature’s recent cigarette tax cut and rehire some of the state’s auditors who lost their jobs following budget cuts.  And, she supports establishing “one highly regulated, high-end casino in Southern New Hampshire.”

Q: And what about Jackie Cilley’s economic plan?

Chris Jensen / NHPR

Jackie Cilley says the state's economic "situation is fluid.

A: She’s a lot harder to pin down on specifics.  If you’re looking for a clean-cut set of proposals, like “I would raise funding for higher education $20 million,” you won’t find it.  Talking directly with Cilley the phrase that comes up over and over again is “the situation is fluid.”  She cites numerous lawsuits the state is facing over pensions and hospital taxes.  So there’s the potential for budget shortfalls depending on what the courts do.

Q: But every candidate would have to deal with the same set of circumstances if elected.  So more broadly speaking, what would Jackie Cilley do?

A: The way Cilley explained it in an interview with StateImpact, boosting the economy and creating jobs essentially depends on getting the state’s budget in order.  So her broad plan would be to cut inefficiencies from the state government—basically see how much the nickel-and-dime stuff would close shortfalls and pay for her key budget priorities: “education, transportation and communication infrastructure.”

After that, she says she would “bring stakeholders to the table” to figure out how to handle the rest.  She says “you have to have the authority to do so and say, ‘Let’s solve it, let’s solve it.’”  On this point, then, Cilley seems to be saying that she’s going to put specifics on hold until she wins the governorship. Then, she’ll have the authority to hold these kinds of conversations.  Right now, she says, making a lot of specific promises for economic growth given the current situation is “pandering.”

Democrat Bill Kennedy also recently entered the race.  You can learn more about his positions here.  And, if you’d like to see a breakdown of Republican economic proposals, you can read it here.


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