By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The son of a New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff, and brother of a United States senator, Chris Sununu, when asked about his own budding political career, is apt to credit his mother.
Although he may choose to wear his political bloodlines lightly, in an election year in which an unprecedented presidential campaign has consumed the attention of voters, his surname has afforded him the highest name recognition of the four major candidates vying for the Republican nomination. An executive councilor serving his third term, Sununu prefers to emphasize his job as chief executive officer of Waterville Valley Resort as "the cornerstone of my campaign," adding, "We need a governor who has a job."
After graduating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in civil and environmental engineering, Sununu spent a decade designing systems to clean up hazardous waste sites and protect soil and groundwater from contamination. He was an owner and director of Sununu Enterprises, a family business engaged in strategic consulting, property development, technological investment and business acquisitions. In 2010, Sununu led a group of investors who acquired Waterville Valley Resort with plans to expand the resort, which have been slowed amid a recovering economy and warm winter.
Drawing on his experience managing a business with some 800 employees, both full-time and seasonal, Sununu lists the high costs of health care and energy, high rates of business taxation and burdens of state and local regulation as the most significant encumbrances on economic growth. As a business owner, he said he wrestles with all these issues virtually every day.
To address the number of young people leaving the state, Sununu proposes forgiving a share of student debt accrued by graduates of the University System of New Hampshire who enter professions where the shortage of skilled personnel is especially acute, including licensed nurses, clinical technicians and school teachers.
"They must have some material incentive," he said.
However, he said that New Hampshire should not introduce a state minimum wage, but continue to adhere to the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour. Any significant increase in the minimum wage, to say $10, let alone $15 per hour, he said, would cause all wages to rise, adding already high costs of doing business.
At the same time, Sununu favors investing in community colleges and technical schools to develop a more robust workforce as well as providing tax credits to businesses that sponsor job training programs, especially for recovering addicts.
Sununu said that the state must reconsider the mandates it imposes on health insurance carriers, which have driven companies from the market, which has become increasingly less competitive. He acknowledged that because mandates differ from state to state, health insurance cannot be readily sold at competitive prices across state lines, but suggested the New England states could form a regional market with greater competition and lower prices.
"I am a believer that anything can be done," he said.
He said that although the Medicaid expansion program requires fine tuning, including adjusting the eligibility requirements and incentives to seek employment, he would not leave the nearly 50,000 enrolled in the program without health insurance. That, he said, would place additional costs on providers, which would be reflected in higher premiums for others.
The epidemic of opiate addiction, Sununu claimed, "is an out of control problem. I have three children. I'm an interested party in this and I'm scared. Addiction itself is not the crime."
He called for aggressive prevention programs not only in the schools but also in the workplace , along with greater capacity for treatment of substance abuse and job training programs for those in recovery.
The state, Sununu stressed, must take the lead in pursuing projects to reduce the cost of energy. The Northern Pass project, he said flatly, "should happen. We need that power in the state." He said it is not feasible to bury the entire transmission line, which would add unreasonable costs to the project that would ultimately be born by ratepayers. Nor he said, when New Hampshire consumes 9 percent of the electricity from the regional grid, is it reasonable to expect 30 percent of the power from the project to be allocated to the state. Likewise, he said "We need more natural gas." He criticized Kinder-Morgan for the ham-handed way it went about building a pipeline.
"It's not the New Hampshire way and they should not have succeeded," he said, adding that "state government can help projects like that along."
"The state made promises it couldn't keep," said Sununu, referring to the withholding of revenue sharing and revenue from rooms and meals tax from cities and towns while transferring the state's share of contributions to the New Hampshire Retirement System to municipalities. He said that the impact of downshifting costs to local property taxpayers has its greatest impact on senior citizens a greater share with fixed incomes, the fastest growing segment of the population. Without committing to restoring the funding, he said, in a Sununu administration "promises made are promises kept."
Sununu pointed out that 31 states have Republican governors, all bent on trimming taxes and relaxing regulations to compete for business. "I'm a competitive guy," he remarked, "and it will take more than just our mountains and lakes."
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