LACONIA — Republican state Rep. Peter Spanos wants the nonpartisan job of being the city’s next mayor, but he’s not above leveling partisan criticism of Democrats for their actions in Concord this year.
He also defends the way the state has downshifted costs to municipalities, even though city leaders complain the state has not lived up to revenue-sharing promises.
In an interview Tuesday at The Laconia Daily Sun, Spanos reiterated his interest in becoming mayor, 10 months after he first publicly announced he wants the job.
Mayor Ed Engler is not seeking re-election. The new mayor will be elected in November.
In December, Spanos sought support from his colleagues to be named chairman of the Belknap County Legislative Delegation, but representatives instead selected Republican Rep. Mike Sylvia, 9-7.
Spanos defends Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget, which contains a smorgasbord of items for communities across the state, including $3.8 million for Laconia projects.
Many of those items have not met with approval from the legislature’s Democratic majority. Rep. David Huot, D-Laconia, said some of the Republican governor’s promised spending was merely a political exercise.
Spanos said one of the Laconia items, $1.5 million for purchase and renovation of the bottom floor of the city’s downtown parking garage, deserves to be funded, even though the City Council has not yet decided what it intends to do with the garage, which has structural problems and leaks into stores in the privately owned ground floor.
“I hear complaints now when there are big events weekends, when it’s Bike Week, 4th of July week, Labor Day, obviously Pumpkin Fest, ‘Where do we park?’” Spanos said.
The top floor of the garage is off limits because of structural problems, and the money the governor promised would be sufficient to reopen that area, he said.
He said other money offered by the governor was also rejected, including funds for repair of the Weirs Beach boardwalk, refurbishment of a skate park and a higher level of support for the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission.
“The money was there, the surplus was there and the Democrats saw fit to pull that out and plug and play the money elsewhere in tax and spend programs,” Spanos said.
He said it behooves local officials to keep a close eye on Concord.
“There’s legislation going on every day in Concord, some of it is geared toward being more business friendly to cutting taxes to reducing regulations, some of it is not, some of it is decidedly anti-commerce, anti-business, higher taxes, more regulations, more burdens on small business,” he said.
“You can’t shrink government. That’s very hard. But you want to support legislators who want to at least keep it at the same size and not expand it.”
Mayor Engler said the state could best help municipalities if it restored to 35 percent its contribution to the New Hampshire Retirement System. That support has been reduced to zero.
Spanos said that reduction in support was done out of financial necessity.
City officials have also complained that the state does not share enough of the rooms and meals tax with local government.
Spanos said he believes city and towns are getting a “fair cut.”
Under state law, taxes on rooms and restaurant meals are supposed to be split between the state and the cities, with the state getting 60 percent and cities getting 40 percent.
But lawmakers suspended that formula, and municipalities have been getting only about 25 percent in recent years. A formula was set to allow cities and towns to “catch up” on some of that lost revenue, but that wasn't fully implemented either.
“The state was running out of money 10 years ago, as you’ll recall, and there were costs that were downshifted because of the recession of 2008 and 2009,” he said. “There were costs that were downshifted from the state to cities and towns out of financial necessity and barring a substantial surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars, I don’t think it’s realistic to reverse that equation.
“I think it’s important as mayor to fight for everything you can realistically get, but it’s also important to acknowledge that oftentimes what’s good for Concord and the state overall will also be good for the local cities and towns.”