Candidates discuss challenges facing state

WILTON – The biggest challenge facing the state legislature is creating more jobs. The legislature doesn’t create jobs, but can do a lot to create the environment that will invite business to move into the state.

That was the general agreement among the five candidates for the state legislature who met Tuesday at the town hall. Three other candidates for seats in districts 4 and 38 provided statements.

The forum was sponsored by the Lions Club and moderated by Town Moderator Bill Keefe. About 40 people attended the 90 minute session.

Candidates taking part in the forum included Democrats Kermit Williams, Carol Roberts, Richard McNamara, and Steven Hahn and Republican Frank Edelblut. Statements were read from Republicans Katie Schwanke, Donnie Sawain and Jim Kofalt.

Williams, from Wilton, was seeking a second term. He said his focus is on education, energy supplies, and infrastructure, “what will bring business to New Hampshire.”

Roberts, the town’s former award-winning librarian, was a first-time candidate. She has lived in Wilton since 1993 and has a background in finance and planning

McNamara was seeking reelection. He has a background in insurance and health care, was a high school chemistry teacher, worked at a health care clinic and has lived in Hillsboro for 14 years. His main interest is public education.

Edelblut, a Wilton resident, is an accountant, a CPA formerly with Price-Waterhouse, and now owns his own company. His focus is on finances and the need for “better cooperation between government, schools and business.”

They all agreed that the legislative focus has to be on education at all levels, on keeping young people in the state, and attracting new business. Also important are upgrading the infrastructure, including high speed internet, reforming the welfare system in order to help those in need, and reforming health case.

They agreed New Hampshire’s problem is one of revenue and the tax structure has to be addressed.

In answer to questions from the audience, all but Edelblut agreed that voter fraud is not a problem and that the voter ID law is inconvenient for many people. McNamara said there were no documented cases in the state.

Edelblut disagreed, noted voting by illegal immigrants, and said voting was a valuable right. “If you value something, you should protect it.”

All the candidates agreed we still have “The New Hampshire Advantage,” but that “we are losing it.”

Edelblut said, “We are still the most desired place to live, but we are losing it, making it difficult to attract business.” One of the problems, he said, “is high utility rates.”

McNamara said companies are finding it hard to find educated employees. “We need to spend more money on tech schools,” and also need to upgrade the infrastructure.

Hahn said New Hampshire still has a high quality of life, “but we need to invest in education. We also need to invest in mental health.”

Roberts agreed on the need to support technical education. “Business needs a young educated work force.”

Williams said, “New Hampshire is now one of the oldest states (in age of residents). Companies need workers. Workers need training. There are a lot of connection issues” between schools and business.

Asked about a sales or income tax, all agreed that one is “probably needed, but it won’t happen.”

They agreed that there is too much reliance on property taxes. Retired people are finding it hard.

Williams suggested a “small limited sales tax dedicated to reducing property taxes.”

Roberts said a sales tax “is the fair way.”

McNamara said he was not interested in raising taxes. “We have to rethink the whole tax situation.”

Hahn said, “We need (a broad-based tax), but we won’t get one. The property tax is out of sync.”

Edelblut said the problem is the size of the government. There is too much reliance on the property tax. Government, under the constitution, has to provide certain services, “but how big do you want government to get?”