Sununu to Chamber: State of the state is ‘great’

NASHUA – Whatever one thinks of President Donald Trump, his administration’s tax cuts “helped New Hampshire put a lot of money” into state coffers, boosting businesses and Granite Staters alike, Gov. Chris Sununu said Tuesday during his annual State of the State address.

Hosted by the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, the breakfast event drew close to 200 members and guests, some of whom posed post-address questions after listening to Sununu tout the progress he said the state has made in growing, and improving, mental health and child advocacy programs while chipping away at the statewide opioid crisis.

Sununu’s first questioner, State Rep. Latha Mangipudi, a Democrat in her fourth term representing Nashua’s Ward 8, spoke not of spending, the budget or legislation, but of what she called a growing trend of fellow legislators “not listening” to her when she brings up certain issues for discussion.

“It’s getting worse … I have been harassed by (House minority) leadership for bringing up some things,” Mangipudi, a first-generation Indian-American who has lived in Nashua for 30 years, told Sununu.

“I am four things … I am a woman, I am brown, I’m a first-generation immigrant and I’m a very vocal public servant,” she said, factors that she feels have “become a hinderance for me … when it comes to advocating” for constituents, legislation or policy.

“That’s terrible if that is going on,” Sununu responded. “It has not been brought up to me, but if that’s happening, if you’re getting harassed by House members, you need to talk to the (House) speaker and the Senate president right away.”

The governor, noting that New Hampshire is a mainly “white state” except for parts of some cities like Nashua and Manchester, said when he was first elected governor three years ago the state Attorney General’s office had no civil rights division.

“So we created one, of course,” he said, telling listeners he’s been “proactive” ever since in rooting out discrimination. “We don’t have a (discrimination) crisis, but we do have problems,” Sununu said.

Moving onto the commuter rail issue, Sununu said he’s pleased the debate over whether to use $4 million in federal dollars for a feasibility study is now in the rear-view mirror.

At this point, bringing commuter rail to New Hampshire would cost about $300 million, and it would cost roughly $10 million to $12 million to keep it running, he said.

While many people in Greater Nashua, and Sununu himself, would support an initial step of bringing rail to Nashua as a sort of pilot program, Sununu said federal officials during the Obama administration “told us you have to go all the way to Concord, or not have it at all.”

Concord officials, Sununu said, aren’t interested in commuter rail, “but for Nashua, it could be an economic driver. I think people are more likely to live here if there’s commuter rail,” he said, adding that “Nashua is doing pretty well in creating affordable housing,” an example other cities, like Manchester, should follow.

The governor, who recently announced he’ll run for a third term rather than challenge U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for her seat, criticized Democratic lawmakers on some issues, among them the current discussion over paid family leave.

“The Democrats want to pay for it with a ‘premium on wages’ that everyone would have to pay,” he said, adding that “money out of your paycheck is an income tax, I don’t care what you call it.”

Instead, Sununu said, his plan, which is being offered to the roughly 10,000 state employees, would add another supplemental benefit to their plan that would give them paid family leave at a cost to the state of about $2 million.

The plan could then be offered to all Granite Staters, giving them the option to sign up for paid family leave at a nominal cost, or not sign up if they don’t want it.

A private insurance company would manage the program, he added.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DeanS.