New Hampshire's Virtual Town Hall
By Paul Briand
Give Jackie Cilley and Bill Kennedy props for one thing: The two Democratic candidates for governor had the guts to say no late last week to the “New Hampshire pledge.”
Now the question is whether declining the pledge means political banishment.
The pledge is almost an oath -- a prerequisite of sorts -- that you must give fealty to in order to become a viable candidate here. Or so it seems. The pledge simply states that you will never, ever (swear on a stack of Bibles) support a sales or income tax for the Granite State.
It is so ingrained in the granite-hard political landscape that it could be very well written into the state constitution.
Should both the House and Senate agree in the coming days, two proposed amendments having to do with taxes could be added to the state constitution.
Constitutional amendments are like commandments -- thou shalt hold to them, thou shalt not break them.
CACR 13 constitutionally prohibits the Legislature from enacting an income tax, while CACR 6 - constitutionally requires a supermajority vote of state lawmakers to increase a state tax or fee in the future.
At their first forum together last Thursday, the three Democratic candidates for governor - Maggie Hassan, along with Cilley and Kennedy -- talked about a variety of issues including the pledge.
See videos on a variety of issues discussed at the forum here.
Hassan is taking the pledge. "We have an economy structured around not having a sales or income tax, and we should be focused on growing that economy," said Hassan, who as a former Senate majority leader from Exeter was part of that political structure.
But Cilley, a former state senator from Barrington, and Kennedy, a military veteran, are keeping the pledge at arm’s length.
Indeed, Kennedy, who described himself as “probably the most progressive candidate,” is calling for a 4 percent flat rate income tax.
Cilley challenged the long-held notion of the pledge, noting it restrains flexibility, saying, "It's time to have a frank discussion with the citizens of this state and not be playing pledge politics.”
She followed that up with an op-ed piece in the Concord Monitor in which she wrote: “CACR 13 and CACR 6, linked together, fail to do anything to meet these needs to revitalize our economy and attract businesses to our state. They will significantly impede our ability to fund such priorities in the future.”
That a string of Democrats has held to the pledge over the years is so surprise, given the state’s Yankee spirit of frugality and flintiness when it comes to the public purse.
Indeed, Democratic Gov. John Lynch in his last state of the state address to the Legislature on Jan. 31 he noted: “I am proud that New Hampshire has among the lowest state taxes per capita in the nation. I have been and remain committed to vetoing an income or a sales tax.”
It was an applause line that earned him cheers from Republicans and Democrats alike.
It goes without saying that the two Republican candidates to succeed Lynch -- Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith -- are on board with the pledge.
The question is who will be the last Democrat standing among Hassan, Cilley and Kennedy come the September primary, and how much of a role will the pledge play when Democrats (and independent voters who take a Democratic ballot) go to the polls?
Cilley is right: It’s time to have a discussion about taxes, to talk about whether a steadfast commitment to no sales or income taxes is the correct path, the correct pledge to be taking these days.