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Peterborough

State rep hopefuls have had their say

RiverMead debate centers on taxes

  • Peterborough State Representative candidates engaged in a debate at RiverMead on Tuesday.
  • Peterborough State Representative candidates engaged in a debate at RiverMead on Tuesday.
  • Peterborough State Representative candidates engaged in a debate at RiverMead on Tuesday.
  • Peterborough State Representative candidates engaged in a debate at RiverMead on Tuesday.
  • Peterborough State Representative candidates engaged in a debate at RiverMead on Tuesday.

PETERBOROUGH — Residents of RiverMead were given the opportunity to ask questions of the three candidates jockeying for the two open seats for Peterborough’s state representatives, with the gas tax, living wages and the state’s contribution to local education the top topics of discussion.

The debate, hosted by the RiverMead Residents Voters’ Information Committee, was not open to the public, but dozens of RiverMead residents turned out for the debate. All three candidates are running on the Democratic ballot. Peter Leishman is seeking reelection for an eighth term in the house, while Ivy Vann and Kath Allen are also on the ticket. Jill Shaffer Hammond, Peterborough’s second representative, decided not to seek reelection this year.

When asked their opinions on raising the gasoline tax in New Hampshire, the candidates had mixed opinions. Leishman said the gas tax, which is meant to be paid at the pump and then go towards fixing the state’s roads and bridges, is being diverted to other things by as much as 25 percent. The justification is that these things are tangentially connected to the welfare of the roads, such as paying for a state trooper to patrol the roads. “Before we look at an increase, we should look at where this money is being diverted,” he said. Leishman also pointed out that New Hampshire relies on a lot of tourism, and high gas prices, particularly at the borders, could be detrimental to that. Allen also expressed the opinion that the diversion needed to be put to an end.

Vann disagreed, saying she wasn’t sure the gas tax had been raised enough. If the diversion of funds was stopped, the state would still have to pay for those services. While she said she heard Leishman’s concerns about tourism, it makes sense that the people buying gas and, then presumably using the roads, pay for their upkeep, she said.

When asked about minimum wage, all three candidates indicated they would be in favor of a state minimum wage law, instead of going with the federal minimum wage. Allen said the state needs to have livable wages to keep people in the state. Leishman said he had voted for a recent minimum wage law in the House that had failed in the Senate, but that he would vote for it again if the issue is raised. Vann noted that when people don’t earn enough, they turn to local and state services for the necessities, such as food banks or food stamps. It makes more sense to require employers to provide a sufficient wage, than require that the state collectively fill that gap, she said.

When asked about their opinion on the funding for local education at the state level, Leishman said that education funding has been an ongoing debate in the House and Senate. There have been several attempts to eliminate all state funding, said Leishman. “It’s a constant battle to keep the money that’s already flowing, flowing,” he said. Leishman said he is in favor of the state continuing to make contributions to local education, and would continue to fight on the issue.

Vann said there is a sense in the state that there isn’t a collective responsibility to continue to fund education, and instead to leave it up to local governments. But that isn’t fair, she said.

Allen, who worked as a school administrator for 10 years, said there could be adjustments made to local schools, saying that money could be conserved by eliminating some of the layers of administration, so that more funds can be put towards what she referred to as the most important parts of education — the teachers and students.

New taxes and casinos

When asked about generating new revenue streams for education or other important social goods, Leishman said that this is another longstanding debate in the House and Senate. “The Republican party is against an income or sales tax. The Governor has been against an income tax,” he said. “That leaves us few options.”

Leishman said he had supported a bill that would have allowed the construction of a casino in Salem, which passed in the Senate and failed in the House by a single vote. “It looks to me like that’s the only realistic shot of bringing in new revenue,” said Leishman, pointing out that the state’s lotteries have brought in millions for the state, which have gone to fund education.

Vann said she didn’t have a clear answer to the question, but said she is leery of allowing casinos into the state. “It gives me a little bit of a queasy feeling to know so much of our education money is raised through gambling,” she said. Like Leishman, she doesn’t think a sales or income tax would be able to pass the House and Senate, but eventually it might be the only option. “We as citizens need to be able to say we’re willing to pay taxes for the things that we need,” she said.

Allen said that the state can’t simply go on creating new taxes without offsetting the increased burden for people in some way. A casino might bring jobs to the state, she said, but not the kinds of jobs that New Hampshire needs — livable wage jobs.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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