Taxes, abortion, vouchers among issues in state Senate District 10 race

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    Democrat Donovan Fenton, left, and Republican Sylvester "Sly" Karasinski are running for the state Senate in District 10. —COURTESY PHOTO

Keene Sentinel
Published: 10/4/2022 11:01:16 AM
Modified: 10/4/2022 10:56:59 AM

Issues of taxation, school vouchers and abortion separate Democratic state Rep. Donovan Fenton of Keene and Republican Swanzey Selectman Sylvester “Sly” Karasinski, who will face each other in the Nov. 8 general election for state Senate District 10, which includes Dublin, Hancock and Peterborough.

They are vying to succeed Jay Kahn, D-Keene, who opted not to seek a fourth term as senator.

Karasinski, 58, defeated Keene radio host Ian Freeman in the Sept. 13 GOP primary, 2,268-1,253. In a letter to the editor published in The Sentinel on Sept. 17, Karasinski thanked voters and said they would have “a clear and distinct choice on the Nov. 8 ballot” -- “Do you want to send more of your money to Concord with a Fenton income and sales tax?”

In an interview Monday, Fenton, 33, said this mischaracterizes his position and he isn’t proposing any new, broad-based taxes. Instead, he said he is focused on reducing the Granite State’s property tax burden, which is among the highest in the nation.

Fenton, vice president of Fenton Family Dealerships in Swanzey, defeated Keene City Councilor Bobby Williams, 4,525-2,250, in the Democratic primary. He has a young family and has campaigned on the need to improve the availability and reduce the cost of child care in New Hampshire, while boosting the housing supply.

He said state budget surpluses aren’t being used sufficiently to reduce local property taxes.

“Under Republican leadership in New Hampshire, we have the fourth-highest property tax rate in the country,” Fenton said. “I’ve not seen a plan from that side to provide property tax relief to Granite Staters.”

Meanwhile, GOP-led efforts to reduce the interest and dividend tax and the business profits tax tend to help higher-income earners and companies, while not doing much to help the average taxpayer, he said.

Karasinski, who is superintendent of the North Swanzey Water & Fire Precinct, has campaigned on the need to keep a tight rein on government spending. He also noted that New Hampshire is ranked as having the 16th-lowest overall tax burden in the nation. Even though property taxes are relatively high, the state has no across-the-board income or sales tax.

Efforts to reduce business taxes are helpful to the average Granite Stater because this makes the state more welcoming for companies — “So people can get a job and produce, and that’s good for the little guy,” he said.

Karasinski is a proponent of New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts, which provide grants to be used to pay some of a child’s expenses at a private school. They are billed as offering more choice to families who want their children out of public school but can’t afford private school tuition.

As of Sept. 9, the one-year-old program was serving 3,025 students, a majority of whom were already attending private school, according to the state Department of Education.

Opponents say money used for this program reduces funding for public schools, while backers say any such reductions are offset by cost declines that occur when public school enrollment decreases.

“It’s a win-win,” Karasinski said. “The child is able to get the educational choice they wanted and needed.”

He doesn’t see the fact that many using the program were already in private schools as a problem.

“It’s filling a need,” Karasinski said. “Who is to say those people weren’t suffering financially for getting their child into a private school or getting the best education that child deserved? Just because they are trailblazers doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get the same benefit.”

Opponents of the program say that even though a school’s expenses can go down when a child switches to a private school, many of its overhead costs don’t change. Fenton is one of those opponents, and said the state struggles to adequately fund public education as it is.

“And yet we provide millions of dollars for private schools and religious schools when that money could be going to public education and supporting our teachers,” Fenton said. “If you want to send your children to private school, that’s certainly your choice. No one is telling you where to send your children. However, public dollars should not go to private schools or religious schools for that matter.”

On abortion, Fenton opposes legislation passed last year that prohibits most abortions in the state after 24 weeks of pregnancy. There are exceptions to save the life of the woman or for fetuses with fatal anomalies.

Extra emphasis was brought to the abortion issue in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned constitutional rights to the procedure.

“We cannot compromise on reproductive justice,” Fenton stated in a Sept. 15 Facebook post. “As your state senator, I will fight to overturn (Gov. Chris) Sununu’s abortion ban and codify reproductive rights in NH. There is no room for compromise on this issue.”

Karasinski, on the other hand, supports the 24-week standard and says there might be an opportunity to make it more restrictive.

“The next step is medical technology advances so more children can be saved out of the womb,” he said.

Such advances could ultimately warrant dropping the abortion restriction to 20 weeks, Karasinski said.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com or 603-355-8567.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 


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