Van Ostern says commuter rail key to economic growth
MANCHESTER — Restoring commuter rail is the first component of Democrat Colin Van Ostern’s economic plan, and it’s an issue the four major Republican candidates for governor have mostly panned.
Van Ostern insists there is room for bipartisan consensus in bringing passenger rail service to Nashua and Manchester as a way to expand New Hampshire’s workforce.
“I think there’s been consistent support for rail by both the public and business leaders and politicians have been slow to respond to that,” he said. “It’s one of the things that’s holding us back from the economic growth we could be having.”
GOP candidates Frank Edelblut, Jeanie Forrester and Chris Sununu have criticized efforts to pursue commuter rail. Ted Gatsas says he is not convinced commuter rail would benefit New Hampshire taxpayers, though he is open to studying potential benefits so long as it does not cost any taxpayer money.
Van Ostern, an executive councilor from Concord, points to a feasibility study that commuter rail would help New Hampshire companies create more than 5,600 jobs. According to his plan, the state could finance it for just $3 million to $4 million a year in state funds.
Two business people who endorsed Van Ostern on Thursday both mentioned commuter rail as an economic driver.
“It could be a huge game-changer for everybody in New Hampshire,” said Aryn Marsh, owner of Live Juice in Concord.
Cory von Wallenstein, co-founder and CEO of Adored, a Manchester-based tech start-up, said commuter rail would help the Granite State expand its talent pool.
Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand and former state Deputy Secretary of State Mark Connolly, Van Ostern’s main rivals for the Democratic nomination, both support commuter rail. Van Ostern’s economic plan repeats his pledge to veto a state income tax or sales tax, his opposition to “right to work” legislation, and making Medicaid expansion permanent.
It features four components: strengthening the workforce and workforce housing, boosting wages, keeping taxes and business costs low, and overcoming the state’s opioid and heroin epidemic.
“That is something that threatens our quality of life and therefore threatens our successful economic growth and the competitive advantage that New Hampshire has relative to every other state,” Van Ostern said of fighting the opioid and heroin epidemic.
Van Ostern is also proposing restoring a state minimum wage and increasing it over the current federal hourly rate of $7.25. He said a proposal by Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, to phase-in increases over time up to $12 an hour, is a good starting point for negotiations.