September 05. 2018 11:34PM

Marchand banking on family leave proposal to boost campaign

By Dave Solomon
New Hampshire Union Leader


STEVE MARCHAND 

CONCORD — Steve Marchand hasn’t raised nearly as much money as Molly Kelly in the Democratic primary for governor, nor has he lined up as many high-profile endorsements as the former state senator.

So the former mayor of Portsmouth is looking for an issue to catch on with voters, many of whom are just starting to pay attention to the race, with the Sept. 11 primary less than a week away. And that issue is paid family medical leave.

Fresh from his Tuesday night debate with Kelly, in which both supported the concept of paid family medical leave, Marchand is rolling out his biggest investment of the campaign in TV time to promote his specific family leave proposal.

The video features a woman he met on the campaign trail two years ago in Peterborough, who describes the dilemma her family faced when she became pregnant.

Her employer offered 12 weeks unpaid. “We almost lost everything,” says a woman identified as Sabrina, as her now 2-year-old boy mugs for the camera, “the house, the car. It was bad. It was a scary time. Everybody deserves to have a little help, especially in a time like that.”

Marchand is hoping a majority of Democratic primary voters feel the same way, as he restated his plan for a universal .09 percent payroll deduction, adding up to about $29 a year based on median household income in New Hampshire.

“In exchange, it allows us to have up to three months of paid family medical leave that would apply for at least four circumstances that are at the core of the real world for many New Hampshire families,” he said, “adoption, birth, long-term illness or end of life.”

Marchand said he based the size of the payroll deduction on an analysis of rates in other states or countries that offer paid family leave funded through universal payroll deduction, but did not commission an independent actuarial analysis to determine if a .09 percent deduction would be adequate to fund future claims for paid leave.

In New York, where the program launched in January, the deduction is .12 percent, capped at $85 a year, regardless of income.

Any new payroll tax would be a hard sell in the New Hampshire Legislature, no matter who serves as governor, but Marchand believes public sentiment is on his side.

“More than 80 percent of New Hampshire residents favor a paid family leave plan,” he said, alluding to a 2016 UNH Granite State Poll, in which 82 percent said they support paid family and medical leave insurance.

Sununu wants a program based on voluntary contributions, with no automatic payroll deduction. The House passed a family leave bill earlier this year that required people to opt-out if they did not want to participate. Kelly says she supports that legislation and would have signed it into law as governor.

While the two Democrats may disagree on the particulars of family medical leave policy, they strongly agree that Sununu committed a campaign gaffe two weeks ago at a forum on children’s issues when he referred to paid medical leave as a vacation.

“They were saying it would only cost everyone one half of one percent of their salary,” said Sununu, referring to the ill-fated proposal from earlier this year. “But every year, technically everyone could take four weeks or six weeks of vacation, which is a lot more than half a percent of your salary.”

Kelly pounced on the comment immediately and other Democrats soon followed suit.

“Chris Sununu today said paid family and medical leave is a vacation," said Kelly.

“He is wrong and out-of-touch with New Hampshire families. Instead, it's about being with the people you love the most when they need you the most.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com