Kennedy: It's time NH had an income tax
CONCORD - Bill Kennedy believes so strongly state residents need property tax relief he is willing to touch the third rail of New Hampshire politics: an income tax.
His belief in his mission has delayed the opening of an inn he recently purchased in Danbury.
Kennedy, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, says everywhere he goes he hears a lot of discussion about property taxes.
"I didn't hear what I wanted to hear from the politicians," Kennedy said. "The people needed an additional voice."
Kennedy is the only candidate running for governor to advocate an income tax, which he would use to offset public education costs. Fellow Democrat Jackie Cilley has refused to take the traditional pledge against broad-based taxes, but does not support a specific proposal. Republican candidates Ovide Lamontagne and Kevin Smith, as well as Democrat Maggie Hassan, have all taken the pledge.
Kennedy is running his campaign on little money, using pubic forums around the state and free media to increase his name recognition and promote his message.
He came close to dropping out of the race a month or so ago but made an appearance on a television political program.
After his appearance, he went back to his office in Concord and someone from Lochmere had called and told him she was sending him a $40 check.
"If someone in Lochmere, New Hampshire, believes in Bill Kennedy," he said, "It's worth staying in."
Kennedy, 52, spent 29 years in the Air Force as a law enforcement-security officer and served in Afghanistan in 2008.
The military is in Kennedy's blood: He was born in Germany where his father was stationed, but grew up in Portsmouth. His father was stationed at Pease Air Force Base and decided to settle in the area when he left the military.
This is not Kennedy's first run for office. He ran unsuccessfully for Rockingham County Sheriff in protest against what he called a lack of ethics on the part of the incumbent.
Kennedy says he has always had an interest in politics and became engaged after learning what was going on in the legislature the past two years, which he called disheartening.
Coupled with the concerns he kept hearing from people he met about property taxes, he decided to throw his hat in the ring.
"An income tax is the fairest and most equitable," he said, adding it is mentioned in the Bill of Rights and Constitution that taxes must be equitable and proportional based on income.
"Property taxes and others are regressive and unconstitutional on that basis alone," Kennedy said.
He said a proposed constitutional amendment to ban an income tax that will appear on the general election ballot is inherently biased because it doesn't require the wealthy to pay their fair share of the tax burden.
Kennedy's proposal would tax income at between 4 and 5 percent, with a $35,000 to $40,000 exemption, and use most of the revenue to pay for education to reduce that portion of property tax bills. "Education should be paid for by the state anyway," he said.
He would also cap property taxes at 1.25 percent of equalized valuation, which is about half of what people pay now.
Kennedy believes a little money from the income tax would be available to help fund other state programs. He said for safety and health reasons he would restore the tobacco tax to its level before lawmakers cut it last year.
He would also reduce the state's interest and dividends tax, saying it penalizes the state's elderly.
"Some elderly folks I talked to are paying 50 percent of their income for property taxes to keep their homes," Kennedy said. "That borders on criminal."
He would like to restore money lawmakers cut from the budget last year like the $50 million from the University System of New Hampshire, and $100 million from the hospitals, but he wants to do it "with a rational thought process."
Kennedy said he wants to fund state programs that need it, noting the recent legislative cuts have "gone beyond the fat and into the muscle."
"Based on a deficit, they arbitrarily started cutting," Kennedy said. "The deficit is the result of the economy, not abuses within the infrastructure."
He noted lawmakers turned away a lot of federal money in the last two years, money that he would welcome back to New Hampshire.
Some of that money was tied to the Affordable Care Act, which Kennedy supports and calls the first step to a better health care system. "Look at Massachusetts, they have had something similar since 2006 and they are already showing the benefits, they have more people insured and greater preventative care."
He used the Tamworth Community Nursing Association program as an example of innovative ways to provide health care for reasonable costs.
The association was established in 1921 to ensure free health care to anyone in the community.
Kennedy said someone should collect other examples of local programs that work like the one in Tamworth as examples of innovative ways to address problems.
But Kennedy noted, "I'm a big advocate of a single-payer system. Health care like education is the right of every American."
Along with greater health insurance coverage, Kennedy believes the state needs to improve its transportation infrastructure from roads and bridges to railroads and airports. "You will not draw big companies here unless you have an adequate transportation system," he said.
He said he is open to new revenue resources to help pay for transportation infrastructure, but he does not want to see tolls increased, and he is not inclined to raise the gas tax.
"We ought to look and see what other states are doing to pay for their transportation infrastructure," Kennedy said. "We need to look for models that work. There are viable options out there."
As governor, Kennedy said, he would be a protector of the state's environment, noting a lot of work and thought has gone into establishing federal environmental standards.
"We should never retreat from our environmental efforts," he said, adding he supports the state's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Everyone knows there is a problem whether from natural processes or from emissions, he said.
Republicans in the Legislature pushed hard to eliminate the RGGI program the last two years, but could not override Gov. John Lynch's veto, although the program was changed.
Kennedy contends political parties have had the opportunity to make positive changes, but instead looked for political advantage. "That has to stop," he said. "You have to do right by New Hampshire citizens."
And that is what he says he is trying to do, by talking about an income tax, which he believes would really help most people and businesses in the state by reducing their property taxes.
"I'm not a career politician," Kennedy said. "I'm a blue collar guy. I should be working on opening my inn, but here I am."
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Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..