Smith: Fresh face among the crowd
Elected in 1997 to the House of Representatives, the 35-year-old Litchfield resident also headed the Division of Juvenile Justice and worked on former Gov. Craig Benson's staff.
From 2009 to 2011, he focused on a wide variety of legislative initiatives as executive director of Cornerstone Action, one of the state's most influential conservative issues groups.
Although Smith is a staunch social conservative, he said in a recent interview the economy is driving the election to succeed the retiring Gov. John Lynch.
Smith said that when he talks to Granite Staters, 'I've asked myself what I would be looking for in a governor if I were in their shoes, and I get tired of hearing the rhetoric and the same regurgitated sound bites from the different candidates.
'I want to be different and actually want to drill down to the weeds and say, 'This is how I'm going to do it,'' he said. 'And I think people love specificity and attention to detail.'
Smith has produced 'New Hampshire's Future is Now,' a four-part plan that covers taxes and government reform, health care and energy policy and education.
While the full plan is detailed on his website, at the heart of the business component, he would reduce the 8.5 percent business profits tax beginning next year and phase it down to 5 percent by 2020. He would reduce the business enterprise tax by two-thirds beginning next year and phase it down from .75 percent to .25 percent by 2020. He would increase the revenue threshold for businesses that must pay the BET from the current $150,000 to $250,000 by 2014.
And he would eliminate the BET on small businesses with less than $500,000 in gross revenue that do not make a profit for the fiscal year.
Smith has also pledged to veto broadbased sales or income tax legislation. He said he would support a plan for expanded gambling 'that allows for two licences that go out to a fair bidding process' and sends state revenue not to the general fund, but rather to specific needs such as education or infrastructure improvements.'People are looking for leadership,' Smith said. 'They're looking for someone who isn't going to be afraid to take a position and maybe upset a few people.
'While John Lynch may have been able to get a 70 percent approval rating by being a nice guy and being all things to all people, the voters want someone who is actually going to take the bull by the reins and lead the state in a new direction.'
Smith said the Republican legislature's work to balance the budget in the last session 'gives the new governor the ability to start off on a fresh foot, which is a very good thing.
'But I believe we can always find more efficiencies in state government,' he said. 'I would approach my budget on performance outcomes of what's being funded. Let's fund only those programs that are actually working.'
He said a state-run liquor sales operation 'has worked well and has been very profitable,' and so he would not propose privatizing it at this point.
But he said the apparent loss of about $100,000 in wine inventory requires that 'somebody or some bodies be held accountable.'
Smith calls for reforms to lower health insurance costs for businesses by restoring competition among providers.
'We've driven out the competition in the state over the last 15 years,' he said. 'We need to allow insurance carriers to offer to employers, which they can then offer their employees, flexible plans based on what their needs are.
'And we should allow insurance carriers outside of New Hampshire to compete in our market,' he said.
Smith said electricity costs have become burdensome to business and residential ratepayers because 'we've put more onerous regulations on the utilities, such as RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). I would support the immediate withdrawal of the state from that program. It's been shown it doesn't work.'
He would also consider reducing the state's Renewable Portfolio Standards.
'The utilities should be allowed to purchase electricity at the cheapest cost possible,' said Smith, rather than requiring them to buy nearly one-third of their energy from renewable sources.
'New Hampshire has the fifth highest energy costs in the country,' he said. 'It puts us at a competitive disadvantage.'
Overall, he said, the state needs a comprehensive energy plan to take advantage of the least expensive alternatives.
At the same time, he said he has 'deep concern for the private property owners in the North Country' fighting the Northern Pass project.
'How this is done will set a precedent for future energy projects,' Smith said.
On education, Smith supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the Claremont and Londonderry school funding court decisions.
But he said school choice is the 'foundation' of his reform plan.
'I believe a rising tide raises all boats,' he said, 'and when the public school system is made to compete with other school systems, you're going to see us having a more robust K-12 public education system. I say this as someone whose kids go to public schools.'
He also proposes tenure reform based on teacher performance evaluations.
'We should not base our standards on what's coming out of Washington,' Smith said. 'We have to reduce our addiction to federal money and have our own high state standards.'
Smith said he would try to lower in-state tuitions for the state university and colleges by 'restoring some money back to the university, but I would want to make sure that any of the funding that we restore goes directly to helping out with student aid.'
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John DiStaso may be reached at email@example.com.