Sununu opposes Dems leave plan

NASHUA – Calling the paid family plan New Hampshire House members passed earlier in the day an “income tax,” Gov. Chris Sununu late Wednesday vowed not to sign such a bill.

“The Democrats’ mandatory paid leave plan is an income tax, and the citizens of New Hampshire have never and will never support that approach. I will never support an income tax. End of story,” Sununu tweeted around 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, SB1 passed through the House by a count of 219-142.

Democrats said the legislation will create a program that gives businesses the flexibility to choose a paid leave plan that works best for them and their employees.

Rep. Manny Espitia, D-Nashua, said paid family and medical leave is an issue of conscience for the Legislature, and that passage of the bill would spare families in the state from both financial and emotional hardship.

“There are times when people need to decide whether to choose their job or a loved one, and that is a decision no one should have to make,” Espitia said. “Paid family and medical leave is a moral issue. It’s an opportunity to be with a family member when they are at their most vulnerable. We need to stand with the working people of New Hampshire and offer them protection when they need it most.”

Democrats said they complied with Sununu’s stated requirements for this plan in SB1. After the Wednesday passage, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley said if Sununu has learned that this is more than a “vacation,” he will work with the legislators to establish this program in the Granite State.

“Unfortunately, Sununu has thus far followed his well-worn pattern of saying one thing when he’s trying to earn votes, and another once he’s duped Granite Staters into supporting him,” Buckley said.

Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, prime sponsor of the bill, also said Sununu should not stand in the way of bipartisan legislation that has been developed for several years, creating a public-private partnership for paid leave.

“At this point, there is only one roadblock to paid family and medical leave becoming a reality in New Hampshire — Gov. Chris Sununu,” Feltes said.

In the meantime, House Minority Leaders Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, said New Hampshire employers can already provide similar coverage if they think it is right for their employees. He said lobbyists representing the state’s business community spoke up to voice their opposition to this program.

“Despite this testimony, House Democrats decided to pass their fatally flawed paid family leave program,” Hinch said.

Hinch said a 0.5 percent tax on wages is an income tax, and that even with this questionable funding mechanism, House Democrats still could not guarantee the program will be solvent.

“I can’t think of any other reason they’d give an unelected bureaucrat the ability to raise their ‘tax on wages,'” Hinch said.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said Wednesday he hopes Sununu will veto SB1 so legislators can come to a bipartisan compromise that will deliver an opt-in paid family and medical leave insurance plan to those who need it, without an income tax.

“The only impediment to the state having a paid family and medical leave plan is the mandatory requirement on businesses funded by an income tax that was proposed in the Senate plan,” Bradley said.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.