Standing in a Waterbury chocolate shop on Wednesday, the governor of New Hampshire and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski pitched a sweet-sounding idea: scrap taxes and send budget surpluses back to voters.
Following a tour of Fascia’s Chocolate, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu told reporters that Connecticut voters had an opportunity to attract more businesses if they’d back Stefanowski in his November rematch with Gov. Ned Lamont.
“I’m the tax-free suburb of Boston. You should be the tax-free suburb of New York and with someone like Bob Stefanowski at the helm that can actually become a reality,” Sununu said.
In many ways, New Hampshire is an outlier in New England. The state has no traditional income tax, although it does tax income made from interest and dividends, and has no general sales tax.
Stefanowski was quick to point to New Hampshire’s income tax rate during a small press conference in one of the chocolate shop’s back rooms. In 2018, the Madison Republican ran an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against Lamont which centered almost exclusively on a promise to phase out Connecticut’s income tax.
“Anybody want to guess what the income tax rate is in New Hampshire?” Stefanowski asked. “Zero. It can be done, ladies and gentlemen.”
This time around, Stefanowski has set more modest and tax reform goals. He’s proposed to reduce the state’s income tax rate from 6.35% to 5.99%. Recently, he has pushed for reducing fuel taxes beyond the temporary suspension of a 25-cent gasoline tax, which Lamont signed after it was passed by the legislature.
“I think we have to get taxes down,” Stefanowski said. “For people to stay here, we have to get them down but it’s not just the income tax, it’s the property tax, it’s the sales tax, it’s utility bills.”
With inflation at historic highs around the country, Connecticut Republicans have focused campaign messaging on reducing the cost of living in the state. Stefanowski has appeared with Republican lawmakers at “affordability rallies,” often held at gas stations around Connecticut.
Sununu expressed disbelief at news that Connecticut’s diesel tax is scheduled to increase by 9 cents next month due to a law passed in 2007.
“I literally thought my staff was joking because I’ve never heard of anything like that. It’d be the dumbest thing anyone could do,” Sununu said. “Wow. The economy runs on diesel. To get product from point A to point B … It’s the last thing you should be taxing.”
Democrats have accused their Republican counterparts of ignoring the more than $600 million in temporary and permanent tax cuts included in the recently-passed budget adjustment package, which Lamont has frequently referred to as the largest tax cut in state history.
The temporary gas tax holiday has resulted in Connecticut’s gas prices being slightly lower than most of its surrounding states. At an average of $4.92 a gallon on Wednesday, they were about 1 cent lower than gas prices in New Hampshire, according to AAA.
Sununu shrugged off the comparison when it was raised by a reporter.
“Our gas costs $4.93, but we didn’t take 13% out of your sales tax and income tax before you even had to pay those prices,” Sununu said.
Stefanowski and Sununu both criticized Lamont and state Democrats for not returning more of the state’s budget surplus back to taxpayers.
“He’s sitting in Hartford or wherever it is on his $3.5 billion that he thinks is his rainy day fund. That money is not his, that money is not even the government’s,” Sununu said. “That money is yours and you deserve to get it back.”
Prior to the event, Lamont’s campaign released a statement accusing Sununu of being a “pretend moderate” who signed a budget that imposes “cruel and needless” restrictions on people seeking abortions.
“Would [Stefanowski] defend recent legislation passed to expand protections for women seeking abortion care?” Jake Lewis, Lamont’s campaign spokesman, said. “Or would he follow the lead of his anti-choice allies? The answers to these questions are ones that Bob doesn’t want voters to know. Like Governor Sununu, Bob claims to be pro-choice, but his actions tell a different story.”
Asked about the comment, Sununu said that New Hampshire’s abortion policies were similar to those in Connecticut.
“They’re virtually the same,” Sununu said. “I think it’s 24 weeks. I think 44 other states have some type of late-term [abortion] ban but I think ours is, even in terms of weeks, is the same. If Democrats are going to complain about that considering they’re in power here – it’s hypocrisy.”