Paid family medical leave is popular. People like free stuff and paid time off work–even in “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu’s opposition to the Democrats’ PFML plan is, they believe, a political liability. His Democratic opponent in last year’s governor’s race came after Sununu on this issue very aggressively (if not very intelligently.)
Now Sununu has vetoed an actual bill, putting himself between the Democrats (who want to give stuff away) and the voters (who want to get stuff). This could be a problem for the otherwise-popular governor. Here are three reasons it’s not:
1: Gov. Sununu Just Vetoed a Tax.
As New Hampshire Journal has previously reported, Democrats are right when they insist that their paid leave plan isn’t paid for with an income tax. It’s a PAYROLL tax. If it were voluntary, the 0.5 percent of wages collected for the program would be an insurance premium. But it’s mandatory, so it’s a tax.
Yes, it’s a small tax. Yes, some people really want PFML in their lives. But none of that changes the fact that Chris Sununu just vetoed a tax hike. An “out of your weekly paycheck” tax hike, proposed and promoted by New Hampshire Democrats.
2: Sununu Has His Own Plan.
NH Democrats raise a lot of legitimate issues about the Two-State Two-Step Sununu’s proposed for a voluntary, opt-in paid leave program. When Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes says, “Sununu has a concept. It’s not a plan”– he may be right.
But that “concept” gives Sununu something to talk about as an alternative to the tax-hike plan. And it’s an alternative that highlights one of the key weaknesses of the Democrats’ approach: It’s voluntary. Ask voters if they should have a choice or be forced to do something–pretty much anything–and voters will side with “choice” almost every time.
3: NH Democrats Still Don’t Know How to Talk About Taxes.
The very first reaction from NHDems in the wake of Sununu’s veto was to try to explain how their plan really was not an income tax and Chris Sununu wasn’t being fair. Which means they were debating over…an income tax.
As Democratic guru Jim Carville tried to teach his party 25 years ago: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Worse was Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, who tried to explain how the tax wasn’t an “income tax” or a “payroll tax” at all, but rather a new “social contract.” When voters hear nebulous, do-gooder phrases like that, they instinctively grab their wallets.
If Democrats had crafted a voluntary plan paid for by other people’s (business owners?) money, this fight might have been very different. Instead, they tried to create a new “social contract” that involved taking money out of people’s paychecks.
Game, Set and Match: Sununu.