Ted Gatsas refused to take to task the seven Manchester state representatives who voted against bringing commuter rail service to the Queen City, brushing off an opportunity to do so during the March 15 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA). The seven voted to strip funding for a study on the feasibility of commuter rail service in the I-93 corridor from Governor Maggie Hassan’s Ten-Year Transportation Improvement bill, which subsequently passed without the rail study funding. The $4 million in funding would have come from the Federal Transit Authority and would not have cost New Hampshire taxpayers any money.
The Mayor, who on Thursday, March 17, announced his intention to run for governor, refused to criticize the state reps when Alderman-at-Large Daniel O’Neil asked Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who represents his ward in the State House of Representatives, about the motives of the seven. All seven Manchester state reps who voted against the bill are members of Gatsas’ own Republican Party, including Manchester City Republican Party Chair Tammy Simmons, a staunch Gatsas supporter.
Long brought up the vote during his BOMA legislative update, saying the funding for the study would never have been eliminated from the Transportation Improvement bill if they had voted in favor of funding the study rather than voting against it. O’Neil then asked him, “Is there any idea what happened to your seven colleagues from Manchester on the rail vote?”
Tammy Simmons is a libertarian who takes a strong, anti-government stance. She also voted recently against a bill that would have allowed communities like Manchester to levy a tax on hotel beds of 50 cents to two dollars a bed. When queried by State Rep Chris Herbert, the alderman representing Manchester’s Ward 4, on why she cast a vote that would deny the Queen City the ability to raise needed revenues, Simmons told him, “Stay within your budget.”
Joining Simmons in voting against the bill were Larry Gagne and Will Infantine of Ward 6, Mark McLean of Ward 8, Victoria Sullivan of Ward 9, Dick Marston of Ward 12, and Andre Martel, who represents a floterial district that includes Wards 8 and 9. Simmons had been a strong supporter of the municipal tax cap that limits budget increases to the rate of inflation. Gatsas made the tax cap override of 2014, which he strongly favored behind closed doors, into a major issue in the 2015 mayoral campaign.
Referring to the anti-government ideology of Simmons and other Republican state reps from Manchester, Pat Long explained to Daniel O’Neil that the study would have used federal money. “I spoke with them. It’s their prerogative.”
“It’s a pretty sad day,” O’Neil said, speaking of the need of Manchester’s high tech businesses to attract employees. There is a consensus among commuter rail supporters, based on evidence form other states, that a rail link from Manchester to Boston would enable Queen City businesses to woo high tech workers living in The Hub and the Boston-area’s high tech corridor. Many of Manchester’s employers have bemoaned the dearth of highly skilled workers.
A friend of Manchester entrepreneur Dean Kamen, who frequently has complained about his inability to attract the workers he needs, Gatsas commiserated with Long and O’Neil over the failure to secure funding for the rail study. However, he did not criticize Simmons or the six other Republican state reps for their role in killing commuter rail. Gatsas then changed the discussion to a drug forfeiture bill.
After a recount, Gatsas eked out a bare 64-vote victory over former Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig. Slightly over 20,000 voters cast a ballot in the 2015 mayoral race, and his margin of victory led many political pundits to question the viability of his gubernatorial bid. As of the March 15 BOMA meeting, some seasoned pundits were convinced that the man they call “Mayor 64” would not dare run for governor, as his inability to control or even influence his own Manchester Republicans called into doubt his leadership ability.
After the vote in the State House of Representatives, Joyce Craig issued a joint statement along with Pat Long, who serves as the chair of the Manchester delegation in the House. “Expanding commuter rail into southern New Hampshire is critical to boosting Manchester’s economy and vital to developing a 21st century transportation infrastructure. Studies have shown that by bringing commuter rail to Manchester, 2,500 riders will use the service every day and there will be 5,600 permanent jobs created. To oppose this common sense legislation is short-sighted and irresponsible.”
The joint statement went on to say, “Had the seven Manchester representatives who voted to strip this critical funding voted to support their city instead, this funding would have been approved. To oppose such an injection into Manchester’s economy is a huge mistake and sets our city back. 74% of New Hampshire residents support rail. It’s a shame the seven Manchester representatives didn’t represent the vast majority of people is our state, and Manchester who would benefit the most.”
The vote to effectively kill commuter rail in the I-93 corridor from Nashua to Concord also was denounced by Gate City Mayor Jim Donchess. “I think it is very short-sighted,” Donchess said, pointing out his disappointment that state representatives in Nashua’s neighboring communities like Hudson and Merrimack voted to strip the rail earmark from the bill.
State Representative Timothy J. Smith, who represents Manchester’s Ward 10 in the State House along with Simmons, criticized the vote of Simmons and her six Republican colleagues. “The amendment to pull the engineering study for commuter rail out of the Ten-Year Transportation Improvement Plan was reckless and irresponsible. The rail study would have cost the state essentially nothing, being paid for with federal funds, and would have been a required step to see if an expanded rail project could work.”
Smith went on to say, “As with many other bills and amendments voted on last week, we now have to rely on the Senate to clean up the House Republican’s mess and hopefully insert the rail study back into the plan when the bill gets to them.”