Sununu’s leadership failure on commuter rail dashes the hopes of NH businesses

While Governor Sununu has been a fierce opponent of extending MBTA commuter rail service into New Hampshire for his entire political career, he briefly supported the idea of funding a rail feasibility study in order to appeal to Amazon while the company scouted locations for a new headquarters. When Amazon rejected Sununu’s bid, he made a behind-the-scenes effort to kill the rail study funding legislation that he had just set in motion.

New Hampshire’s small business community has repeatedly petitioned Sununu to advocate for rail, but he only seemed interested in considering it for the sake of appealing to a large corporation. Now that Sununu got his wish and the rail study is dead, small businesses in the Granite State will remain unsatisfied and there won’t be a plan in motion when the next Amazon goes location scouting.

Since Chris Sununu refuses to count himself among the 75% of Granite Staters, including 70% of Republicans, who support extending commuter rail service, it’s clear that we will need to elect a new governor if we want to see progress in the state of New Hampshire.

How Chris Sununu killed Commuter Rail

For almost his entire political career, Chris Sununu was vehemently opposed to extending commuter rail into New Hampshire. As an Executive Councilor in 2013, Sununu voted against a $3.6 million commuter rail study. During his gubernatorial campaign in 2016, he unequivocally opposed commuter rail, calling it “a boondoggle project.” and “bad leadership.”

When Amazon was accepting location proposals for the company’s second headquarters, Sununu changed his position and included support for commuter rail in the state’s official pitch to Amazon, saying “rail has been studied, rail has been proposed, and if Amazon wants to come and we can accelerate those plans then that’s absolutely on the table.”

When Sununu was putting together his proposal for the state’s 10 year transportation plan, Sununu included funding for a commuter rail study, citing the “need to study the potential options” due to the ongoing consideration of the state’s Amazon pitch.

The next day, Amazon rejected the Sununu administration’s pitch. Sununu refused to clarify whether he remained in favor of funding the rail study, saying “it’s in the legislature’s hands right now.”

Privately, Sununu told Republican lawmakers to remove commuter rail from the transportation plan. State Rep. Al Baldasaro said Sununu told Republican lawmakers to “kill” rail and told WMUR that Sununu gave them permission to remove the rail study from the transportation plan.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire businesses formed a coalition,NH Business for Rail Expansion, to advocate for funding the rail study.

The House passed the transportation plan with commuter rail included after Democrats put it back in on the floor and overturned the House Public Works and Highways Committee’s recommendation.

Sununu publicly took credit for this, lying by saying he “twisted a few arms” to pass it, when addressing groups that favor rail expansion like his Millennial Advisory Council and the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, who asked Sununu to advocate for the rail study before it was considered in the Senate.

A few weeks after he was implying to audiences that he was supportive of commuter rail, Sununu released his 10 year state energy strategy, which argued against considering rail, a major shift in policy from the 2014 version of the document that was produced under his predecessor, Maggie Hassan.

The New Hampshire Senate took commuter rail out of the 10 year plan in a late-night session on a 12-12 vote, with only two Republicans voting in favor of rail. While he tried to avoid blame, Sununu’s fingerprints were all over the dead rail project. The pro-rail business group NH Business for Rail Expansion noted that Sununu “went back to opposing rail” after his bid for Amazon’s new headquarters failed.