CONCORD, N.H. – Gov. Maggie Hassan called on New Hampshire lawmakers Thursday to compete with Massachusetts by legalizing one high-end casino and included licensing fees in her two-year budget to pressure them to act.
“The question is: Will we allow Massachusetts to take revenue from New Hampshire’s residents to fund its needs, or will we develop our own plan that will allow us to address social costs and invest in our priorities?” she said in her budget address.
Hassan included $80 million in her budget from gambling licensing fees that lawmakers would have to replace with other revenue or cut programs if they failed to approve gambling. The House has never passed casino legislation. The Senate has a bill to legalize video slots at one casino, but dedicates the money to highway improvements, higher education and development in the North Country
Hassan only included money in her budget for operating expenses at the Transportation Department and left it to lawmakers to settle how to pay for the Interstate 93 expansion and other badly needed road improvements she said are needed. Besides the Senate proposal to use gambling revenues, a House bill would instead raise the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for highway and bridges.
Hassan said that “as it stands, we barely have enough to do the very minimum: patching roads and bridges together, plowing our highways, and keeping state troopers on the road.”
“We must develop strategies for a long-term solution, for both operations and road construction, and we must do it together, working toward a consensus solution,” she said.
Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said he was confident the Senate would pass the gambling bill.
A gas tax increase would face as tough a time in the Senate as gambling faces in the House.
Bradley said Hassan built her budget on uncertain revenues.
“It’s a gamble and setting us up for failure,” House Republican Leader Gene Chandler said of including the gambling money.
House Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, said Hassan had every right to propose a spending plan based on policies she endorses. Norelli said she does not know if the House will approve gambling, but if it does not, then the budget will likely be cut.
Hassan proposes spending $11.1 billion from all revenue sources — including federal, highway and state taxes — or 10 percent more than the current $10.1 billion, two-year budget. The state tax portion of the total budget is $2.8 billion or 7 percent higher than the current $2.6 billion budget. That is a $184 million increase over two years.
Hassan also included $38 million in her public works budget for a new women’s prison, beefed up spending on mental health, restored aid to the community colleges and gave the university system 90 percent of the aid it had been getting by the second year. She proposes adding money for charter schools, but giving the state education board more authority over their placement.
She also would expand Medicaid in the budget under the Obama administration’s federal health care overhaul, citing the long-term benefits to the state’s poor. She would partially restore funding for a program to help troubled kids who aren’t delinquent.
Bradley of Wolfeboro objected to including Medicaid expansion in the budget because it commits New Hampshire to a program based on a funding promise from the federal government that is trillions in debt.
“For too long, our corrections system has woefully neglected women. Like our men’s prison, our new women’s prison must offer facilities that can provide the programs that help individuals safely move back into society when they have served their sentences,” she said.
A new women’s prison has been discussed for years, but has not been included it in a public works budget. The state is being sued over conditions at the women’s prison in Goffstown.