By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday reiterated her support of a single casino for New Hampshire in her state of the state address to the Legislature.
The governor’s position puts her at odds with a Senate bill that would license two casinos.
Hassan said the state stands to lose $75 million annually once casinos open in Massachusetts, if it fails to respond.
“Developing New Hampshire’s own plan for one high-end destination casino will create jobs, boost our economy and generate revenue to invest in critical priorities,” Hassan said.
She appealed to House lawmakers who rejected a casino plan last year to reconsider their opposition now that a new bill takes in regulatory recommendations from a gaming oversight authority.
“For months, they worked hard to develop thoughtful recommendations for how to best oversee and move forward with one highly regulated destination casino in New Hampshire,” Hassan said. “I encourage all legislators to fully consider the authority’s carefully developed, bipartisan recommendations, recognize that we can do this in a way that works for our state, and vote in favor of authorizing a casino.”
A bipartisan coalition of more than 100 House lawmakers, the “Fair Deal Caucus,” this week announced their support for the legislation, House Bill 1633.
“This bill is different. It is a compromise,” said Rep. Katherine Rogers, D-Concord. “It is the House position on gambling: One license, a high-end casino, strictly regulated with all new oversight, but woven into the existing fabric of our law.”
The House held a hearing on the bill yesterday.
The Senate yesterday tabled its casino bill, Senate Bill 366, awaiting House action on the casino issue.
Lawmakers interrupted Hassan’s 53-minute speech more than 50 times with applause.
The first-term Democrat received standing ovations for supporting an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay for women.
“We must restore and increase New Hampshire’s minimum wage,” Hassan said.
As Hassan called for completing the widening of Interstate 93, she praised Sen. Jim Rausch, R-Derry, for his proposal to increase the gas tax.
“Thank you to Sen. Rausch for leading efforts to take an important step toward addressing our transportation needs,” Hassan said.
In a speech that described New Hampshire as one of the safest, healthiest and most livable states, Hassan quoted poet Robert Frost in looking forward.
“The great Robert Frost once wrote, ‘the best way out is always through,’” Hassan said. “We are out from under the greatest burdens of the recession. Now we must keep our state and our economy moving forward, and for New Hampshire, the best way forward is always through.”
She restated her opposition to legalizing marijuana — the House has given initial approval to such a bill — but said she would consider criminal reforms so first-time offenders don’t have to serve jail time.
Hassan called for a workforce that can compete in the future and better science, math and technology education.
She urged worker compensation reform to help both workers and business, and said the state would hold a finance summit to bring together businesses and financing partners to encourage expansion.
Hassan said the state needs more natural gas capacity.
“Expanding natural gas pipeline capacity for our region is one way to reduce energy costs,” she said.
She repeated her support for Medicaid expansion and mental health system improvements.
She encouraged lawmakers to continue to work in bipartisan fashion to solve problems.
“We will have to work to identify our common ground and then seize upon it,” Hassan said.
New Hampshire GOP state chairwoman Jennifer Horn said Hassan offered no new ideas or proposals to move the state forward.
“She missed an important opportunity to lay out a bold vision for the future of our state and instead used this speech to lay the groundwork for her support of a disastrous gas tax increase,” Horn said. “Granite Staters shouldn’t be forced to pay more at the pump simply because Gov. Hassan is unwilling to do her job and look for ways to control spending and eliminate government waste and inefficiency.”
Andrew Hemingway, a Republican candidate for governor, was highly critical of Hassan’s address.
“Gov. Hassan gave a lot of lip service to the business community, yet every policy she proposed would harm the very community she is praising,” he said. “Study after study has proven that a hike to the minimum wage harms exactly the people it is trying to help. Increasing the minimum wage causes jobs loss, it drives more people to welfare, it drives up state budgets and raises the cost of doing business. The people harmed the most? Minorities and women.”