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February 15, 2013

Governor wants 30-cent tobacco hike, tuition freeze

Proposal would add 15 troopers, two judges

Gov. Maggie Hassan’s budget proposal promises college tuition relief, but a higher price for cigarettes.

Hassan, addressing the Legislature yesterday, embraced expanded gaming and a partnership with the federal government on health care.

“New Hampshire stands at the threshold of a bright new future,” Hassan said. “But we cannot sit back and wait for the innovation economy to develop. We must lead the way.”

The budget restores 90 percent of funding the formerly Republican-controlled Legislature slashed to state colleges and universities, allowing for a freeze on tuition, she said.

Hassan would accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act to cover more New Hampshire families. The governor’s office estimated $2.5 billion is available.

Hassan would raise the cigarette tax 30 cents, restoring a 10-cent cut from the last legislative session and adding 20 cents more.

The governor said the cigarette tax increase would still keep New Hampshire below neighboring states.

“Cigarette taxes nationwide have proven to be one of the most effective ways to prevent youth smoking,” she said, “and my budget proposes reversing the cigarette tax cut and increasing the tax by an additional 20 cents, which will still keep our cigarette tax below those of surrounding states.”

The budget also puts 15 more state troopers on the highways, two more judges on the Superior Court, doubles the research-and-development tax credit for business, and expands mental health services.

Hassan cut $500 million from agency requests, which her office said reduces general fund spending below 2008 levels.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, estimated the budget represents a $1 billion increase.

“We can’t support that,” Morse said. “I have my work cut out for me.”

Hassan acknowledged highway funding is a concern. She expressed a willingness to work with any legislator of either party toward a solution, but stopped short of a specific plan such as raising the gas tax.

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