ATKINSON — While Southern New Hampshire residents were bracing for a major winter storm yesterday, Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, was preparing for a storm of another kind.
That’s the storm he said could hit when newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan presents her state budget next week.
As the first snowflakes started to fall outside, Morse and Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry, addressed a crowd of about 40 local business and political leaders at a Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce forum at the Atkinson Country Club.
“This is the calm before the storm,” said Morse, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“Let’s hope the storm is tonight and not in the future,” he said. “The challenges are going to be in the governor’s presentation of the budget.”
The presentation will be made Thursday — Valentine’s Day, he said.
“I think you are going to be disappointed,” Morse said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a bed of roses.”
Morse said the state faces a fiscal shortfall of $45 million to $50 million and revenue estimates are grim. The estimates for 2012 were less than 1 percent, he said.
“In ‘13, those revenue estimates are facing a challenge,” he said.
Both senators told the crowd the state needs to embrace casino gambling to solve the budget dilemma and help fund completion of the Interstate 93 widening project from Salem to Manchester.
Morse praised Hassan for her endorsement of a single, well-regulated casino in the state. Former four-term Gov. John Lynch, who stepped down in January, opposed expanded gambling.
“There is no doubt that things have changed in New Hampshire,” Morse said. “I think it is important that the governor has supported us here in Salem.”
Morse is the sponsor of legislation to allow expanded gambling, with the hope a casino proposed by Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas would be allowed to operate at Rockingham Park in Salem. Millennium founder and co-CEO Bill Wortman pitched his $450 million plan to an audience of more than 200 people at the former racetrack Thursday night.