By Doug Ireland
---- — WINDHAM — Southern New Hampshire’s economic success depends on the Legislature’s approval of expanded gambling and completion of the Interstate 93 widening, Gov. Maggie Hassan told business leaders yesterday.
Hassan, speaking at a Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce forum at Castleton Banquet & Conference Center, began by paying tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and an explosion Wednesday at a Texas fertilizer plant.
She then told the approximately 150 people that the state and local economies would receive a big boost if lawmakers pass legislation allowing for construction of a casino that would create jobs and generate much-needed revenue. Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas has proposed a casino at nearby Rockingham Park in Salem.
“We must develop sufficient revenue to protect our priorities,” Hassan said. “I believe we should move forward with our own plan for one high-end casino.”
The proposal, Senate Bill 152, calls for allowing up to 150 table games and 5,000 slot machines. It’s expected to create up to 2,000 construction and 1,500 casino jobs.
By allowing expanded gambling, New Hampshire would avoid losing valuable revenue to casinos being built in Massachusetts, she said.
“The true risk we all face is the risk of letting our economy fall behind,” Hassan said.
She testified in support of SB 152 before the House Ways & Means and Finance Committee earlier this week.
The governor included revenue from the $80 million casino licensing fee in her proposed two-year budget, saying the money would help prevent devastating cuts in state programs.
The House approved an $11 billion, two-year budget plan earlier this month, but without the $80 million earmarked by Hassan. The budget now goes before the Senate.
“Without the $80 million from one casino,” she said, “we will see some of our most important priorities are at risk of being cut.”
But Hassan said her proposed budget still reinstates much of the money for important state programs slashed by the previous Legislature, including social services and higher education.
“Our budget brings our university system back to 90 percent of where it was before the cuts,” she said.
A key factor in stimulating economic growth in Southern Hampshire is investing in its infrastructure, especially I-93, she said.
“The I-93 expansion project remains unfinished,” she said. “They need us to finish I-93 to move forward.”
Completion of the nearly $800 million project, scheduled for 2020, would bring new businesses and jobs to the area, Hassan said.
The state also needs to focus on funding improvements to deteriorating roads and bridges, Hassan said. There’s only been enough money available to patch roads and not reconstruct them, she said.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Hampshire roads a C minus, she said.
“We barely have enough to do the bare minimum,” she said. “We must develop strategies for a long-term solution.”
There are also hundreds of “red-listed” bridges in desperate need of repair, Hassan said.
Hassan’s speech was followed by a presentation from Christopher Way, interim director of the state Division of Economic Development.
Way told the business leaders how his division is helping to bolster business ties with other countries, especially Canada, and encouraged them to contact his office if they needed help. New Hampshire’s business climate is slowly improving, he said.
“Exports, at every level of business, play a real strong part,” he said. “I think we are in an exciting time. We are at a point where we have a lot of resources and are moving forward.”
The breakfast forum concluded with the Chamber of Commerce handing out its Business Pillar Awards.
Food for the Hungry received the Not for Profit Award; ConvenientMD, New Business Award; Daisy Cleaners, Small Business Award; Canobie Lake Park, Large Business Winner.