ATKINSON — Two New Hampshire Senate leaders hope another roll of the dice will bring much-needed revenue to the state, including money to replace deteriorating roads and bridges.
Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and Transportation Committee Chairman James Rausch, R-Derry, were the keynote speakers yesterday at the Concord Connections forum at the Atkinson Resort & Country Club.
The two state senators told a crowd of about 60 people, including fellow state lawmakers, they are gearing up for the debate in early February that could bring casino gambling to New Hampshire.
Expanded gambling would provide the state with the millions of dollars needed for road and bridge projects, especially the $250 million required to finish the widening of Interstate 93, they said.
“We can’t get I-93 completed,” Rausch said. “We have roads and bridges that are a problem.”
In May, the House of Representatives voted 199-164 to kill Senate Bill 2, which would have permitted the establishment of a single casino in the state. The bill had already passed the Senate. One proposed location was Rockingham Park in Salem.
“I still believe the solution is to get gaming,” Morse said. “The governor should not run away from that problem. You should hold her to the fire on that issue.”
“I’m still hopeful we will get casino expansion,” he said.
The Derry senator drew applause when he suggested that Salem’s lawmakers needed to back casino legislation. Several of the town’s state representatives did not support SB 2 last year, but 81 percent of residents who voted on a nonbinding referendum in March endorsed expanded gambling.
“Now is the time to push,” Morse said. “We need to excite people, including the governor. This is the issue that will move New Hampshire forward. It is important to the state and it is important to the community.”
Among the expanded gambling bills lawmakers will consider is legislation that would establish regulatory controls. Lawmakers were concerned last year there would not be enough controls in place. The Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority was formed last summer.
There is also legislation that would ensure organizations receive their 35 percent share of charitable gaming proceeds, Rausch said. Lawmakers are also considering keno gambling legislation.
To help pay for the state’s infrastructure needs, Rausch has also proposed increasing the state’s gasoline tax or — “road toll” as he called it — to fund the needed road and bridge work.
He calls for increasing the 18 cents per gallon tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1991, in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.
The increase would be roughly 4.2 cents per gallon, generating $30 million a year, Rausch said. That’s about $16 more a year per driver, he said.
“I don’t think we are hurting our senior citizens, I don’t think we are hurting our citizens,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of intestinal fortitude when it comes to making changes, especially when it comes to user fees.”
The forum was sponsored by the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Salem Rotary Club. Morse also spoke briefly on lawmakers’ efforts to deal with the expansion of Medicaid.