CONCORD, N.H. -- Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan says the spending choices she makes in her proposed budget may disappoint some, but New Hampshire voters expect fiscal prudence from their leaders.
Residents know times are still tough and the economy is still fragile, she told The Associated Press in an interview last week. Hassan said she is beginning to meet with people, listen to state department heads and others to set priorities for the state budget she must present to the Legislature in mid-February.
"People understand we continue to be in tough economic circumstances and I was clear in the campaign we weren’t going to do everything at once. Regardless of political party and interest, people understand we need to be fiscally responsible. That’s the cornerstone of New Hampshire government and what people expect," she said.
Hassan said it is early yet to say what spending or cuts she will recommend.
She said one revenue possibility would be legalizing a casino to produce money, possibly for spending in the second year of the budget.
"One of the things we have to do with a new Legislature in place is talk with people about where they are on that issue and work out what the timing is. If we think it’s a realistic thing to do, it’s something I’ll consider including (in my budget)," she said.
Gambling supporters are hoping that -- after years of failing to get casino bills through New Hampshire’s House -- they will succeed with Hassan’s backing. They believe if a bill is passed next year, the state could receive the licensing fee the following year. In the most recent gambling bills, the fee for one casino was $50 million.
Hassan supports one well-regulated, high-end casino that is selected by a competitive bid. The man she is succeeding, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, squelched efforts to bring a casino to New Hampshire during his eight years in office by questioning whether it would negatively affect quality of life.
During her campaign, Hassan was careful to limit proposals for more spending and revenue in the next budget.
Besides legalizing a casino, she backed a 10-cent increase in the cigarette tax -- essentially undoing a cut by the Republican Legislature -- and replacing auditors laid off at the Department of Revenue charged with ensuring businesses paid the taxes due.
For spending, she said she wanted to restore some if not all of the $84 million in state aid to the University System of New Hampshire cut by Republicans and the $157 million in payments cut to hospitals caring for the poorest residents. The mother of a disabled son, Hassan also supports more funding for services to the disabled on a wait list.
But Hassan signaled last week in opening hearings on budget requests by state agencies and the university system that the total requests were more than the state could afford. The requests represented a 26 percent increase in spending from state tax sources, which is the part of the budget Hassan and lawmakers have the most control over.
"We were clear during the campaign and I was trying to be clear (last) Monday that we are still in an economically fragile time and we aren’t going to be able to do everything we want," she said.
The university system asked for its funding to be more than doubled and the Department of Health and Human Services included hospital aid in its budget.
Hassan insists it is too early to say if those requests can be fulfilled.
"It’s still early. We’re going to have to make difficult choices," she said.