Hassan renews casino pledge to balance N.H. budget

Monday February 25, 2013

WASHINGTON -- While fighting looming federal spending cuts, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan renewed her pledge Saturday to support a "high-end, highly regulated" casino to help balance the state budget.

There is no other way to pay for promised investments in higher education, health care, and state infrastructure, the first-term Democrat said.

"I campaigned on finding revenues to do that in part from one high-end, highly regulated casino, and the people of New Hampshire supported me," Hassan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I’m doing exactly what I said I would do in the campaign."

She said she’s not willing to look for revenue elsewhere.

"I oppose an income or a sales tax. This is what I campaigned on. And there appears to be strong support" for a casino among New Hampshire residents, she said.

Hassan joined dozens of state leaders from across the nation at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington this weekend. Like her colleagues, she urged congressional leaders to avoid automatic federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1. The cuts, she said, would eliminate 6,000 jobs in New Hampshire, or roughly 1 percent of the state’s workforce.

"The National Guard is obviously making plans to start furloughing guardsmen and women, which is particularly concerning to them and to me," Hassan said. "We just deployed another unit to Afghanistan."

Republicans and Democratic governors are calling for a compromise to end the cloud of uncertainty hanging over local employers.

While they were only designed as a last resort, congressional leaders have recently indicated a growing willingness to let the automatic spending cuts take effect. They would trigger furloughs for hundreds of thousands of employees at the departments of Transportation and Defense and send a ripple effect into related industries.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a major New Hampshire employer, faces deep cuts.

Hassan said she believes "there’s a chance" Congress will find a solution.

"I haven’t given up hope because I think the American people are going to be talking to their congressmen," she said. "I think there’s a chance their representatives will listen to them. But we’re running out of time."

In the meantime, Hassan is standing firmly behind a state Senate bill to legalize casino gambling in New Hampshire.

Hassan presented a two-year budget this month that incorporates $80 million in casino licensing fees. She said waiting to legalize casino gambling will allow neighboring Massachusetts to take gambling revenue from New Hampshire residents, while New Hampshire pays the social costs.

Massachusetts legalized casino gambling in 2011 and will eventually award licenses for a slots parlor and three casinos.

Opponents of the New Hampshire bill say the timeline for licensing a casino in the state is rushed, though Hassan disagreed, saying the proposal is workable and would bring thousands of jobs to the state.

"It’s not an issue of backing down. I have a problem to solve and promises to keep," she said.


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