N.H. casino advocates say revenue needed to fill possible MET gap
A small group of casino advocates made a final pitch for expanded gambling yesterday, this time pointing to a possible loss in revenue from the Medicaid Enhancement Tax as a reason for passage.
“Circumstances have changed, and we need to be mindful of what is lost and what is at stake if we don’t move toward budget adjustments right now,” Rep. Thomas Schamberg, a Wilmot Democrat, said.
The House will vote tomorrow on a two-casino bill, which the Senate passed in March. It’s the last casino bill up this session, and supporters have added sweeteners such as $25 million in revenue sharing to get enough votes for passage. Supporters have long said a casino is the best source of nontax revenue to pay for critical programs, and they’re now seizing on a recent court decision calling the state’s Medicaid Enhancement Tax unconstitutional as further evidence that the state needs casino revenue.
If the state Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision, the loss of revenue from the tax will leave a major hole in the state budget. The state’s budget relies on $184 million from the tax in fiscal year 2014 and $190 million in fiscal year 2015.
But when asked yesterday how much of the projected casino revenue would go toward filling that hole, Schamberg did not have an answer. Proponents of expanded gambling estimate two casinos would bring in $140 million to $150 million in annual state revenue. A large portion of that money is already allocated to the host and neighboring communities, enforcement activities, addiction counseling and revenue sharing.
Although Schamberg didn’t have a percentage of how much money could go toward filling the hole left by the Medicaid tax, he said bringing in the additional casino money is better than nothing and is the best way to guard against needing a broad-based tax.
“Our business community and families throughout this state do not want to be kept in doubt of what this state’s tax policy will be going forward to meet our budget obligations,” Schamberg said.
Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees’ Association, highlighted all of the lawsuits that have been filed against the state due to a lack of money for critical services, such as the Claremont lawsuit over education money and the recent lawsuit against the state’s mental health care system.
But anti-casino groups said yesterday that casino tax revenue is “unreliable, unsustainable and unpredictable,” and therefore not a solution to the possible loss of Medicaid Enhancement Tax money. Using the Medicaid Enhancement Tax issue is just the latest attempt to convince legislators to approve a project they have rejected time and again, Casino Free New Hampshire and the Granite State Coalition Against Expanded Gambling said in a statement.
“The New Hampshire House has rejected slot machines and casinos every time it has voted on them for the last 30 years. Why is that? Quite simply because this is a decision that we can never reverse. If New Hampshire opens the door to casino gambling, it will change something that makes our small state very special. New Hampshire will not be the same good place to work, to raise a family and to visit that it is today,” the statement said.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or email@example.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)