My Turn: Casinos would help put end to budget shenanigans
Casino opponents spend a lot of time casting a dark shadow on casino supporters. They act like it is such a waste of time, and basically a nuisance, to face yet another casino bill. They provide excuses to block casinos from New Hampshire and allege undue influence from powerful, Vegas-style casino operators. They warn us of what casinos will do to the people of New Hampshire once they get a foothold here.
I have not succumbed to such influence. I don’t get paid gifts or favors from anyone. My foothold in New Hampshire comes from birth – and my support for SB 366 comes from dedication to the people of New Hampshire.
I’ve spent more than 20 years getting a bird’s-eye view of our state government. Here’s what has been happening:
∎ For more than 30 years, New Hampshire has not adequately funded public education. Claremont I and II has now spanned two generations, and the problem still isn’t fixed.
∎ Twenty-eight years ago, New Hampshire failed to provide appropriate services to educationally handicapped youth in our state safety net, and we were sued for it. We will start failing them again in July due to state budget cuts.
∎ Twenty-five years ago, New Hampshire reformed our broken mental health system. Within 10 years, we violated federal law and had to clean up our act. We were recently sued again and settled the case for $30 million in promised improvements.
∎ Twenty-three years ago, New Hampshire failed to protect the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable children – those abused and neglected, and we were sued for it. Eleven years later, New Hampshire faced federal courts again because we were still failing our children.
∎ Ten years ago, we reneged on rates paid to residential providers serving youth in the care of the state. Our failure to pay left some providers going to food pantries to help feed these kids.
∎ In the past six years, we’ve taken out more than $125 million of budget cuts on less than 1 percent of the population by eliminating almost 2,000 full-time jobs in state public service. In the 1980s, we took such pride in these jobs that high school students were given civil service aptitude tests.
∎ Five years ago, more than 200 doctors and other health care entities sued New Hampshire (and won) for illegally taking $110 million from the medical liability insurance fund.
∎ In the past few years, our hospitals sued New Hampshire for illegally taking more than $100 million in Medicaid money to balance the budget.
∎ Failing thousands of female prisoners for more than three decades on their road to rehabilitation and reform, we’ve faced two class-action lawsuits three decades apart.
∎ From the 1970s to 1990s, state employees were promised free health care in retirement until they died; five years ago we reneged on that promise and left thousands of them without adequate funds for health care. We remain over $2 billion in debt to them for even just the partial payment we still make.
∎ Thanks to 20-plus years of budget gimmicks, New Hampshire is in debt to retired public workers for insufficiently contributing to the pensions we promised them. And yet we blame them for the $4 billion debt.
Perhaps casino opponents have been placing their own bets all along. Maybe they thought we wouldn’t realize we were the numbers they were playing roulette with. But we did, and it’s time to end New Hampshire’s decades-long shameful budget shenanigans. It’s time to stop pretending things aren’t as bad as they seem.
Thousands of people have been left in harm’s way for far too many years. Lives have been wrecked, roads to recovery and self-sufficiency delayed for years, and we have eliminated the road of continued independence for hard-working people – all in these years of debate. We can’t keep being the sacrificial lambs for legislative budget woes; we deserve better.
Accounting gimmicks and fiscal risks to pass so-called balanced budgets are a disservice to the people of New Hampshire. Legislators should say yes to casinos now.
(Diane Lacey is president of the SEA/SEIU Local 1984.)