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Analysis: Wins and losses for Hassan in her second year as governor

  • Governor Maggie Hassan<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Governor Maggie Hassan

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • FILE - In this April 16, 2013 file photo, Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., leaves a joint House panel public hearing at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., after urging them to pass a bill to license a single casino in New Hampshire. Although the senate passed the bill, the House killed it, making it one of New Hampshire's top stories of the year. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

    FILE - In this April 16, 2013 file photo, Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., leaves a joint House panel public hearing at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., after urging them to pass a bill to license a single casino in New Hampshire. Although the senate passed the bill, the House killed it, making it one of New Hampshire's top stories of the year. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

  • Governor Maggie Hassan<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • FILE - In this April 16, 2013 file photo, Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., leaves a joint House panel public hearing at the Statehouse in Concord, N.H., after urging them to pass a bill to license a single casino in New Hampshire. Although the senate passed the bill, the House killed it, making it one of New Hampshire's top stories of the year. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Ask Gov. Maggie Hassan what her priorities are and you’ll get a laser-focused answer: moving the economy in the “right direction,” “expanding opportunity” for the middle class and helping “innovative businesses” create jobs.

In an interview with the Monitor to discuss the year’s successes and setbacks, Hassan continuously pivoted back to all three, whether she was talking about Medicaid expansion, fixing the Medicaid Enhancement Tax problem or the failure to raise the minimum wage. With an election coming up, it’s clear that Hassan has her message locked down.

But Hassan laid out more expansion priorities than those three quick sound bites in her State of the State address in February, in which she looked back on her successes in year one and outlined the road map for year

two. Nearly seven months and 742 bills later, Hassan’s second year in office was largely marked by making headway on major initiatives that she wasn’t able to accomplish last year, such as Medicaid expansion, and by her response to a lawsuit from state hospitals over a multimillion-dollar tax.

“Despite the fact that you have a divided government, you haven’t had a stalemate in Concord. On the whole, I think that’s a plus for her,” said Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.


New Hampshire lawmakers left November’s special session on Medicaid expansion without a deal and with a lot of frustration. But sometime between then and February, six senators reached a deal just in time for Hassan’s State of the State address. It was a deal that looked similar to one proposed in November, but the bipartisan group of senators that created it presented it in a way that let both sides take some credit.

It’s unclear what role Hassan played in crafting the final deal, as she was far less vocal about a solution than she had been in November, when she held rallies in the communities of Republican senators considered to be swing votes. When asked earlier this month, she didn’t take full credit for the plan but instead praised the bipartisan cooperation that led to it.

“What I am most pleased about is that we’ve been able, over the past year, to come together to solve problems the New Hampshire way, and I think that Medicaid expansion is a great example of that,” Hassan said. “It took a lot of conversation, a lot of educating each other about what was important to our constituents and to our providers. I’m just delighted we were able to get it done.”

Hassan offered a similar, tempered analysis of the agreement over the Medicaid Enhancement Tax settlement, which kept the state from facing a multimillion budget hole. Much of the deal-making happened behind the scenes, and 25 of the state’s 26 hospitals decided not to pursue the lawsuit in exchange for more money back to cover uncompensated and charity care. The state will have between $45 million and $95 million less in the next biennium, which is substantially less than the loss without a solution. Through the months of uncertainty, Hassan never offered a solution publicly. But it was Hassan who confidently announced a settlement deal to lawmakers, looking as if she drove the process.

“What I kept doing with leaders in the executive branch was really trying to keep people talking, trying to provide a variety of options and ways we might go at this issue,” Hassan said. “But it was important that we worked with our legislative colleagues, too, and at the end of the day, I’m very pleased that we were able to get it done.”

Ask Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, and it was really the Senate that drove the conversation on both of these issues. Through the year, Morse was often more vocal than Hassan when it came to stating opinions and taking credit.

“I think (Hassan) has been there when I needed to talk to her, but I also think there are issues that the Senate led on,” Morse said. “It’s obvious on health care we couldn’t get to an agreement with the governor in November, the Senate came together and led.”

Another controversial issue that started in the Senate and achieved bipartisan support was an increase in the gas tax to fund road and bridge projects. The 4.2 cents is far less than the original 12 cents Hassan and some others wanted last year. But Hassan spoke about the need for funding infrastructure in her State of the State address and praised Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, for his work on finding the money. Right-wing groups will try to tie the tax to Hassan through Election Day, but she hasn’t backed away from the measure.

“The rap against (former) governor Lynch was, here’s someone who is unwilling to sign off on controversial legislation or unwilling to support partisan goals, unwilling to spend political capital,” Scala said. With Hassan “you have a governor who isn’t as popular but, arguably, has signed off on controversial legislation.”


Failing to legalize casino gambling and to raise the minimum wage are two of Hassan’s biggest losses for the session and the year, when compared with the priorities she laid out.

The latter was a much more partisan fight, and the Republican-controlled Senate ultimately defeated the bill, saying it would be bad for business and could lead to job losses. In New Hampshire and on the national level, some Democrats are hoping it could turn into a campaign issue.

“Expanding opportunity for middle-class families includes restoring and improving the minimum wage, not only for the financial security for families but also so that our businesses have more customers,” she said. “I’ll continue to push for restoring and improving the minimum wage as I campaign for re-election.”

Hassan’s support for casino gambling was so noteworthy because it was a break from Lynch, who always opposed expanded gambling, and because she included $80 million from nonexistent casino revenue in her first budget proposal last year. Casino gambling is a far less partisan issue, as both Republicans and Democrats have championed it and fought against it.

Hassan has always stated her support for one casino, and never gave a clear comment on how she would handle a bill legalizing two casinos. It was that bill, started in the Senate, that was killed by just one vote this year. If re-elected, she will continue to fight for one casino and stressed to the Monitor that she believes New Hampshire needs a new source of revenue that is not an income or sales tax.

“I think as people get more educated about it, they get more comfortable about it, and I think they do understand increasingly that revenue will leave this state,” Hassan said.

Gambling may be Hassan’s most high-profile loss, but is it something that could lose her the governor’s office? It’s unlikely, Scala said. Both of her Republican opponents, Walt Havenstein and Andrew Hemingway, have criticized her for including nonexistent money in her budget, but neither have hammered Hassan repeatedly on the issue.

“I just don’t see it becoming an issue that voters are going to hold against her,” Scala said. “. . . I think it’s rare that you would find New Hampshire governors who were sent home by voters because they failed (to pass) a piece of legislation that they supported.”

Campaign mode

Hassan will promote and defend all of the above initiatives and more as she hits the campaign trail and prepares for the November election, trying to tie each one to the three goals she talks about so steadily. On each piece, she’ll likely emphasize bipartisanship as well, casting herself as the governor who presided over two years at the State House marked by a calmer style of debate than the session before.

And regardless of how much Hassan drove each narrative, what voters will ultimately remember when they go to the polls is the end result – and whether or not they agree with it.

“The fact is the legislation got done, and that’s what she’ll campaign on, and that’s what people will remember,” Scala said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or or on Twitter @kronayne.)

Legacy Comments9

Gracchus -- The statement "prevent the rest of New Hampshire from becoming New Jersey" tells the story. Those large property owners complain that they would have to sell if they had to pay the property tax on all the land "they" own. Look around the country, there are lots of areas that are not built up and people own the land. The simple answer is a low property tax rate where one can still afford to live at their home if they retire or just want to own some property. Personally I say take the exact dollar amount that is generated today and make it equate to a 20% tax from property and 80% through income tax. If your income goes up then you pay a few more dollars, if it goes down then you pay a few less but you still can afford to own your home and your property. This deals with generating revenue - how much is spent is a different discussion.

Jim, I have land on land use and it is there for hunters, fishing enthusiasts, four wheelers and snowmobiles. My taxes would be $800 more per year so I could care less if current use was repealed, except that many people own 80-200 acres and they could not afford to hold onto their land should the law be repealed. Therefore, the land would either be broken up into house lots or only the wealthy would own all of the open land. Neither scenario is good. Historically, the more money that is available, the more politicians and government bureaucrats want to spend it. The bottom line is that nothing should be done to raise more revenue until we place restrictions on spending, which, is not happening and not likely to happen. I drive by a property in Chichester a couple of times per week and liked the house so out of curiousity, I looked into it to see what it was selling for. Well, the house is a steal but when I scrolled down to the property taxes, they are $12,000 per year. Why? Because the school is everything to Chichester and their school taxes are astronomical. Imagine if a person purchased that home in their working years and in retirement their tax bill was $12,000 per month? Income tax will not reduce property taxes, that has been proven time and time again in so many states. Ever hear of Proposition 2 1/2 in Massachusetts? However a sales tax excluding prescriptions, clothing and groceries is the answer that would work best. Tied to that is that the state would fund schools and we would need an amendment that property taxes could never be levied for a towns school again. Then a proposition like no more than 2% increase in ttaxes for town services could be raised per year. What will happen is that once property taxes are low again, towns will say "Oh wouldn't it be nice to have new town offices, pools, a community center, etc." and up again would go taxes.

Itsa - is your land posted "In Current Use - Public Welcome" or are you just saying that because no one knows it? I totally agree only the wealthy could afford the taxes in NH on 200 acres with the present tax system - that's the point. Lower the tax rate on property so people can afford it. My post stated not to raise the amount of revenue one dime - change the way it is generated. Regardless of how the taxes are generated if the town wants to spend more they will, that's up to the town. Why should ~~27,000 property owners in NH be able to have just over half of the entire state tied up in "current use". It's not farmers, only 4% of the property is farmland. I also agree with the $12K taxes due in retirement scenario - another reason to get rid of 100% property tax. Look at your scenario: 3 identical houses side by side, house #1 $200K income/$12K taxes give them an effective tax rate of 6%; house #2 $100K income/$12K taxes give them an effective tax rate of 12%; house #3 (the retirement home they lived in all their lives) $50K income/$12K taxes give them an effective tax rate of 24%. Your 100% correct, how many retired families could pay 24% of their income just for taxes. In NH the less you make the higher the tax rate one pays and current use is just a tax break for the large land owner. You want property tax then pay the tax on the current value of that property just like the rest of the residents do.

It is posted, Hunting and Fishing allowed. My point was that an income tax is not the answer. I would support a sales tax IF it solely went to schools and could never be spent elsewhere and if the property taxes froze at 2% allowed increase per year. It would solve all issues.

Maggie's pro-casino stance has only served to tell me how much she doesn't get New Hampshire. And it might cost her re-election, if the GOP could muster a viable candidate. Appears she's in no danger there, however. Personally, I'd like to see the Dems pull a "Franklin Pierce", and deny Governor Hassan the chance at a second term. Her crowning achievement to date is the immortalization of former Governor Lynch, by default.

How about repealing the "current use" tax exemption. NH has a property tax and then exempts 51% of all the property in the state. Let me just think, half the property in exemption - what would my tax rate be if the other half of the state was paying the tax. In NH the less one earns the higher their effective tax rate is...... Maggie should not mind as she would still pay no tax to live in the state to which she is Governor.

I'm all for it - IF - you can explain how else we can prevent the rest of New Hampshire from becoming New Jersey. Unfortunately local planning / zoning boards can't.

How many un-official Town Forests - in the plural does each municipality "need"? to prevent the N.J. effect. RSA Ch. 674:41,I(e) of 2004 (ten years ago) allows all lots of record on an existing road to become a building lot, BUT on Class VI roads like jeep trails some towns allow by Ordinance that if you tar the 200 feet in front of your property you get the building permit, whereas in other towns it's on a case-by-case basis of some towns requiring ALL the road leading UP TO your property to be tarred Class V and then a Betterment Assessment against your neighbors even though they do NOT want to have it "improved". The main concern should be on ANY vote of that a fire truck can get up and back from there going full-speed ahead.

Dear Readers: If you're missing a semi-literate elderly loved one, please inquire about Mr Haas with the CM during regular business hours.

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