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Gov. Hassan to present state budget proposal to Legislature today

Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012.

(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

Maggie Hassan, Democratic candidate for governor, held a town hall at Havenwood-Heritage Heights in Concord on July 6, 2012. (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

Gov. Maggie Hassan presents her proposed budget to the Legislature today, a two-year plan for state programs, taxes and spending that could rely on revenue from casino gambling.

During last fall’s campaign and in the months since her election, Hassan made clear she supports allowing a single casino in the state – a shift from her predecessor, fellow Democrat John Lynch, who opposed expanded gambling. And Hassan may need revenue from a casino to pay for the spending priorities she’s identified, including increased funding for the state’s public colleges and universities.

Hassan hasn’t publicly disclosed details of her budget for the coming biennium, which begins July 1, ahead of this morning’s speech to a joint session of the House and Senate. But the battle began yesterday, when the chairwoman of the state Republican Party blasted the idea that Hassan’s budget could rely on gaming revenue.

“By counting on highly speculative gambling revenues to balance the state budget, Gov. Hassan is constructing a fiscally irresponsible house of cards that could collapse at any moment,” Jennifer Horn said in a statement. “Gambling has always faced difficult odds and bipartisan opposition in the New Hampshire Legislature that has resulted in the defeat of numerous bills. Gov. Hassan doesn’t know if similar attempts to approve gambling will fare differently this year, yet for some reason she wants to include this uncertain revenue in her budget.”

Hassan today will set out detailed revenue estimates and spending plans for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, spanning all state agencies and departments.

“Gov. Hassan will present a fiscally responsible, balanced budget that makes difficult decisions in these challenging economic times to move New Hampshire forward toward a more innovative economy where businesses can create good, middle-class jobs,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg. “The governor’s plan recognizes that we cannot address all of our challenges at once, but it will put us back on the right path by building on the priorities needed to encourage innovation and keep our people safe, healthy and productive.”

Among the major issues:

∎ Expanded gambling: Hassan has said she supports a single casino, and there are at least two bills pending in the Legislature to allow casino gambling. But past proposals for expanded gaming have died in the House.

∎ Medicaid: The Supreme Court last year gave individual states the option of accepting federal money under President Obama’s 2010 health care reform law to expand Medicaid coverage. Hassan said last year she supports Medicaid expansion.

∎ Taxes and fees: Increased road tolls, gas taxes, car registration fees and cigarette taxes could all be options for revenue.

∎ Higher education: Both the University System of New Hampshire and the Community College System of New Hampshire saw big cuts in state aid two years ago. Hassan has said she wants to begin to restore that funding, but hasn’t committed to restoring all the money that was cut.

And how will legislators react to Hassan’s proposals? With Democrats in control of the House and Republicans in control of the Senate, the final budget will by necessity be a compromise document.

The House has first crack at the budget, and faces an April 4 deadline to pass its version and let the Senate begin its work.

If the Senate’s budget differs from the one passed by the House, it’ll likely go to a conference committee in June, when negotiators from the House and Senate will hammer out a final version that is acceptable to both chambers and to Hassan.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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