State House Live: Hassan backs Medicaid expansion, a N.H. casino and more
Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., left, is applauded by the joint session of the legislature and Speaker of the House, Democrat Terie Norelli, center, and Reupublican Senate President Chuck Morse, before delivering her State of the State Address at the Statehouse Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
3:09 p.m.: Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan made strong statements in support of Medicaid expansion, improving mental health services and expanding gambling in the form of one casino during her State of the State speech this afternoon, and she continued to hold the line on her opposition to legalizing marijuana.
In her address, which lasted about an hour, Hassan also made clear her support for the Common Core educational standards and bills to increase the minimum wage and expand gun background checks.
The loudest and most enthusiastic response to Hassan’s remarks came after she urged the Legislature to move forward on Medicaid expansion. Earlier this afternoon, Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, and Democratic Leader Sylvia Larsen, of Concord, announced a plan to introduce a Medicaid expansion bill in the Senate that has bipartisan support.
“With today’s positive step forward, it’s clear that we can work through this together and help working people access critical health coverage,” she said. “Now, let’s get this done.”
On casinos, Hassan warned lawmakers that New Hampshire could lose $75 million to Massachusetts in casino revenue if an expanded gambling plan is not approved. She strongly expressed her support for the one-casino bill developed by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority that was heard earlier by the House Ways and Means committee.
Despite the House vote earlier this session to legalize marijuana, Hassan clearly reiterated her opposition to legalization, telling lawmakers it would make New Hampshire’s roads less safe, cause more young people to use and abuse marijuana and “undermine” the state’s public health system.
Read tomorrow’s Concord Monitor for a full account of Hassan’s speech.
12:15 p.m.: Lynn Kilchenstein, a trustee for the Capitol Center for the Arts, expressed concerns that a casino would harm similar entertainment and arts venues. Her testimony highlighted similar concerns raised earlier in the hearing by Tim Bechert, regional general manager for the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
Both said a casino would diminish their venues' abilities to attract performers because a casino could always pay a higher price. The bill has a provision saying any licensee would have to sign agreements with local live entertainment venues in an attempt to mitigate these concerns. But Kilchenstein still said this is unfair to the smaller entertainment businesses that don't have the resources to develop these type of agreements.
Furthermore, she told the committee, venues like the Capitol Center for the Arts are run by people who live locally and care about the communities in which they operate.
"We believe that these centers are really part of the fabric of our community," she said.
12:02 p.m.: Diana Lacey, president of the State Employees Association, told the committee that New Hampshire is facing a jobs crisis and running out of time to solve it. The casino bill would add jobs directly in construction and indirectly through jobs created by the increased revenue, she said.
Young workers are continually migrating out of New Hampshire, she added, which has a negative effect on the state's earning capacity and ability to support its elderly, retired workers who need more services.
"We are running out of time to attract people to stay in New Hampshire and to give people jobs here," she said.
11:22 a.m.: Pat Griffin, a Gilford resident who has worked in advertising and marketing (including for the state's tourism industry), said opponents' claims that casinos would ruin New Hampshire's "brand" are off-base. Forty-one other states have casinos, yet few have built their marketing and tourism industry on gambling, Griffin said. Colorado, for example, has 41 casinos yet maintains a brand built on mountains and skiing, he said.
Just because New Hampshire gets a casino does not mean visitors will only associate the state with gambling, he said.
"I actually give consumers, our visitors, more credit than that," Griffin said.
10:56 a.m.: Jay DelMonte, co-owner of Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse in Nashua, spoke in support of the bill and said, as a business owner, he would prefer casino money as a source of revenue rather than a broad-based tax.
He also told the committee he thought a casino would be an economic stimulus for the restaurants and stores in the surrounding area. In 1994, he said, he operated a restaurant near Foxwoods Casino in Massachusetts, and it didn't create a negative impact on the area, and actually brought people into his restaurant when tour buses would come in.
Furthermore, he doesn't see another option to solving what he sees as the state's revenue problem.
"I don't think we can afford not to do this," he said.
10:22 a.m.: Concord developer Steve Duprey, a vocal opponent of casino gambling, said licensing a casino would destroy New Hampshire’s brand and tourism and that the state would become addicted to the revenue.
Despite the state’s “desperate need” for revenue, he said, the governor and Legislature were able to pass a bipartisan budget last year to restore some of the previous cuts. The state can’t always have all the money it wants, Duprey said.
“We do not have such a chronic need for this revenue that we are willing to put up with the burdens and the cost and the damage to our brand,” he said.
The damage, he said, could include decreased use of cultural facilities such as the Capitol Center for the Arts. In response, Rep. Frankl Sapareto, a Derry Republican, said New Hampshire’s brand is also “live free or die,” and asked why citizens shouldn’t be allowed to choose how to spend their money at a casino.
“We all have to make decisions about the acceptable activity we want to allow,” Duprey said, and he believes a casino is wrong for New Hampshire on many levels.
9:53 p.m.: Attorney General Joe Foster, the only member of the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority who opposes the casino bill, told the committee the negative costs of gambling would outweigh the initial job creation from construction and increased revenue from the state.
Foster, who served on then-Gov. John Lynch’s gambling study commission, said that commission found a casino could bring up to $60 million in social costs, with $23 million being borne by government.
He also talked about the addictive nature of slot machines and noted that slot machines would be the primary form of gambling in the casino allowed by this bill. (As written, the bill allows for up to 5,000 casinos and 150 table games.) If the state tried to license a casino without slot machines, Foster said it’s unlikely any operators would be interested.
“You’d have no takers. Why? The lion's share of the revenue and tax dollars the operator and state would receive comes from slot machines,” Foster said. “The machines do exactly what they’re designed to do: keep the gamblers gambling.”
9:35 a.m.: Rep. Richard Ames, a Jaffrey Democrat who led the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Authority, highlighted some of the benefits of a casino and tried to clarify misconceptions about the bill. The oversight authority voted 8-1 in favor of this bill, with Attorney General Joe Foster casting the lone dissenting vote. (Foster will testify next.)
Under the bill, the state could authorize a single casino under a competitive bidding process. There would be a $400,000 application fee and an $80 million up-front licensing fee for a 10-year license. The casino would be allowed up to 5,000 slot machines and 150 table games, which would be taxed at 35 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
“It’s enabling legislation,” Ames said of the bill. “It doesn’t mandate a thing. It enables casino gambling in New Hampshire and sets limits on what can be done if someone steps forward and wants to take advantage.”
Previous estimates show building a casino would create at least 2,000 jobs between construction and long-term jobs and could bring up to $100 million in revenue to the state. The Legislature has discretion over where that revenue will go, although some of it must be directed toward problem gambling. Ames cautioned the committee not to attempt to estimate social costs and subtract it from that revenue.
“I just suggest that that’s a fool’s errand to try to deduct and monetize social costs,” he said. “Research across the country and across the globe for that matter has indicated monetizing social costs is near impossible given the data we have.”
Ames, the Ways and Means chairwoman, has already set work session days for next Tuesday, Thursday and the following Thursday, where the committee members will have more opportunities to look into the details of the bill.
9:08: The House Ways and Means Committee is about to begin a hearing on HB 1633, a bill that would establish one casino through a competitive bidding process. This is the bill established by the Gaming Regulatory Oversight Committee created by Gov. Maggie Hassan last year, and it's the bill that has her support. Committee chairwoman Susan Almy, a Lebanon Democrat, told the crowded room (there's a long line out the door) that the committee has until 12:45 p.m. to take testimony.
A busy day at the State House today begins with a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee on a casino gambling bill. We're also covering a hearing this morning on a bill that would establish special courts to deal with mental health issues.
The Senate convenes at 10. Gov. Maggie Hassan gives her State of the State speech at 2, after which the House convenes for action.
Check back for updates as the day unfolds.