My Turn: A balanced budget focused on innovation
New Hampshire stands at the threshold of a bright new future. We are as well positioned as any state to lead the country in innovative economic growth that will lift all of our people and define the 21st century.
But we cannot sit back and wait for the innovation economy to develop, risking our economic future by allowing other states to create good jobs and attract innovative businesses.
I have presented to the Legislature a fiscally responsible budget – balanced without an income or sales tax – that is focused on innovation, economic growth, and creating good jobs to support a strong middle class.
It is a budget that begins rebuilding, based on the priorities that are critical for an innovative future: building a highly educated workforce, attracting and growing cutting-edge businesses, and sustaining our high quality of life by keeping our communities and people safe and healthy.
It is also a budget that recognizes we cannot address all of our challenges all at once in these uncertain economic times. In preparing our budget, we cut agency requests by more than 500 million general fund dollars, keeping general fund spending 7 percent below Fiscal Year 2008 for FY 2014.
But by making tough, fiscally responsible choices, we have been able to balance the budget while making critical investments to put New Hampshire back on the path to a strong and innovative economic future.
To attract the innovative businesses and good jobs that will drive our economy forward, we must ensure our workforce is the strongest in the nation by making higher education more affordable and more accessible for all of our people. Ever-rising tuition rates can force many families to avoid even considering New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities, hurting our competitiveness.
Our budget substantially restores cuts to our universities and community colleges in exchange for freezing in-state tuition for the next two years.
It also doubles the R&D tax credit, funds business incubators, and provides technical support to help businesses grow and create jobs.
Our balanced budget seeks to improve the health of our communities, accepting $2.5 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid, something both Democratic and Republican governors across the country agree is a good deal that will help more families access health coverage while boosting our economy.
It takes steps to strengthen our public safety infrastructure, restoring funding for the Children in Need of Services program, putting 15 more state troopers on the road and allowing us to continue operating three drug task force teams. And it begins to repair our fractured mental health system by investing in community-based services that keep people, and their communities, safe.
As we make this progress, we must also continue reforming state government. Our budget includes measures to modernize state government, bringing the public and private sectors together to identify ways to provide state services more efficiently.
And to fund our most pressing priorities, especially higher education and mental health, my budget includes $80 million from licensing one high-end, highly regulated casino.
A high-end casino would bring a significant economic boost, creating more than an estimated 2,000 jobs during construction and 1,000 long-term jobs, while attracting new businesses and economic development. And the revenue from one casino would mean tens of millions of dollars a year that can be used to strengthen our economy and invest in our priorities, as well as funds to address social costs like substance abuse and gambling addiction.
With Massachusetts moving forward, we can no longer pretend that expanded gambling isn’t coming to our communities. It is, and if we don’t act, revenue from New Hampshire’s residents will fund Massachusetts’s needs.
I believe we should develop our own plan that will allow us to address social costs and invest in our priorities.
Because the true risk we all face is the risk of letting our economy fall behind and allowing the good jobs and growing businesses of the innovation economy to develop elsewhere.
Our fiscally responsible plan puts our state back on the right path and will help set the foundation for a more innovative economy with more good jobs that can support a growing middle class.
As governor, it is my job to put forward a plan outlining my approach to meet our needs while living within our means, and I look forward to working with the Legislature to finalize a balanced budget that will lead to a brighter economic future.
We must lead the way in order to build a stronger, more innovative New Hampshire.
(Democrat Maggie Hassan is governor of New Hampshire.)