State House Memo: Good budget, but we still need casino revenue
The New Hampshire Legislature recently adopted a budget for the state for the coming two years. It was a good, solid budget and serves as a beginning of a restoration of government after the dismantling that took place over the past two years.
We are proud of the steps we have taken. For example, the budget invests in a new framework for community mental health care that will develop over the next 10 years to serve those who need assistance living within our community. The budget restores the Children in Need of Services program that serves troubled juveniles at the first sign of difficulty. The budget also fully funds the developmentally disabled wait list, so families will not have to be devastated by having to choose between institutionalizing a child or giving up a job and going on welfare.
Several other items were restored in this budget, such as funding for Planned Parenthood; funding for the university system and community college system, which will make a tuition freeze possible; full funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; an increase in the rooms-and-meals tax distribution to municipalities; restored environmental grants to cities and towns for water, wastewater and landfill closures; and improved technical assistance to businesses and strengthened economic development efforts in order to support the business community’s work to create jobs for a strong middle class.
We made progress, but unfortunately we missed the chance to do more. There are still many major issues that need to be addressed, such as funding for our transportation infrastructure. And we have no solutions for the one-time dollars we used to fill the budget holes.
Without some source of new revenue, our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Without additional, stable revenue, it is unclear how the university system and the community college system will be able to keep tuitions at the same level. And without new revenue New Hampshire will not be able to continue to attract new economic growth that is so vital for our citizens to continue the standard of living they enjoy.
So what do we do? A new tax would bring in additional revenue; however, the voters have said time and time again they do not want a sales or income tax, and we all know that property taxes are too high now. So what is left? Maybe it is time for the House of Representatives to listen to the people of New Hampshire who have resoundingly spoken out in the past in favor of expanded gaming in the form of a casino. Only a few lawmakers stand in the way of the overwhelming public support for gambling. When the House rejected gambling, the vote showed it will only take a few more lawmakers to pass this bill. We are close. But what is next?
Amid the same tired arguments and fear tactics used against gambling, there were statements of concern from would-be supporters. Some of our colleagues feared the bill didn’t have enough rules and regulations in place at the beginning to make them comfortable. Though the bill could not allow a casino without regulations in place, some of our fellow members wanted even more ironclad rules in place. In response to those reasoned concerns, the budget trailer bill called for a special commission to review regulations and rules. In coming months, this commission will work with department heads and the attorney general to resolve these concerns and offer a stricter, stronger proposal for lawmakers to review.
It is time to move and come to a reasonable and thorough plan to develop a casino in New Hampshire. This commission has the mechanism and the time to do just that and report back to the Legislature in January 2014 with a recommendation for legislation. The people want it. The budget demands it. It’s time.
(Rep. Peter R. Leishman of Peterborough is chairman of the House Finance Committee Division 3. Rep. Katherine D. Rogers is clerk of the House Finance Committee.)