Editorial: Good goals from Hassan – but where’s the money?

Last modified: 1/30/2013 11:55:28 AM
With the clock ticking on several lawsuits that could blow $100 million holes in the state budget, there will be no honeymoon for Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s 81st governor. Hassan, who took office yesterday, outlined goals in her inaugural speech that deserve bipartisan support. Among them were her call to restore the $100 million in cuts the last Legislature made to the university system; to reverse the drain of talent that occurs when the state’s young people attend college elsewhere and fail to return home; to spur business growth; and to meet the state’s responsibility to care for people with disabilities, not in institutions but in their communities. Hassan didn’t use the words “mental illness” in her speech but we hope, and assume, that her concern for the disabled extends to those with mental illness, and that on her agenda is the rebuilding of an ailing community mental health system that was once a model for the nation.

Hassan, who fought for equal rights for homosexuals as a legislator, made it clear that New Hampshire’s recognition of the rights of same-sex couples to marry is something the state should view with pride. Lawmakers who seek to repeal that right will waste time the Legislature sorely needs to address real, not imaginary, problems.

We cheer the new governor’s call for bipartisanship, as well as her announcement of an open-door policy and insistence on conducting a transparent government. We do hope that, unlike former governor John Lynch, she will make her views on issues clear sooner rather than later. That would speed the work of government.

We applaud her recognition of the need to address the overdue needs of the state’s infrastructure, its aging roads, red-listed bridges and lack of high-speed broadband internet service in many areas. To her list we would add the need to make up for the deferred maintenance that led to leaking ceilings in the magnificent state library building, shuttered rest areas and state park facilities and other needs.

No list of infrastructure needs would be complete without including two facilities Hassan did not mention in her address: the men’s prison in Concord and women’s prison in Goffstown. Both are overdue for replacement, and conditions at one are the subject of an ongoing lawsuit. We also heard no mention in her speech of the state’s moral responsibility to extend Medicaid to tens of thousands of residents who can’t afford insurance, something we believe Hassan supports.

We share the new governor’s dream of a thriving New Hampshire that offers every student at every level a top-notch but affordable education.

And while we recognize that yesterday’s address was not a budget speech, we wish that Hassan had put more than a glimmer of a financial foundation under her dreams. Doing what needs to be done, even if the state doesn’t lose one or more of the lawsuits it faces, will take many times more revenue than can be raised by raising the cigarette tax and hiring more auditors.

Hassan made clear, as we expected, that she would veto any bill imposing an income or sales tax. But finding sources of revenue that she and the Legislature can countenance will be a critical task in coming months. The gas tax, last raised more than two decades ago, should be increased to address the enormous infrastructure needs, but the surcharge on vehicle registrations, which falls most heavily on those least able to pay should not be reinstated.

Still, a higher gas tax and tobacco tax alone won’t balance the state budget. Revenue growth from an economy that continues to expand will help, but that, too, won’t be enough to balance the books unless the state can return to its decade-long trend of increased business and population growth.

The new governor should explore every avenue to fairly raise revenue from existing sources and, if those aren’t enough, have the courage to consider other options.

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