And that is exactly what Gov. Maggie Hassan’s new budget is: A gamble. She’s rolling the dice on the state’s financial health, and she’s hoping snake eyes don’t come up on her political future.
Her budget included propping up programs she had championed during the gubernatorial campaign -- higher education and better health care for the state’s poor.
The two-year budget (fiscal 2014 and 2015) proposed in an address Thursday to a joint convention of the New Hampshire House and Senate puts a placeholder of $80 million in revenue from “one high end, highly regulated casino.”
There wasn’t much in the way of specifics beyond that.
But it came on the heels of a proposal in the budget on another sin tax -- cigarettes.
She proposed to reverse the 10-cent decrease in the cigarette tax approved by the prior Republican-led Legislature, and increase the tax 20 cents on top of that - for a total additional tax of 30 cents.
While approval of the cigarette tax is a good bet, the casino bet is risky. The New Hampshire House has been reluctant in the past to cast its lot with casino gambling.
The budget divided the $80 million into $40 for fiscal 2014 and $40 million for fiscal 2015.
She talked in her budget address of maintaining the quality of life in New Hampshire, exactly what her predecessor, John Lynch, expressed concern for in his opposition to casino gambling.
But concerns about gambling addiction and crime are not a great concern to Hassan when it comes to a casino.
“The social costs many are worried about are already here,” she said.
Her greater concern is what’s happening across the border in Massachusetts, which is now reviewing proposals for three casino licenses for three regions of the Bay State.
Said Hassan: “with Massachusetts moving forward, we can no longer pretend that expanding gambling isn’t coming to our communities. It is. The question is: will we allow Massachusetts to take revenue from New Hampshire’s residents to fund its needs, or will we develop our own plan that will allow us to address social costs and invest in our priorities?”
She leaves the issue of crafting bi-partisan legislation - SB 152 - to two state senators: Democrat Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester (long a casino gambling advocate) and Republican Chuck Morse of Salem.
That is where more specifics of revenue and where it goes are proposed.
It specifies, for example, that “Fourteen percent of daily gross table revenue to the state to be deposited into the education trust fund.” That leaves 86 percent for the casino operator.
It’s interesting to note that the legislation raises the issue of additional licenses.
The bill includes the following language: “Creates a commission to study the operation of the licensed gaming location and its effects on the community, and to make recommendations that may include whether to issue additional licenses.”
There is a lot in this budget that is aggressive in the effort of this Democratic governor to overturn what she and House majority Democrats see as some of the egregious mistakes of the GOP Legislature, including a reduction of university system funding of $50 million.
Hassan’s budget proposes to add $20 million in fiscal 2014 and $15 million in fiscal 2015 to the university system, which would bring it up to 90 percent of where it was before the cuts.
The community college system, according to the budget would be fully restored in 2014 with an additional $3 million added in 2015.
University trustees had hoped for restoration of full funding to free in-state tuition; we’ll see if 90 percent is sufficient to go forward with the deal.
- The capital funding portion of the budget included funding for a new women’s prison;
- Expands number and enrollments of charter schools, but with new state regulations;
- Gives additional $5 million rooms and meals tax revenues back to communities;
- Recreates the liquor commission from three commissioners to one commissioner.
She has staked her political future on this budget in general, and gambling in particular.
Paul Briand is an editor for the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and analysis of New Hampshire politics and policies.