April 04. 2013 9:31PM

Hassan, in North Country, listens to ideas about best use of tax dollars

Special to the Union Leader

NORTH CONWAY - Gov. Maggie Hassan brought her updated budget plan to the region on Thursday, speaking before an audience of the Mount Washington Valley's movers and shakers.

The occasion was the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council's Egg & Issues at the North Conway Grand Hotel. Though the audience of about 100 did not fill the room, the monthly event is videoed and shown on local TV.

"We cannot walk away from our responsibility to supply the basic services for the overall well-being of our families and our communities," Hassan said.

Investing in priorities to keep New Hampshire residents safe, healthy and productive - including education and innovation - should be a big part of goverment's focus. she said.

The governor noted that the $2.5 billion in federal money for New Hampshire to expand Medicaid would not only provide better access to health care, but it would save money and create jobs.

"Uncompensated care in hospital emergency rooms increases costs for everyone," Hassan said.

She said the need to fix the mental health system is one of the most pressing issues.

Children and adults in mental health crisis, she said, are sometimes stuck for days in emergency rooms because there is nowhere else for them to go. "I get morning reports for this, and it ranges from two dozen to four dozen a day."

Hassand said some patients are restrained and heavily medicated, and "that's not the kind of state we are."

Scott McKinnon, CEO of Memorial Hospital, Andy Davis, co-director of the World Fellowship Center, Janice Crawford, Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce executive director, were among those who asked the governor questions.

McKinnon commented on the challenges of getting patients appropriate mental health care and, while noting the governor's long-term commitment to rebuilding the mental health care system, asked her about care in the short term.

Hassan said that by early May the state should have additional beds - not all that's needed - but that it will take some of the pressure off hospital emergency rooms.

The governor's proposed high-end casino was on the mind of Davis, who called the invitation to expanded gambling a "Faustian bargain," and wondered if a discussion on broadbased taxes would be productive.

Hassan replied that she didn't think prohibition on gambling works any better than prohibition on alcohol.

Local attorney Charles Greenhalgh voiced concern on the cuts over the years to the state's courts, which, he said "are already grinding to a halt."

Hassan said the court system has led the way in innovative as it has dealt with two cycles of budget cuts, saying that her budget adds two Superior Court judges and puts back some money for legal services.

Jack Rose of Carroll County Transportation championed the system's Blue Loon bus service, which needs matching funding. He also said the North County's roads are in terrible shape and need repair.

"We need to find a consensus on how to do that," Hassan said, noting the transportation funding bills in the House and the Senate differ, with the House bill relying on gas tax increases, and the Senate bill looking at revenues from expanded gambling to fund more work on the state's highways. "I'm pushing everybody to keep talking."

After being asked about the possibility of a sales tax to help fund programs, Hassan said, "We have an economy I structured around not having an income or sales tax." The tax system, she said, has worked well for New Hampshire and business would decline if such taxes were implemented.

"That's just where I am on the issue, and I think that's where the vast majority of people in the state are," Hassan said.