February 04. 2016 11:24PM

Hassan in State of State Address: NH is in a strong position

By GARRY RAYNO
State House Bureau


CONCORD — In her final State-of-the-State address to lawmakers, Gov. Maggie Hassan touted the work they have done together and urged them to continue addressing the critical challenges facing New Hampshire.

She spent much of her speech addressing the state’s drug addiction crisis, what has been done to address the problem and what remains to be done.

Hassan urged lawmakers to continue the Medicaid expansion program that serves 47,000 low-income state residents.

And she laid out a program to move the state forward in a changing national economy that will require new and specialized skills, and the state’s investment in training and education.

She unveiled a new program, Gateway to Work, using existing federal and state money to move those on welfare and in at-risk families into the work force and good-paying jobs.

Noting the eyes of the nation are on New Hampshire this week with the approaching presidential primary, she said, “Americans will see that the state of our state is strong — and getting stronger.”

She spoke of the need for a skilled, highly educated work force, a good transportation system and lower energy costs to attract businesses to the state and existing business to expand here.

And she backed increasing the minimum wage in New Hampshire, something the Senate killed along party lines, 14-10, on Thursday morning.

“(New Hampshire is) a place where we overcome our political differences, move past the inevitable arguments, and come together to make progress for our people, our communities and our economy,” Hassan said. “And a place where we are facing the challenges of a changing economy head-on, keeping our communities safe and secure, and working together to help our families and businesses adapt and thrive.”

She urged lawmakers to approve full-day kindergarten and fully fund adequate education aid to school districts. She said in the last four years, the university system has frozen tuition while the community college system has lowered tuition, making higher education more affordable to state students.

Hassan announced a new initiative — 65 in 25 — meaning 65 percent of the state’s work force will have a post-secondary degree or credentials by 2025.

And she proposed a new program targeting those on welfare and at-risk workers.

“Through Gateway to Work, we can provide more of the workers our businesses need to thrive, and we can help give more of our families the opportunity to work their way to self-sufficiency and into the middle class,” Hassan said. “This effort will also help address the health care work force shortage in fields from direct care workers to pediatric nurses to psychologists. But we must do more.”

She said Medicaid expansion is essential in the fight against the drug addiction crisis.

“Addiction is a disease, and we must ensure that those afflicted with addiction can access services to treat this illness, just as we would for any other chronic condition,” Hassan said, praising the Senate for approving bills Thursday to expand drug courts, provide law enforcement grants and upgrade the drug monitoring program. 

The fight against addiction requires additional resources and dollars, she said.

“While some may say that we can’t afford to take steps that require additional funding, I believe that we can’t afford not to,” Hassan said. “Our economy continues to strengthen, and revenues are already more than 40 million dollars above projections this fiscal year. We can afford to address this challenge — and we must.”

Returning to a familiar theme, she urged lawmakers to approve money for engineering and environmental work as the next step to bring commuter rail to Nashua and Manchester.

grayno@unionleader.com