Updated: Gov. Hassan defends budget, while Republicans criticize
CONCORD - The partisan state budget battle has begun.
While Gov. Maggie Hassan says her budget plan is responsible and balanced, Republicans say she includes revenue the state won't realize by including licensing money from a casino lawmakers have yet to approve and inflates existing business and tobacco tax revenues among others.
Appearing before House and Senate budget writers Tuesday, Hassan said her budget begins to restore some of the programs that are needed to spur the state's economy, which were cut by the Republican controlled Legislature two years ago.
But at a press conference Republicans took Hassan to task saying she inflated revenues — including $80 million from casino licensing — and wants to increase spending by $1 billion.
Speaking to budget writers Hassan said her budget invests in critical areas to enhance job creation, a highly-skilled and educated work force, the state's quality of life and residents' health and safety.
But she told committee members she recognizes the state cannot tackle all of its challenges at once in continued uncertain economic times.
"By making tough decisions, encouraging new innovations to make government more efficient, and by making responsible revenue choices, we balanced the budget and made critical investments in public safety, higher education, economic development, and health care in order to put New Hampshire back on the path to a strong and innovative economic future," Hassan said. "I believe the fiscally responsible approach that we have taken puts our state back on the right path and will help set the foundation to build a more innovative economy with more good jobs that can support a growing middle class."
Hassan included expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in her budget, which is projected to cover about 60,000 people under the federal-state health care program for people with disabilities and the poor.
The federal money, which pays 100 percent of the cost for those enrolled under the expansion for the first three years, is not included in Hassan's budget while state health and human services officials try to determine the exact impact. The department has included $3.8 million for program administration over the next few years.
Hassan's budget includes more money for higher education, the state's mental health system and hospitals, which lost more than $100 a year in uncompensated care costs under the current budget.
House Finance Committee member Rep. Dan Maguire, R-Epsom, asked Hassan why state taxpayers should be helping to pay for charity care hospitals provide when other charities such as the Red Cross do not use taxpayer funds.
Hassan said the state has a long tradition of helping with the cost of charity care at hospitals. She said hospital's charity care increase the cost for all residents of the state.
At a press conference later, Republicans said Hassan inflated revenues by $103.7 million and includes $80 million in gambling licensing revenue that may never materialize.
House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said Republicans have continued to say "we will be very vigilant to make sure revenues are reasonable and conservative and something we will receive."
Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, said Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee believe business, room and meals, real estate transfer and tobacco taxes are $103.7 million higher than their estimates.
The governor's press secretary Marc Goldberg countered that claim. "The governor has put forward a fiscally responsible balanced budget proposal, which includes conservative revenue estimates that Republicans have praised and which keeps general fund spending below fiscal year 2008 levels while restoring cuts to critical priorities needed to attract businesses and create middle class jobs," he said.
Hess criticized Hassan for including $80 million in revenues from an activity he said is currently not a legal act and is criminal and Chandler questioned if the state would receive any money from a casino in the next two years.
But Hassan told budget writers "The revenue from one casino would mean tens of millions of dollars a year that can be used to strengthen our economy and address our priorities, as well as funds to address social costs like substance abuse and gambling addiction."
She said if Massachusetts moves forward with expanded gambling and New Hampshire does not, Massachusetts will have money from New Hampshire residents while Granite State communities will be left with the associated costs of gambling.