CONCORD — Gov. Maggie Hassan used a "State of the State'' speech Thursday afternoon to call for increased highway spending, endorse controversial Common Core education standards, and support a just-announced state Senate plan to expand Medicaid.
Her Medicaid remarks drew strong applause from the combined House and Senate session; but her lack of funding specifics drew criticism and the Republican Party quickly denounced what it saw as a move to hike the gasoline tax to pay for roads and bridges.
Hassan touted a proposal from New England governors to bring more natural gas into the region. Energy experts said the plan would require higher consumer prices.
"The great Robert Frost once wrote 'the best way out is always through.' We are out from under the greatest burdens of the recession," Hassan said. "Now, we must keep our state and our economy moving forward, and for New Hampshire, the best way forward is always through."
Lawmakers showed support for her call to increase the minimum wage.
"Truly accelerating our economic growth will only be possible,'' she said, "when working families and individuals are confident in their own financial circumstances and able to purchase more goods and services."
"It was a good tone," said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, of the speech, "and I appreciate the areas of bipartisan agreement," but he and House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, cautioned about new programs and how they would be paid for.
"I don't mind hearing about solutions, but I would like to hear solutions," Chandler said. "I would have liked to have heard something more specific."
Republican state Chair Jennifer Horn of Nashua was more critical.
"Governor Maggie Hassan offered no new ideas or real proposals to move New Hampshire forward,'' Horn said. "She missed an important opportunity to lay out a bold vision for the future of our state and instead used this speech to lay the groundwork for her support of a disastrous gas tax increase,'' Horn said.
"A gas tax hike during tough economic times will punish working families, hurt small businesses and kill jobs. Granite Staters shouldn't be forced to pay more at the pump simply because Gov. Hassan is unwilling to do her job and look for ways to control spending and eliminate government waste and inefficiency.''
House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth said she liked Hassan's vision for the state.
The Speaker liked Hassan's call for pay equity, so-called "Paycheck Fairness,'' and her call to increase the minimum wage and "address the needs of our ailing infrastructure including our roads and bridges.''
Senate Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said Hassan's "bipartisan leadership has been vital to the many successes of the last legislative session. It was her leadership in efforts to develop and pass a bipartisan, fiscally responsible budget which restored key New Hampshire priorities," Larsen said.
The loudest applause came when she said she supported a Medicaid expansion plan proposed by Senate leaders to add 50,000 low-income working adults to the state's Medicaid system. (See story, Page A??
"They are real people and families who we all agree deserve the security of health insurance," Hassan said. "People who struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table while earning less than $16,000."
She noted expansion is supported by hospitals, providers, businesses and the state's citizens.
"It's clear that we can work through this together and help working people access critical health coverage," Hassan said, and provides $2.4 billon in federal money for providers over the next three years.
Hassan urged lawmakers to fund additional mental health services required under a recent settlement that will help address the strains on the system.
"People with mental illness are our friends, our family members, our neighbors who are simply in need of appropriate care, and they must be able to access that care before they reach the point of crisis," Hassan said. "This is a challenge facing our health care providers, police officers, and communities across the state and the solutions must be pursued at the community level."
She said she wants to reform the workers compensation system, to help small businesses better access capital, and to establish a new program to ease regulatory hurdles.
More needs to be done to create opportunities for the state's young people and keep them here, Hassan said. She said increased state aid to the University System of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Community College System will help retain the young.
She also urged lawmakers to support a high-end, destination casino to combat those proposed in Massachusetts that she said could cost the state $75 million in revenue.
"Developing New Hampshire's own plan for one high-end destination casino will create jobs, boost our economy, and generate revenue to invest in critical priorities," Hassan said. "I encourage all legislators to fully consider the Authority's carefully developed, bipartisan recommendations, recognize that we can do this in a way that works for our state, and vote in favor of authorizing a casino. Instead of funding Massachusetts' needs, let's take this opportunity to invest in New Hampshire's priorities and help grow New Hampshire's economy."
She acknowledged the need for additional money for the state's highway system but did not support a specific proposal, saying instead she would work with both parties on a solution.
"We know that a solid, modern transportation infrastructure is the foundation for long-term economic growth, and I appreciate that there is broad agreement in the legislature about the need to strengthen investment in our roads and bridges," Hassan said. "We can reach a consensus solution to renew our investment in safe and modern roads and bridges."
She opposed legalization of marijuana, but said she would support a review of the criminal codes and sentences that focuses on treatment first not saddling young people with a criminal record.
Hassan said making progress will require difficult debate and tough choices.
"What matters – to our economy, to our businesses, to the people of our state – is what we do after we argue," Hassan told lawmakers. "Unlike Washington, we have shown time and again that we are capable of engaging with each other, putting arguments aside and coming together to solve problems, leading to progress for our businesses and families. We must continue to prove the strength of our democracy by working through our challenges together."