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March 24. 2014 9:49PM

Nashua chamber's statewide survey finds support for casino, Northern Pass

NASHUA — A new survey highlighting critical issues facing the Granite State was unveiled on Monday, analyzing the most recent opinions on gambling, Northern Pass, the gas tax and passenger rail.

The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce released the results of its statewide survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center on Monday. The survey included more than 500 telephone participants.

The results say 58 percent of New Hampshire voters support expanded gaming in New Hampshire, with 31 percent in opposition and about 12 percent undecided. In addition, the number of voters supporting expanded gaming increased when voters were asked whether efforts in Massachusetts to create casinos there would impact their opinion on gambling in the Granite State.

Overall, about 61 percent of Republicans favored gaming compared to 58 percent of Democrats and independents. Most believed a casino should be placed in the southern tier of the state, according to the results.

In regards to the Northern Pass energy project, 46 percent of participants support the project compared to about 35 percent who are opposed. Less than 20 percent are undecided.

“It is my understanding that our survey represents the highest level of support for the Northern Pass project over the three years that UNH has tracked this issue,” said Chris Williams, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. “I believe this is significant, since our survey also shows that more New Hampshire residents are now familiar with this project than at any other time.”

According to Williams, support for burying the project’s power lines decreases as people hear that the high cost of burying those lines could fall on the shoulders of ratepayers, says the findings.

“As a business organization that has endorsed the Northern Pass, we are encouraged by these survey results showing increased familiarity and support for the project,” he said.

Large scale, mandatory undergrounding may stand in the way of this issue, according to William Quinlan, president of Public Service of New Hampshire.

On Monday, Quinlan said there is a misconception that power isn’t needed for New Hampshire, but it is necessary for other surrounding states. That is not the case, he said.

“New England is one interconnected grid, and the supply and grid curves are for the entire region ... there is one market,” he told legislators gathered in Nashua to hear the results of the survey.Addressing the idea of a gas tax increase, the survey showed the majority of New Hampshire voters oppose the concept. That opposition decreases slightly, however, if the gas tax is committed toward specific road and bridge repairs rather than state operational costs.

Overall, 49 percent of those surveyed oppose an increase of the gas tax by 8 to 10 cents if only to be used for the benefit of road repairs, while 44 percent are in favor and 7 percent are undecided.

If a gas tax was to be applied, 46 percent of participants support a one-time increase, with 28 percent wanting it tied to inflation.

Passenger rail was also addressed in the survey and received overwhelming support with 68 percent of participants in favor of commuter rail, just 7 percent opposed and 24 percent undecided.

“Our survey is one of the first to put real dollar signs next to potential state support for passenger rail,” said Williams, adding rail received support even with a required investment of up to $100 million and annual operational subsidies of up to $15 million.

Fifty-four percent of those individuals surveyed said the cost made no difference to them, according to the findings.

The survey included 519 New Hampshire residents called randomly, with 195 registered Republicans, 174 registered Democrats and 146 registered independents participating in the survey in February.

“It is the freshest survey that is out there on these issues,” said Williams.

State Rep. Jim Belanger of Hollis said the results of the survey did not surprise him. He was pleased with most of the data but said he would prefer a casino in northern New Hampshire compared to the suggested southern tier.

“The results were pretty much what I expected,” agreed state Rep. Dick Barry of Merrimack. “I was especially glad to see that the opposition to Northern Pass seems to be declining.”

The survey results were unveiled on Monday during a chamber gathering with about 30 state legislators at the Crowne Plaza.

khoughton@newstote.com


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