The state of New Hampshire is strong and growing even stronger and remains one of the safest, healthiest and most livable states in the nation — and the best place to raise a family, Gov. Maggie Hassan said Tuesday.
Still, the governor said, the state has to address long-term challenges in education, infrastructure, energy and health care, particularly mental health and pressing public health and safety challenges of heroin addiction and overdoses.
The governor made the comments in her State of the State address given at an annual breakfast meeting of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce at the New Hampshire Institute for Politics at St. Anselm College.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas was supposed to give his State of the City address at the annual event, but in the morning underwent an undisclosed medical procedure at Catholic Medical Center.
Interim chamber president Michael C. Whitney said a couple of people — including former Manchester Mayor Robert Baines, who attended the session — offered to give the address, evoking laughter from the crowd of about 100.
Instead, the governor took the full time slot and talked about changes needed in education, fixing infrastructure, energy, health care, creating jobs, the need to keep young people from leaving the state and her continued support for a high-end casino.
Whitney, during a question and answer period following the governor’s speech, said chamber members were concerned about expanded gambling and its monopolistic aspect, particularly when they’ve invested so much in restaurants and entertainment venues.
The governor said the state is part of a regional economy and while we don’t have a casino here, there will be one soon right across the border, which will impact New Hampshire business. She said already there is “an enormous amount of gambling going on in this state” with legalized charitable gaming.
Her view, she said, is a pragmatic one.
“Are we going to fund Massachusetts’ needs or our needs?” she asked. “I’d like to see them fund our needs.”
She announced she will soon issue an Executive Order creating a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Task Force to make recommendations for modernizing STEM education in our schools.
“Is it acceptable in today’s economy to only require two years of math from our high school students?” she asked. “Should we be requiring computer science as well as biology? How can we better integrate engineering and technology into our classrooms?”
In explaining the need for a task force, Hassan said New Hampshire’s high-tech advanced manufacturing companies are struggling to fill job openings, even for jobs with wages over 25 percent higher than average.
She said the task force will build on other initiatives across the state, including one launched in Manchester — STEAM Ahead NH — a partnership between Manchester High School West, the University System of New Hampshire, Manchester Community College and local businesses like DYN and Silvertech.
Hassan said that, with bipartisan support, legislators restored funding to the University System of New Hampshire resulting in a tuition freeze, increased funding for travel and tourism promotion, modernized the corporations act and doubled the research and development tax credit, which also was made permanent.
The state also increased international trade assistance to help businesses market and sell their products around the world. Business exports, she said, rose more than 22 percent to $4.3 billion in 2013, making New Hampshire the fastest-growing state in the nation for exports.
The governor will be leading a trade mission to Turkey this summer to help state businesses expand trade in the rapidly growing international market.
When it comes to wages being paid, Hassan said the state must restore its minimum wage law and increase the rate.
The House voted to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour and then increase it to $9 an hour in 2016.
“We must also renew our commitment to a fundamental principle: an equal day’s work deserves an equal day’s pay,” she said, noting that Tuesday was Equal Pay Day. April 8 symbolizes how far into 2013 women must work to earn what men earned in 2012. Granite State women working full-time jobs earn only 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, Hassan said.
To keep the economy moving, Hassan said the state also must fix its aging transportation infrastructure. She said every year another 50 miles of state maintained roads are slipping from “fair” to “poor” condition. The number of “Red List” Bridges — already at 145 — continues to grow.
She also touched on health care costs and access, saying that the bipartisan health care expansion plan she signed into law will help provide private health coverage to more than 50,000 Granite Staters and their families.
Those 50,000 people include “people who struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table while earning less than $16,000 a year,” she said. “They count, and now they won’t have to face the impossible choice of paying for care or paying for rent, of purchasing a prescription or feeding their families.”
By 2016, she said the state will help individuals purchase private coverage from the state’s health insurance marketplace, improving affordability and increasing choices for all residents. Encouraging competition in the marketplace, she said, is critical given the issues raised by Anthem’s narrow network being the only option at the moment.
“I understand and share these concerns, and while Anthem has indicated they sought a narrow network to make coverage 25 percent more affordable, it underscores the need for additional competition in the marketplace, something that I will continue to make a priority,” she said. Two weeks ago, the state Insurance Department granted a license to Minuteman Health, an insurance cooperative planning to offer coverage next year. Another carrier has also indicated it may join as soon as 2015.
She said the state is addressing the needs in the mental health system, investing $25 million is the community based system, and said heroin abuse and overdoses is one of the most pressing challenges facing the state. Steps are being taken, she said, so that first responders will be able to administrate naloxone, also known as Narcan, a life-saving drug for heroin and opioid overdoses.