Less than tepid.
In fact, rather negative.
Those were the reactions from the New Hampshire House when, at 11:03 a.m., nearly an hour into her budget address, Governor Maggie Hassan announced her decision to build $80 million of revenue for a single casino into her revenue projections for the coming biennium.
If there was any doubt (and to me at least, there never was) that the New Hampshire House is no more willing than ever before to approve expanded gambling, the silence in response to Governor Hassan’s plea (and indeed it was a plea) spoke volumes.
Last night when I heard Democratic Rep Dan Eaton note on one of the nightly newscasts that a gambling plan was 12 votes short of passage, my reaction was it’s closer to 40 or 50 votes shy.
After today’s speech, it should be clear to all pundits that I’m closer than Eaton (and I bet even he would admit it) on a vote come this spring.
Keep an open mind on this; the Governor was relegated to a posture close to begging after virtually no one (maybe 20 people) stood to applaud her gambling proposal, and this was from a chamber which seemed intent on standing for virtually every pronouncement during a long and small ball speech.
At least three times, in fact, the Governor asked for applause, a strange phenomenon, one I’ve never experienced in 17 years of watching these things.
To truly grasp how minimalist the Hassan budget is, one needed to parse the language closely. I’m not on Finance this year (very happily on criminal justice, thank you very much), but I still know how to parse and add!
She did not fully restore funding to the university system as promised during the campaign. She promised in increase of $20 million the first year and an additional $15 million the second year. You do the math. That would be $55 million (20 and 20 and 15) when $100 million was cut last biennium. The governor said that amounts to restoring funding to 90 percent, but that all depends on how you work the math. It really amounts to a restoration of just over half the amount cut by the Republican legislature last year. In other words, for all the blasting that Hassan and Democrats did at Republicans; even with $80 million for a gambling plan most likely never to see the light of day; the governor could get just slightly halfway to keeping her promise.
Let us parse a few more phrases. Rather than saying her budget would restore funding for CHINS (Children in Need of Services), Hassan chose the words “begin to restore CHINS funding”. What does that mean? That there will be very little restoration, I surmise. Prove me wrong.
She was more definitive on the developmentally disabled waiting list, promising to eliminate it. That was one of the few times I stood to applaud; in case you see me sitting while all around me are standing, consider this. I operate under the philosophy that if you stand for everything, it’s tantamount to standing for nothing!
There was far too much "much ado about nothing" in today’s speech.
The governor promised an extra five percent of rooms and meals taxes to go back to cities and towns, but here’s the kicker—not until the second year of the biennium.
She said LChip (community land and heritage) will be fully funded, but again, not until the second year of the budget. She provides only a paltry $1 million the first year.
The devil, as always, is in the details…or the fine print in case of this speech.
While she said her budget does is based on repeal of the tax credit for school vouchers (I may have been the only Republican to stand for that one!), the Governor also threw a bucket of water on four previously passed plans to reduce business taxes. Her doubling of the research and development credit (to a paltry $2 million, more window dressing than anything else), the four reductions will be suspended if Hassan gets her way.
That’s by no means a given; Republican senators will most likely push back hard on those plans.
Governor Hassan called for an additional 20 cents a pack tax on cigarettes on top of the 10 cents which was reduced by Republicans last year. That 30 cent boost drew the loudest applause of the morning, probably five or ten times more than the governor’s call for gambling.
As for the all important revenue projections, Governor Hassan claimed she was being conservative, but I suspect not quite conservative enough. She projects a 2.0 percent increase in revenues the first year of the biennium, then 1.9 percent on top of that the second year. My guess is 1.5 but then I’m no longer on Ways and Means. A Republican on that committee just tells me he’s looking at one percent.
In other words, even without the $80 million for a gambling plan which most likely will never pass, revenues seem somewhat, if not wildly, inflated.
Time will tell.
In one of the strangest moments of the day, Governor Hassan drew applause for promising she would veto any unbalanced budget, strange because the Constitution requires a balanced budget, and the House and Senate would never think of sending her an unbalanced one.
Go figure what some will do for an extra 20 seconds of applause!
The governor began her long address by noting that she had cut $500 million from department requests (often deemed a wish list). She said her budget is seven percent below the FY2008 level.
She suggested she will use the rainy day fund (there’s not much of it left) to meet the expected shortfall for the current fiscal year (expected to be in the $50 million range), but she will also raid dedicated funds to finish the job, a point I had missed initially but The Concord Monitor pointed out, this at a time when the Democratic House wants to boost the fuel oil tax by 25 percent to flush out a dedicated fund. In other words, let's boost a tax so we can raid the fund!
While she spent a section of her speech detailing the need for additional highway monies, she did not specifically endorse any gas tax or registration fee increase.
She called for 15 new state troopers and funding in the capital budget for construction of a new women’s prison.
With all the talk about innovation to meet our needs, I expected the Governor to endorse my plan to consolidate the cultural resources department (not!).
She promised to fully fund educational adequacy and called for $4 million for need-based scholarships to either public or private secondary schools. She had kind words for charter schools plans (a favorite of Republicans) but also called for more regulations (a favorite of Democrats, anathema to the GOP).
To recap, this was way too much ado about very little (if not nothing) and gambling lobbyists must have left pessimistic about their chances…oh well, all the more money will be poured in for their lobbying efforts.
Take that to the bank.
Truth in blogging--I have always supported your right to waste your money any way you so choose, including gambling, but I will never support a monopoly for one or two companies, most likely out of state companies, to print money. That's really what gambling is, a license to print money.