Gov. Maggie Hassan’s final State of the State address Thursday focused on three themes – combating the state’s drug crisis, re-authorizing the expanded Medicaid program and boosting job growth.
All are initiatives with some bipartisan support, but there’s significant political disagreement over the details.
Hassan kicked off her remarks by looking to the past: applauding the passage of what she calls a bipartisan state budget last year, as well as a slate of bills aimed at addressing New Hampshire’s ongoing opioid epidemic.
But when it came to the drug crisis, Hassan said the Legislature’s work is not over.
“While some may say we can’t afford to take steps that require additional funding - I believe that we can’t afford not to,” Hassan told lawmakers.
Hassan called for swift action from the House to pass several bills that the Senate approved earlier that morning, including one to create a statewide drug court program as well as giving police more money to fight drug abuse on the ground.
Hassan also told the packed crowd that an important part of fighting this epidemic will be re-authorizing Medicaid expansion. It’s an issue she’s pushed for a year.
“We must reauthorize the bipartisan New Hampshire Health Protection Program without delay,” Hassan said followed by a standing ovation. Legislation now moving through the State House would continue the program until 2018.
Hassan is leaving the corner office at the end of this year, and will run for the US Senate seat now held by Republican Kelly Ayotte.
And when looking ahead to her last nine months in office, the two-term governor echoed many of the issues from her last State of the State address two years ago: an increased minimum wage, full-day kindergarten and commuter rail from Boston to Manchester. But Hassan offered no specifics on how to pay for such proposals.
This is an issue that struck a chord with Senate President Chuck Morse, who accused the governor of promising lofty goals to boost her Senate run.
“I think this speech, presenting initiatives like that, is a campaign that is being started," Morse said. "We got problems to solve today. But the reality is, we put a lot of money into mental health and drugs, and I want to make sure those are working today.”
Republican Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who’s running for Hassan’s seat next fall, called her commuter rail proposal a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“A train that carries 2,000 people a day for $300 million in my mind can’t compete with the roads and bridges that carry 500,000 people a day,” Sununu said.
Hassan also announced a new statewide initiative to use federal money to help people looking for work. The proposal received widespread support from her Democratic colleagues.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester applauded Hassan's speech, calling it an extension of her record as governor.
“In my opinion, what she did was solidify the ground that she is on for her last year as the governor, which is key because if you are going to do anything if you work from a solid base you are much better off,” D'Allesandro said.
But in an election year, accomplishing all, or any, of these goals may be difficult.