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A Day After Casino Vote, Senate Rejects Steady Stream Of House Priorities

Todd Bookman


A day after the New Hampshire House voted down a Senate-backed gambling bill, it was the upper chamber’s turn to weigh in on some key House legislation.

And there may have been some tit-for-tat.

The GOP majority quickly snuffed a House bill calling for a $0.20 increase in the tobacco tax.

Republicans did much the same with an effort to reinstitute a state minimum wage, and a bill that would have added $0.12 to the state’s gas tax over three years.

All are bills important to Democrats, like David Pierce of Etna. During the gas tax debate, he questioned the priorities of the GOP majority.

"Are we open for business in New Hampshire, or are we not? Are we here to help create jobs, or are we not? Are we here to grow the economy, or are we not?"

Republicans would undoubtedly answer 'yes' to such questions, but didn't seem inclined to support legislation backed by the house.

Some of this may be differing philosophies on taxation and revenues. But as Senator Jim Rausch (R-Derry) indicated, some had hard feelings about the House’s rejection of the senate’s casino bill.

"I believe that was the answer our citizens wanted, and I believe that in Salem, 81% of the people wanted it, and statewide 63% of the people wanted it, because it was a non-tax solution for our roads, bridges and infrastructure. But the House had other ideas."

Without casino money, Senators say restoring some of the cuts made in the last budget cycle will be more difficult.

And Republican leaders from Peter Bragdon on down are clear that they aren’t entertaining other options.

"The Senate budget, we don’t plan on any tax or fee increases, so I don’t see any other revenue sources being proposed."

That puts the House in a tough spot.

Concord Democrat Steve Shurtleff is House Majority Leader. He calls the Senate’s actions disappointing and says without tax increases, priorities including mental health services and the CHINS program may be in trouble.

"You know, the Senate has their responsibility as does the House. On SB 152, the House voted in the way they thought was the best interest of the state, and I can’t believe the Senate would be so petty as to seek retribution for fulfilling our responsibility."

But both chambers are responsible for producing a budget, and obvious points of compromise remain in doubt.

The same may go for Medicaid expansion, which Senate Republicans pulled out of their budget just hours after the casino vote on Wednesday.

Governor Hassan called that move the wrong decision for New Hampshire families. She urged lawmakers to rise above "ideology.’"

She may have her work cut out for her.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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