Firefighters Get Behind Casino Bill

Union Argues Revenue Will Fund N.H. Services

Concord — Nashua firefighters union chief Jimmy Kirk led peers across the state urging the House of Representatives to “look, listen and feel” by passing the hotly debated casino bill tomorrow.

Kirk refuted claims that a single high-end casino would bring increased crime, poverty and other social impacts.

“I am here to tell you those problems already exist,” Kirk said.

Berlin firefighter Roland Berthiaume said his industrial city department will go from four men on the job to three with layoffs of its 18-person force later this year.

“In an emergency, seconds count and the clock is ticking for the North County,” Berthiaume said.

Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire President David Lang urged legislators to practice what his brothers do in responding to a crisis.

“I am imploring House members to look, listen and feel,” Lang said. “How can you say you care about public safety when you don’t fund mental health? How can you say you care about education when you don’t support higher education?”

Lang said the casino profits would modernize and broaden the way state government pays for services.

“We are trying to fund government with a 19th Century philosophy with a 20th Century tax structure in the 21st Century,” Lang declared.

The state troopers, AFL-CIO and state building trades council support the casino while the police chiefs lobby does not.

The first test tomorrow will be on whether the full House embraces the recommendation of a super committee House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, created to spend more than a month pouring over this complex legislation.

The panel voted, 23-22, to recommend the bill (SB 152) be killed, which snuffed out debate or a committee vote on 17 different amendments.

State Rep. Peter Leishman, D-Peterborough, is championing a 45-page change that would boost the bill’s regulatory structure and powers of the attorney general along with forcing the casino to try to mitigate losses for smaller entertainment venues that oppose the bill.

State Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham and a longtime casino opponent, agreed the outcome likely will be decided by the more than 100 new House Democrats that Gov. Maggie Hassan, a casino supporter, helped elect last November.

“When I ask them to show me the money, they say well the governor says,” Smith said.

She admitted some frustration at the inconsistency since past Democrats supported then-Gov. John Lynch when he declared last year that he would veto a casino bill.

His replacement, Hassan, has become the most vocal cheerleader for the bill and relied upon a one-time, $80 million license fee to increase spending for mental health, developmental disabilities, higher education and hospital aid in her state budget.

The Senate-passed bill would split profits from a 25 percent tax on slot machine betting to road and bridge projects (45 percent), higher education aid (45 percent) and economic development in the North Country (10 percent).

All of a 14 percent tax on table game wagering would support state aid to public elementary and secondary schools.

The New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies further maintains that social costs like welfare and crime for government and private businesses would cancel out the net, $46 million in profit.

Casino critics insist this would be nothing more than a “convenience casino” that would not compete with bigger projects planned in neighboring Massachusetts and would cannibalize as much as $2 billion from New Hampshire firms in the hospitality industry.

The state Lottery Commission that would regulate the casino, along with the state police, has estimated that with 5,000 slots, the profit into state coffers could reach $120 million annually.