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Column: A Budget to Cultivate Innovation in New Hampshire

Concord

I have presented to the Legislature a fiscally re-sponsible budget — balanced without an income or sales tax — that is focused on innovation, economic growth and creating good jobs to support a strong middle class.

It is a budget based on the priorities that are critical for an innovative future: building a highly educated work force, attracting and growing cutting-edge businesses and sustaining our high quality of life by keeping our communities and people safe and healthy.

It is also a budget that recognizes we cannot address all of our challenges all at once in these uncertain economic times. Our budget cuts agency requests by more than $500 million, keeping General Fund spending for the 2014 fiscal year 7 percent below FY 2008. We have been able to balance the budget while making critical investments to put New Hampshire back on the path to a strong and innovative economic future.

To attract innovative businesses and good jobs, we must ensure our work force is the strongest in the nation by making higher education more affordable and more accessible. Ever-rising tuition rates can force many families to avoid even considering New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities. Our budget substantially restores cuts to our universities and community colleges in exchange for freezing in-state tuition for the next two years.

It also doubles the research and development tax credit, funds business incubators and provides technical support to help businesses create jobs.

Our budget seeks to improve the health of our communities, accepting $2.5 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid, something Democratic and Republican governors across the country agree is a good deal that will help more families access health coverage.

It takes steps to strengthen our public safety infrastructure, restoring funding for the Children in Need of Services Program, putting 15 more state troopers on the road and allowing us to continue operating three drug task force teams. And it begins to repair our fractured mental health system by investing in community-based services that keep people, and their communities, safe.

We must also continue reforming state government. Our budget includes measures to modernize state government, bringing the public and private sectors together to identify ways to provide services more efficiently.

And to fund our most pressing priorities, especially higher education and mental health, my budget includes $80 million from licensing one high-end, highly regulated casino.

A casino would bring a significant economic boost, creating more than an estimated 2,000 jobs during construction and 1,000 long-term jobs, while attracting new businesses and economic development. And the revenue from a casino would mean tens of millions of dollars a year that can be used to strengthen our economy and invest in our priorities, as well as funds to address social costs like substance abuse and gambling addiction.

With Massachusetts moving forward, we can no longer pretend that expanded gambling isn’t coming to our communities. It is, and if we don’t act, revenue from New Hampshire residents will fund Massachusetts’ needs.

I believe we should develop our own plan that will allow us to address social costs and invest in our priorities. The true risk is of letting our economy fall behind and allowing the good jobs and growing businesses of the innovation economy to develop elsewhere.

Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is governor of New Hampshire.