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Column

Bringing casino to N.H. still a priority

The New Hampshire legislature recently adopted a budget for the state for the coming two years. The budget was a good solid budget and serves as a beginning of a restoration of government after the dismantling that has taken place over the last two years in New Hampshire. We’re proud of the steps we have taken.

For example, the budget invests in a new framework for community Mental Health care that will develop over the next 10 years to serve those among us who need assistance in living within our community.

The budget restores the Children in need of Services program, known as CHINS, that serves troubled juveniles at the first sign of difficulty with a new set of volunteer services that will serve to not only identify a child that needs help but will bring together parents, law enforcement, schools, and community groups to work together to deliver that help.

The budget also fully funds the developmentally disabled wait list so that families will not have to be devastated by having to choose between institutionalizing a child or giving up a job and going on welfare.

Several other items were restored in this budget, such as funding for planned parenthood; funding for the University System and the Community College System that will allow a tuition freeze to take place helping our students in their quest for a higher education; full funding for the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; an increase in the meals and rooms tax distribution to our municipalities; restored environmental grants to cities and towns for water, wastewater and landfill closures; and improved technical assistance to businesses and strengthened economic development efforts in order to support the business community’s work to create jobs for a strong middle class.

We made progress together, but unfortunately, we missed the chance to do more.

There are still many major issues that will need to be addressed, like funding for our transportation infrastructure. And we have no solutions for the “one time” dollars we used to fill the budget holes.

It is clear to everyone that without some source of new revenue, our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Without additional, stable revenue, it is unclear how the University System and the Community College system will be able to keep tuitions at the same level. And without new revenue New Hampshire will not be able to continue to attract new economic growth that is so vital for our citizens to continue the standard of living they enjoy.

So what do we as Legislators do?

A new tax would bring in additional revenue; however the voters have said time and time again they do not want a sales or income tax, and we all know that property taxes are too high now.

So what is left? Maybe it is time for the House of Representatives to listen to the people of New Hampshire who have resoundingly spoken out in the past in favor of expanded gaming in the form of a casino.

Only a few lawmakers stand in the way of the overwhelming public support for gambling. When the House rejected gambling, the vote showed it will only take a few more lawmakers to pass this bill. We are close. But what is next?

Amid the same tired arguments and fear tactics used against gambling, there were statements of concern from would-be supporters. Some of my colleagues fear the bill didn’t have enough rules and regulations in place at the beginning to make them more comfortable. Even though the bill could not allow a casino without regulations in place, some of my fellow members wanted even more iron-clad rules in place.

In response to those reasoned concerns, the budget trailer bill called for a special commission to review regulations and rules. In the coming months, this commission will work with department heads and the New Hampshire Attorney General to resolve these concerns and offer a stricter, stronger proposal for lawmakers to review.

It is time to move and come to a reasonable and thorough plan to develop a casino in New Hampshire. This “commission” has the mechanism and the time to do just that and report back to the Legislature in January of 2014 with a recommendation for legislation. The people want it. The budget demands it. It’s time.

Rep. Peter Leishman, a Democrat, serves as the Chairman of the New Hampshire House Finance Committee Division 3 and Rep. Katherine D. Rogers, a Democrat, serves as the Clerk for the New Hampshire House Finance Committee.

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