New Hampshire Governor Margaret “Maggie” Hassan likes to tell the story of a fourth-grade boy on a State House tour just after she moved in to her new office. She hadn’t gotten around to putting up art, and in bantering with the children, she asked them what she should hang on her walls.
“‘A picture of a sandwich,’” she recalled the boy saying.
Hassan responded, “Why is that?” “‘Because I’m hungry,’” the boy said. Hassan spoke to the Greater Derry/Londonderry Chamber of Commerce on Friday, April 26. As her constituents finished breakfast at Promises To Keep, she outlined her plans for economic recovery in New Hampshire, and predicted a “bright future” for the Granite State.
Hassan’s budget for the next biennium is focused on innovation, economic growth and jobs. “We need to rebuild our economy, attract and grow cutting-edge businesses, and maintain our quality of life, which is safe and healthy,” she said. But it won’t be done all at once, Hassan said, and that’s where her “tough and fiscally responsible” budget comes in.
“We must support existing businesses and attract new, innovative businesses,” Hassan said. She listed some of the potential new businesses: clean energy, biotech and information technology (IT). One of Hassan’s first steps was to expand the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit. “In 2012 more than 100 businesses applied for it, and the demand outpaced the available money,” she said.
Last month Hassan signed a bill to double the R&D tax credit, and to make it permanent. She also wants to fund business incubators. And to make sure the Granite State workforce is the strongest in the nation, she wants to make higher education affordable and build a skilled workforce. Her budget will restore cuts to the university system, to fund it for 90 percent of what it used to be. “We currently have one of the highest in-state tuition rates,” Hassan said, and even community college is not affordable for some working students. She has had community college students come up to her and say, “I can only afford one course at a time.”
Her budget fully restores community college funding, she said. It will also protect funding for K-12 students, increase catastrophic aid, increase tuition and transportation assistance, increase school building aid, and keep the current adequacy funding. The transportation infrastructure is one of the state’s long-standing challenges, Hassan said. Statistics from the American Society of Transportation Engineers have shown that New Hampshire’s roads cost New Hampshire motorists an average of $259 per year in auto repairs.
There are red-listed bridges, and with the Sarah Long and Memorial bridges down, there’s only one bridge to cross the Piscataqua River from Portsmouth to Kittery, Maine. Expanding Interstate 93, including the proposed but unfunded Exit 4A, would help the Derry/ Londonderry area attract business, and also reduce traffic in downtown Derry, she said.
The need for a solid transportation infrastructure has reached across aisles and legislative bodies, Hassan said, noting, “We barely have enough money to do the minimum.” Hassan also discussed the controversial proposal to allow a casino in southern New Hampshire. She identified this as part of a critical need to increase revenue.
“Our state departments are funded at 7 1/2 percent below 2008 levels,” she said, “and we turned away $500 million in funding requests.” Establishing one “highend, highly-regulated casino” will cost $80 million in state funds, she said. But it is estimated to bring in 2,000 jobs in the construction phase, 1,000 permanent jobs, and tens of millions of revenue to strengthen the economy.
Hassan warned that Massachusetts has three casinos on the drawing board, and “if we do nothing, the casinos in Massachusetts will cost us $75 million in lost revenues.”
Hassan acknowledged the “social costs” of a casino, but added that part of the estimated revenue would be set aside to address any social costs.
Hassan has been reading biographies of the Founding Fathers, she said, and is impressed with what they did and what they thought. “They respected the freedom of every individual,” she said. In breaking from England, she said, “They made this country an economic leader and powerhouse. No one had ever done that before.”
And nothing can stop New Hampshire from getting stronger, she said. Jeff Feingold, editor of New Hampshire Business Review, moderated a question-and-answer session with Hassan. The administrators for Derry and Londonderry spoke briefly after Hassan. John Anderson, Derry Town Administrator, said this year’s town budget is proposed at a little under $4 million. The town is about to go out to bid on a $4.8 million bond, with $3 million going toward a new transfer station and $4 million toward expanding sewer and water services to more of Rockingham Road.
Anderson agreed with Hassan that Exit 4A is a necessity. “It will benefit both Derry and Londonderry,” he said. “It will keep the mammoth trucks off of Broadway – it makes sense.” Acting Londonderry Town Manager Bill Hart detailed some of the changes going on in his town. “There is a real innovation in how we are dealing with economic development,” he said, explaining that the town had decided to outsource its economic development arm and save money for taxpayers.
Hart also expressed an interest in seeing 4A developed. He noted the Woodmont Commons project, the town’s first mixed-use development, and said Town Planner Cynthia May and the staff are working closely with the Woodmont team to make that a reality.
He also cited the Pettengill Road area near the Manchester Boston Regional Airport, 600 acres of potential business development. “We get inquiries day by day about Woodmont and Pettengill Road,” Hart said. “We are sitting on the crest of a wave that is about to break,” he said.