Maggie Hassan, at least so far, is sounding more like the man she’ll replace as New Hampshire governor, not the tax-and-spend leftist she was made out to be during the election.
It’s quite obvious in these early days, as Hassan prepares to succeed Gov. John Lynch, that she’s taking a cautious approach to the first big item on her plate: the biennial state budget that goes into effect July 1, 2013.
The state is in the very early stages of crafting a new budget, with department heads submitting their initial requests for funding. They’re wrong if they think state coffers will suddenly start flowing with money.
True, Democrat Hassan has some commitments to hold to, commitments such as restoring funding to the university system on which she built her successful campaign against Republican Ovide Lamontagne.
The current (and exiting) GOP-controlled Legislature cut funding to the university system by about half to $50 million.
The university has asked for $100 million as part of a plan — crafted by trustees and endorsed by Hassan during the campaign — to restore funding in trade for tuition freezes.
The first pass from state agencies totals $11.9 billion in state spending.
That’s a non-starter, according to Hassan.
“Those requests total far more than our taxpayers or our economy can afford,” she said at a budget hearing on Monday.
Her message is that economic recovery (and recovering certain budgets) won’t happen overnight.
“It is important for all of us to understand that we will not be able to reverse course all at once,” she said. “While we are beginning to see recovery and revenue growth, we will face continued difficult fiscal times in the coming two years.
“We must be prepared to continue to make tough, fiscally responsible decisions to ensure that we can invest in our priorities, including protecting the health and safety of our citizens and building an innovative economy that will ensure long-term growth.”
She had said she would govern in the manner of Lynch, a Democrat by political affiliation but a true centrist in political practice.
So far, she’s front and center in the same mode.
Of course, left to be determined, is the revenue side of the equation in addition to the expense side.
There won’t be a sales or income tax, Hassan has pledged to that.
Look for the money to come from, in part, a restoration of the cigarette tax that was reduced by the lame duck Legislature.
And look for renewed discussion of expanded gambling and what it might produce in new revenue. Hassan is on record as wanting what she called a “tightly regulated” casino somewhere in the state close to the Massachusetts border.
Paul Briand is an editor with the Live Free or Die Alliance, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that encourages the discussion and anlysis of New Hampshire policies and politics.