New Hampshire has been nibbling at casino gambling to fund needed government services for decades. The promise of easy money is hard to pass up. And it is also a way to deftly step around the political hot potato of pursuing an income tax or a sales tax. Just as people look to Powerball and Mega Millions for the "big hit" to ease their financial pain, the state wants to gamble on gambling to satiate its revenue appetite. Yes, there will be initial localized construction jobs and low-paying casino jobs, but as far as the New Hampshire citizenry is concerned, gambling is wealth-draining.
We are in this revenue- constrained situation because we have not been pursuing an obvious, and the better, revenue-generating alternative. That better alternative is manufacturing - advanced high-tech manufacturing - to drive tax revenues. To accomplish that, New Hampshire needs a comprehensive economic development plan, something it hasn't had since 2001.
Here are a few facts:
1. Manufacturing is the state's No. 1 industry, while business taxes account for approximately 23 percent of general fund revenues, the largest portion. Over the last five years, that percentage has been stagnant. To increase revenues for New Hampshire, we need to help existing manufacturers grow, and we need to recruit more advanced manufacturing and high tech businesses to move here and stay here.
2. New Hampshire is being out-invested and out-marketed by other states that are aggressively driving economic development. International and domestic firms seeking desirable landing places are responding to those states. As a consequence, New Hampshire's job growth for the past 12 months ranks 37th, and from 2011 to 2012 New Hampshire personal income grew by 2.8 percent, ranking New Hampshire 39th.
3. The University System and the Community College System have committed to doubling the number of science, technology, engineering and math graduates by 2025. The pipeline of talent will be filling up with few places to go in New Hampshire.
4. World markets love American products. Export sales growth translates to profit growth, which translates to more business tax revenue - but first we need the manufacturers here.
5. We have a wealth of private capital in New Hampshire, at least $13 billion in endowments, trusts and other funds, for example. One fund manager says, "I would like to see these funds invested in New Hampshire economic development, but there is no channel for us, so our investment dollars flow out of state."
6. Although energy rates are high in the Northeast, New Hampshire has the skills and incentives to help advanced manufacturing organizations approach "zero net energy" in their facilities.
Norm Fisk, director of the Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Keene, writes in "How manufacturing will save NH" in the March issue of Business NH magazine, "The only way to create wealth is to grow it, mine it, or manufacture it." In the same article, Dennis Delay, economist for the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy, speaking of manufacturing's high wages says, "This has a huge effect on our economic future because, simply put, if we have a growth in higher paying jobs, those people can buy homes, products, and services. It brings about a positive ripple effect on New Hampshire's entire economy."
The cover story in the April 22 issue of Time magazine, "Made in the USA," is also inspiring, stating, ".perhaps the best economic news the U.S. has witnessed since the rise of Silicon Valley: made in the USA is making a comeback." Being an integral part of that comeback seems safer and smarter than relying on slots, blackjack and roulette.
Consider these questions:
Should we depend on the vagaries of a single casino, which represents an industry in trouble, or should we tie the state's fiscal future to numerous leading-edge high tech producers?
Would it be better to be burdened with the negative social ripple effects that accompany casino gambling, or would it be better to reap positive social benefits as a result of higher-paying jobs and more assured tax revenue flows?
Do we want to tarnish New Hampshire's enviable "brand" with gambling, or do we want to embellish that brand by being the prideful source of a growing array of exportable goods and services?
Should we enable casino amenities to cannibalize existing entertainment venues, restaurants and other small businesses, or enable New Hampshire's entire economy to flourish, as Delay stated?
Casino gambling may be the easy thing to do, but a plan based on advanced high-tech manufacturing is the best thing to do for New Hampshire citizens and state government.
Rep. John Cebrowski is a Republican representative from Bedford and a member of the House Finance Committee. Rep. David Borden is a Democratic representative from New Castle and chairman of the Science, Technology and Energy committee.