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NH's revenue dip: No cause for alarm

May 08. 2013 11:38PM

There would be no chance for casino gambling in New Hampshire were it not for a single idea: There are no circumstances in which the size, scope or vigor of government may be allowed to shrink.

That is the engine driving Gov. Maggie Hassan's push for gambling. She wants the $80 million in casino licensing revenue in the next budget and the hundreds of millions more to spend in the future. She wants this partly to restore state funding to its pre-recession level, erroneously considered a baseline for the minimum level of acceptable state spending, and partly to expand the state into new areas.

It is the same reason some legislators who otherwise are not gambling fans have supported it this year. A good example is Sen. Molly Kelly, D-Keene, who explained that, despite her reservations about gambling, she voted for casinos because she wants the money to spend on state programs and services.

Providing traction for this drive is the economy. Gambling bills seldom got very far before the recession of 2007-08. But since then, state revenues have fallen from $2.35 billion to $2.26 billion, New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies economist Dennis Delay pointed out this week. Thanks to that 4 percent reduction, politicians have portrayed the state as in such dire financial shape that it has little choice but to authorize slot-machine casinos to rescue the government from collapse.

The reality is that the state can weather this temporary dip in revenue without resorting to a permanent new funding source that would create a permanent change in our culture. We simply have to be frugal and set priorities. That is possible if we understand that not every dime of government spending is sacred.

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