Published DateTILTON — Although State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) invited his constituents to a town hall meeting, he found himself hosting a free-ranging conversation among a handful of voters and pair of reporters in the lounge of the AutoServ dealership where he is a vice-president.
Among those present was Bill Grimm of Franklin, who lost the Republican primary for the Senate seat Hosmer won by topping Joshua Yousef of Laconia in the general election. Kyril Mitchell of Franklin Savings Bank, former chairman of the Laconia Planning Board, was there along with Andy Madore, a close friend of the senator.
Hosmer, who is serving his first term in the term in the New Hampshire Senate, represents District 7, which includes the cities of Laconia and Franklin and the towns of Andover, Belmont, Boscawen, Canterbury, Gilford, Northfield , Salisbury and Webster. He serves on the Commerce and Ways and Means committees.
Mary Ellen Beaudman, a 30-year veteran of the public school system, highlighted the challenge facing the Legislature by remarking "if we don't have any money, we can't do many things."
Nodding in agreement, Hosmer said that discussion of the 2013-2014 turns on the question of revenue. The Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority of 13 to 11, voted to introduce casino gambling, mirroring the position of Governor Maggie Hassan, who included $80-million in gambling revenue in her budget. The House , where Democrats hold 221 of the 400 seats, stripped the gambling revenue from the governor's budget while raising the tobacco tax and trimming expenses to balance its budget. At the same time, the House voted to increase the gas tax by 12 cents in increments of four cents per year over three years.
Hosmer said that the Senate Ways and Means Committee has recommended against raising the tobacco tax and will consider the increased gas tax, which its Republican leadership has already rejected, next week. Meanwhile, although the House has regularly rejected expanded by bipartisan majorities, Hosmer said "I remain optimistic that the House will pass the Senate gambling bill."
With some reservations, Hosmer said that he voted for expanded gambling. He expressed concern that the bill would license only one casino and would prefer a more competitive bidding process for the gambling franchise. In particular, he suggested that Jerry Gappens, general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, should have an opportunity to add gambling to the venue and acknowledged there was support for a gambling establishment in the North County. He expected the special committee in the House working on the bill to address these and other issues.
Conceding that "there is a social cost that comes with gambling," Hosmer said that casinos already operate in neighboring and nearby states and will soon open in Massachusetts. "We have to achieve parity and find a way to keep the money here in the state," he said.
"It's a long way from passage," Hosmer said of the gambling legislation, adding that should it fail in the House, "there would be a big hole in the governor's budget and I'm not sure how we would fill the gap."
Without the gambling revenue, Hosmer agreed it would be difficult to provide adequate funding for community mental health centers, restore funding for uncompensated care to hospitals and end the waiting list for those with disabilities, all of which he counts among his highest priorities. He said that "the mental health system is certainly at a crisis point" and "there is tremendous downward pressure on the healthcare system."
"There are an awful lot of questions still to be asked," Hosmer said of the budget process.