Analysis: Hassan speech reflects challenges she’ll face working with GOP-led House, Senate; no hints about 2016 plans

CONCORD – Inaugurated Thursday for her second term, Gov. Maggie Hassan stressed bipartisanship, cooperation and innovation in her 45 minute address – familiar terms that Granite Staters have heard from her dating back to her first campaign for governor, through her first term and through her second successful campaign last year.


Can it work? It won’t be easy, but yes, it can. (To read her full speech, click here.)


But with the Legislature now fully in the hands of Republicans, the governor will have to compromise to an even greater degree than she has in the past.


And as even though it wasn’t alluded to outwardly, if Hassan truly has her sights set on running for the U.S. Senate in 2016 – and it is still not entirely clear if she wants to take that step – cooperation, bipartisanship and most of all, accomplishment, would be her greatest strength moving forward.


Hassan’s outreach to the Republicans stands in stark contrast to the rancor taking place in the Republican House caucus itself. And she appears to be especially reaching out to Republicans who supported Speaker Shawn Jasper’s rise to lead the House by trying to build a working majority with those Republican and the Democratic caucus. What effect the roughly half of the GOP caucus who support House GOP Speaker nominee Bill O’Brien will have on Hassan’s attempt at finding accommodation remains to be seen.


And then there is the state Senate, which now has a 14-10 GOP majority (last session it was 13-11), but whose leadership has been approachable for compromiose


OF course there will be politicking on some key voting issues, such as the minimum wage. But in other major areas, there could be the makings for compromise.


Hassan took many minutes in the beginning of her speech stressing cooperation and new approaches.


“The needs of families and businesses are changing, and we too must adapt our approach to meet those needs,” she said.


Hassan noted that in the last budget, funding for higher education was restored and as a result, in-state tuition was frozen in the state university system and slightly lowered at community colleges. She said the pattern should continue in the next two years. Evidence of that will come when the governor unveils her budget in February.


“We must make sure that tuition at our universities is affordable enough to help attract and retain young people, rather than drive them away,” she said. “And when our students finish college, we must continue to find ways to keep more of them here.”


She touched on recent increases in the research and development tax credit and said she is proposing securities regulatory reforms to “make it easier for innovative businesses to raise the capital they need to grow and flourish.”


But her most specific proposal, and one that received a standing ovation from most of the audience at the ceremony, was her call for commuter rail to be completed from Boston to Nashua and Manchester.


“Rail brings with it improved access to the entire region, and can provide new transportation and housing opportunities,” she said, “the kind of opportunities that 21st-century workers and families are looking for. Our business community understands the many benefits of commuter rail, and that is why they are calling on us to act.


“We must find a consensus way forward on rail that will build on our many advantages and help set the stage for a new generation of economic growth by keeping more of our young people right here in the Granite State,” Hassan said.


Hassan also lauded the Medicaid expansion plan passed earlier this year, which had picked up 30,015 enrollees as of Dec. 31. The current plan will end if federal funding drops below 100 percent and ends regardless at the end of 2016 if the Legislature doesn’t reauthorize it.


“As we plan for the future of health care in our state, we must do so with the commitment that our responsibility to our people, to our businesses, and to our economy cannot sunset,” Hassan said.
She also pushed for an expansion of the availability of natural gas in New Hampshire, while advocating more conservation and energy efficiency.


And without naming the Northern Pass project, Hassan seemed to reference it when she said, “We will not capitulate to plans that aren’t right for New Hampshire. But we must innovate, negotiate, and get to solutions that lead to a stronger, more affordable energy future.”


There was not a word from Hassan about casino gambling, just as in her first inaugural address in 2013. But two years ago, she did include $80 million in anticipated casino applications fees in her budget, which drew the ire of opponents – including many in her own party. It is doubtful she will make that mistake again this year, and it will be of interest to see how hard she pushed for gambling this time around.


Overall, Hassan’s second inaugural was perhaps even more cautious than her first, understanding the limitations of needing to work now with two GOP-led chambers of the Legislature. She — of course – she promised that the budget will be balanced “without a sales or an income tax.”


And she received polite responses from the GOP leaders, yet responses that showed there will be differences of opinions between her and the legislative majority.


House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan said, “Republicans share concern about our economy, job creation, and energy prices, but we’ll have very different solutions….we should remember that two years ago Governor Hassan proposed a budget that was immediately rejected by Republicans as a result of higher taxes, higher spending, and unrealistic revenue estimates.


“In order for the Governor to fulfill her commitment to bipartisan solutions, we will need her to work with us to ensure our government lives within its means without relying on new or increased taxes and fees,” Flanagan said.


Senate Finance Committee Chair Jeanie Forrester said the state has a “spending problem” that needs to be addressed, while Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said that current revenue estimates are on pace “without our conservative estimates,” and he said a Senate priority this year will be to lower the state’s business taxes.


With the speeches and polite reactions now stated, the real work will now begin.

For Hassan, it will be a challenge – regardless of what her future political plans may be.

Author: John DiStaso

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