- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan put a priority on bringing commuter rail to New Hampshire, increasing the state’s natural gas supply and raising the minimum wage in her inaugural address Thursday to kick off her second two-year term.

But Hassan barely touched on her plans for the next two-year state budget, drawing criticism from Republicans who questioned how she would pay for priorities such as rail and maintaining Medicaid expansion. Hassan did not mention casino gambling or any other new revenue sources in her address. She will deliver her budget address to the Legislature in February. She’ll face a more difficult political landscape this year, as Republicans now control both legislative chambers.

“Governor Hassan offered a lot of broad goals, with little specifics on how to reach them. Republicans share concern about our economy, job creation and energy prices, but we’ll have very different solutions,” House Majority Leader Jack Flanagan said in a statement.

Throughout her speech, Hassan drew many of her goals back to the themes of expanding middle class opportunity and bipartisan governing.

“To widen the doors of middle class opportunity, we must approach these next two years with a relentless focus on ensuring that every Granite Stater who works hard can find success,” Hassan said.

The state has been studying the costs and benefits of bringing commuter rail from Boston to Nashua and Manchester for several years. The issue has become political recently as Republicans question where the money would come from. A study released last year showed bringing rail to Manchester would cost $246 million, serving 668,000 riders per year and creating 5,600 jobs.

Hassan said rail would increase the state’s competition with Massachusetts and encourage young people to stay in the state.

“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,” Hassan said.

Energy prices have been rising in recent years due, in part, to limited natural gas supply in New Hampshire. Hassan said that increasing supply and diversifying the state’s energy resources are critical to lowering costs, but she did not mention specific proposals.

Energy company Kinder Morgan has proposed a natural gas pipeline to run through New Hampshire and the Northern Pass Project would build transmission lines through the state to deliver hydroelectric power from Canada to New England. Both projects have been controversial. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley said addressing the state’s energy supply is “urgent.”

Hassan’s calls to increase the minimum wage are unlikely to bear fruit in the Republican Legislature. The state’s Medicaid expansion law, passed last year and crafted in part by Republicans, is set to expire in 2016 if lawmakers do not reauthorize it. Some Republicans want to end it sooner, but Hassan called on lawmakers not to continue it. Roughly 30,000 people are now receiving insurance under the plan.

“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.


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