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Friday, January 25, 2013

Bragdon on Merrimack tolls: Enough is enough

CONCORD – Merrimack commuters have paid tolls at three exit ramps on the F.E. Everett Turnpike long enough and the tolls should be taken down, Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said during an interview with The Telegraph Editorial Board Thursday.

Bragdon noted the Senate has not voted on such legislation for over a decade; the perennial bill has always died in the House of Representatives. ...

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CONCORD – Merrimack commuters have paid tolls at three exit ramps on the F.E. Everett Turnpike long enough and the tolls should be taken down, Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said during an interview with The Telegraph Editorial Board Thursday.

Bragdon noted the Senate has not voted on such legislation for over a decade; the perennial bill has always died in the House of Representatives.

“I think they collect $3 million in tolls but spend $1.5 to $2 million a year to collect them,’’ Bragdon said. “When you raise that little amount of money after having paid for the construction work in Merrimack many times over, it’s time to get rid of them. It’s the right thing to do in my opinion.”

Bragdon, whose new Senate district has included Merrimack since last year, said he has a powerful ally for the bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem.

“Everybody has gotten their interchanges without having to pay for them. It is time to stop having Merrimack subsidize the rest of the turnpike system,’’ Bragdon said.

Since the 2012 election, Bragdon considers himself the “last man standing” with Democrats having won elections including Maggie Hassan for governor and replacing a conservative Republican House speaker William O’Brien with a progressive Democrat Terie Norelli.

“I’m being called the last man standing. I don’t see there as being more pressure on me per say but there’s no question there will be a lot of close votes in the Senate,” said Bragdon who presides over a chamber with 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Prior to November, the GOP had an overwhelming, 19-5 advantage in the Senate.

Bragdon said he’s always had a “cordial and respectful” relationship with Norelli and Hassan who were speaker and Senate majority leader, respectively, in 2011 when Bragdon was Senate minority leader.

“When we had 19, that was a lot easier, when you are at 13, it is just a matter of keeping everyone together,” Bragdon said. “I think I will weather the storm. I think I have proven my abilities to guide things in the current matter and as presiding officer try to do it in the most open, fair and transparent manner possible.”

Bragdon also revealed that he’s working on legislation to offer some “level of restitution” from the state for victim investors in the Financial Resources Mortgage scandal.

The Lakes Region-based Ponzi scheme swindled as many as 300 “lenders” of as much as $30 million. Its two top executives are currently serving federal prison terms for bank fraud.

Bragdon said after meeting with a group of these investors he became convinced the state’s poor regulatory scheme is to blame for their losses.

“There is plenty of documentation to show that regulators failed at the most basic level to provide oversight,” Bragdon said. “This was not a Ponzi scheme in the sense that nobody knew what was happening. This was a fraudulent enterprise under eyes of the New Hampshire regulators. All the signs were there were bad things going on.”

On other topics, Bragdon predicted the Senate would approve legislation legalizing gambling for at least one casino but said it’s unlikely the state’s profit would be used to support existing state spending.

“I don’t think this current budget is going to see a lot of money from gambling even if we do pass it,” Bragdon said.

Historically, the Senate has often passed gambling bills only to have them die before the House.

In his gambling bill this year, Senator Morse has proposed half the money be set aside to complete the widening of Interstate 93.

Bragdon agreed there was a need to identify how to spend more money for the state’s ailing road and bridge infrastructure but was opposed to raising the state gasoline tax.

“I think the infrastructure issue is an important one. I am skeptical about a gas tax being the best way to do that. We are in a recession; increasing taxes is something that has a bad effect in the economy.”

Bragdon predicted the Senate would reject any attempt from the House to repeal the 2011 law that allows citizens to “stand your ground” and use deadly force in response to a threat in public.

Prior to that law being passed last year, citizens under attack had a legal duty to try and retreat before they responded with deadly force.

“All thing said and done, I think it is not going to make it out of the Senate in my opinion,” Bragdon added.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).