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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Gas tax close to stalling in Senate

CONCORD – The first proposed increase in the state’s gasoline tax in 22 years still is alive in the state Senate but could soon be in need of political nourishment to stay off life-support.

In a mild surprise, the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted, 3-2, to recommend re-referring this legislation that would, over three years, raise the gas tax 12 cents per gallon. ...

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CONCORD – The first proposed increase in the state’s gasoline tax in 22 years still is alive in the state Senate but could soon be in need of political nourishment to stay off life-support.

In a mild surprise, the Senate Ways and Means Committee voted, 3-2, to recommend re-referring this legislation that would, over three years, raise the gas tax 12 cents per gallon.

The same increase for truck and car owners with diesel engines would be over six years.

If the state Senate follows this advice, re-referral means the bill returns to committee for the rest of 2013 but then must go before the full body with some up or down finding early on in 2014.

Senate Republican leaders had threatened for months that a bump up in the gas levy was “dead on arrival” because of their sworn desire to oppose any tax increase.

“I guess re-referral on arrival is better than dead on arrival,” quipped state Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, the prime author of this proposal (HB 617) that cleared the House of Representatives last month.

The two most powerful members of the committee, Chairman Robert Odell, R-Lempster, and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, had opposed re-referring the bill, preferring to kill it.

“I don’t hear any sense of ought to pass this from anyone,” Odell said during an interview. “People have become very wary of it and its impact on our economy.”

Sen. James Rausch, R-Derry and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, joined with the two Democrats on the panel to make the recommendation to ship it back to committee.

“I’m not sure the votes are there to pass it. This keeps the discussion going,” said Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia.

The full Senate will likely take this bill up on May 23, a day after the House of Representatives votes on the Senate’s pet project of 2013, legalizing bets at a single high-end casino.

Veteran observers fully expect that if the House kills the casino bill, the Senate, on the next day, could easily respond by killing the gas tax.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said the Senate outlook hasn’t changed. Senators by a 3-1 margin oppose a 12-cent increase.

“At 12 cents, there is zero support for this. We all know there is a need for infrastructure funding. As long as the gaming debate is out there, you are going to see bipartisan opposition to this tax,” Bradley said.

Truckers and companies that make use of them warned at a hearing last week that this would cripple them as business owners seek to recover from an elongated recession, and for some large fleets, could cost as much as $10,000 a year in higher taxes.

Once fully implemented at 30 cents per gallon, New Hampshire’s gas tax would go from the bottom 10 in the nation to just outside the highest dozen states in the U.S.

Over the next decade, this bill would raise $816 million in more revenue, all of which would go for bridge and road maintenance or reconstruction.

Cities and towns would get $183 million, and at its peak, the tax would raise $92 million more a year.

Advocates and foes also disagree over whether raising the gas tax from its current 18 to 30 cents by 2016 would lead to higher prices at the pumps.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com.