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Monday, July 7, 2014

Shaheen won’t up federal gas tax

It’s fine for Gov. Maggie Hassan to sign the first increase in the state gas tax in 23 years, but don’t look for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to fall on her sword for one.

Last month, a Portsmouth Herald story suggested that Shaheen was open to the idea, based on her remarks to a Portsmouth business group. ...

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It’s fine for Gov. Maggie Hassan to sign the first increase in the state gas tax in 23 years, but don’t look for U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to fall on her sword for one.

Last month, a Portsmouth Herald story suggested that Shaheen was open to the idea, based on her remarks to a Portsmouth business group.

“Shaheen said she believes the solution is going to involve ‘a whole variety’ of moves, including raising the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993, asking states to pay more of the burden and turning to the private sector for support,” the Seacoast newspaper reported.

But after a road show event promoting more spending on infrastructure in Windham on Tuesday, Shaheen told WMUR something else.

“I think we need to look at a whole range of possibilities,” Shaheen said on WMUR. “I don’t think a hike in the gas tax is going to fix this problem.”

Shaheen has been clear about this issue, according to her campaign spokesman.

“Sen. Shaheen has never voted for an increase in the federal gas tax and, as she told WMUR, does not support one,” said Harrell Kirstein, her communications director.

New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader and former Rep. Jeb Bradley said he’s not surprised that Shaheen would spring away from backing any federal gas tax hike.

“It makes no sense for any Senate Democrat up this year to get on board for this when they know it’s not going anywhere in the (U.S.) House,” Bradley said. “You’re just setting yourself up to be skewered.”

Other Senate Democrats have proposed other ways to keep the federal Highway Fund afloat, such as closing federal tax loopholes, again a non-starter in the GOP-led House.

As a former governor and state senator, Shaheen was always vocally against – or at best nowhere near – those advocating higher state gasoline taxes, either in or out of her own political party.

Keep in mind: Shaheen’s own illustrious career got off the ground in 1990, when she unseated a popular Republican state senator who authored improvements to the Spaulding Turnpike that led to a 25-cent toll increase there.

She dubbed it “Torr’s Toll,” cruised to victory, and the rest is history.

Council passes contract

The two Republican members of the state Executive Council apparently decided it was much better to rankle the tea party wing than try to take on the Senate Republican leadership.

Exhibit A this week was a $1.5 million addition for the Public Consulting Group to advise the state Insurance Department on the expansion of Medicaid, known as the New Hampshire Health Protection Program.

A key part of that work order is to provide oversight over the next year or so as most of the newly eligible Medicaid clients are moved from government to private health insurance plans.

This was the sole reason Senate President Chuck Morse, of Salem, and other GOP senators ultimately went along with the expansion plan.

Those still opposed to the private Medicaid option, such as Americans for Prosperity, argued for the council to delay the contract – at least until the Obama administration approved waivers needed for the private insurance option.

Senate GOP leaders clearly signaled that failing to give state regulators this money could only postpone how quickly the private insurance market could get up and running.

Now you know why what looked like a controversial item passed the council 5-0, with no discussion or debate.

Out of the loop

Speaking of the tea party, Republican candidate for governor Andrew Hemingway wasted no time pouncing on GOP primary rival Walt Havenstein for referring to “tea baggers” during a business school speech that Havenstein gave in Maryland four years ago.

“We’ve got a lot of problems in this country. The ‘tea baggers,’ or whatever they are, they have been telling us that all summer long, all right? Isn’t that who they are? I am a little out of touch,” Havenstein said in the video that WMUR first reported on last week.

Havenstein’s spokesman said back then, Havenstein wasn’t focused on politics.

“At the time, Walt wasn’t involved in politics because he was busy running one of the world’s largest companies,” said spokesman Henry Goodwin. “However, he has always believed that government should be limited, taxes should be low and spending should be restrained.”

Hemingway co-founded the Republican Liberty Caucus in New Hampshire, a group founded on the same tea party principles of limited government and maximum personal freedom.

He called on Havenstein to apologize to him and “every single mother, father and student” who has spent time promoting personal liberty.

“People have referred to me as a tea partier, and I always say this: If you mean an average citizen worried about the future of our country as it relates to over-taxation, over-regulation and limited liberty who is willing to stand up and work? Then fine. That’s who these people are,” Hemingway said.

“Moreover, Walt is asking to represent these people that he just showed such complete disrespect to. People say the Republican Party is divided. They actually blame liberty activists and tea party members for that divide. But it is only the Washington establishment-chosen candidate that refers to fellow Republicans in a sexually derogatory manner.”

Brown called to debate

Never one to take no for an answer, former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith, who is a candidate for that office, continues to press former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown to appear in free-flowing debates with GOP Senate primary rival Jim Rubens and Smith.

“It is past time for the voters of New Hampshire to have the opportunity to differentiate between the three main candidates in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. There has been a lot of speculation and innuendo as to what each candidate stands for,” Smith said in his latest missive.

Later, Smith underlined, “This is a direct challenge to Scott Brown. Jim Rubens has already agreed to these debates. The people of New Hampshire must be allowed to know as much about the candidates as possible in order to become an informed voter.”

Smith gave the Brown camp until Monday to come up with a response.

The Brown campaign has said for more than three weeks that it agreed to four debates/joint appearance forums with the GOP candidates starting with WMUR’s “Close Up” program two weeks ago and ending with the WMUR-New Hampshire Union Leader debate days before the Sept. 9 primary.

Bills still pending

Around this time of year, most legislators in both political parties are anxiously awaiting that call from the governor’s office to set up a ceremonial signing of their legislation.

There’s nothing better for that re-election campaign brochure especially for Democrats to have that photo of Hassan making your bill a reality.

A testament to former Gov. John Lynch’s popularity was how many Republican lawmakers over the years weren’t shy about using his and their likeness in campaign material.

Well, those lawmakers have got a wait on their hands.

Into the long July Fourth weekend, there were an estimated 150 bills still sitting either with House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, or Morse.

Keep in mind: Hassan surely didn’t want either legislative leader to start running the five-day clock for her to decide on legislation while she was on her weeklong trade mission to Turkey.

At this rate, Hassan’s unlikely to finish getting through all the pending bills until at least the middle of this month.

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