Nashua Telegraph: O’Brien: Gas tax rise costly
By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
CONCORD – Former Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, warned that House members could pay a political price at the polls in 2014 if they endorse a four-year, nearly $1 billion increase in the state’s tax on gasoline.
O’Brien appeared with two dozen conservative GOP legislators to press for their alternative, to earmark nearly $80 million in gas tax proceeds that don’t go for road and bridge work but currently pay for state police and court costs connected to highways.
“I am always confident that correct and logical arguments will prevail,” O’Brien said when asked whether he thought the House on Wednesday would reject the plan to increase the gas tax to 33 cents a gallon from its current 18 cents. “We’ll be interested to talk to the voters about those representatives who wanted to pass on a $1 billion tax increase on them, arguably the largest in state history.”
The House leader admitted that in 2011 he embraced the current state budget that continued diversion of nearly 30 percent of gas tax money for purposes other than repairing or replacing roads and bridges.
“This has gone on for years. It has gone on under Republicans; it has gone on under Democrats,” O’Brien told reporters at a news conference. “If we just plug the leaky budget, no tax increase is needed at all.”
Greg Moore is the new state director for Americans for Prosperity, a fiscally conservative interest group after having served as O’Brien’s handpicked House chief of staff.
“AFL views this bill to massively raise the gas tax as part of a larger war on energy consumers in New Hampshire,” Moore said.
While acknowledging that there were many pothole-filled roads and bridges in need of repair, O’Brien cast some doubt on the severity of the infrastructure “crisis” as the gas tax increase’s leading proponent, Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, has called it.
“We are being told now that the highway infrastructure condition has reached crisis levels. Possibly,” O’Brien began. “We aren’t going to solve it with a $1 billion tax increase. Let’s be honest with our budgeting.”
The conservative Granite State Taxpayers, Cornerstone Action NH have also joined the New Hampshire Motor Transport Association in urging the House to kill this gas tax hike.
“This would devastate the truckers in our organization. They can’t take what is an 83 percent increase in the tax on diesel; it’s way over the top,” said Robert Sculley, president of the truckers lobby.
In response, Rep. Candace Bouchard, D-Merrimack, said O’Brien’s gambit could put at risk the jobs of up to 311 state troopers that are at least partially paid for from the highway fund.
“You don’t sacrifice public safety to fill a budget hole,” Bouchard said. “They should not put the Department of Safety against the Department of Transportation.”
O’Brien said Safety officials should have made their case for the state troopers they need in each state budget and not rely on a dedicated carve-out from gas taxes motorists pay every time they fill up.
Bouchard also noted that through motor vehicle and license fees, the Department of Safety contributes more than $80 million a year in revenue for the highway fund.
Gov. Maggie Hassan came out against O’Brien’s amendment and was joined Tuesday by the New Hampshire Auto Dealers, who have remained neutral about the gas tax increase.
The gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1991 and at 18 cents a gallon is the lowest in the Northeast and the second lowest in the country, ahead only of Wyoming. Campbell’s bill would raise the gas tax by 4 cents each of the next three years and another 3 cents in the fourth year for car and truck owners. By 2018, the tax increase would raise more than $110 million each year; one-fifth of the increase would go to communities for local road and bridge work.
The cost for diesel fuel would go up 2.5 cents a gallon annually over the next six years.
Once fully implemented at 33 cents a gallon, New Hampshire’s gas tax would go from the bottom 10 in the nation to just outside the highest 10 in the country.