Down in Concord

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
— P. J. O’Rourke

Due to the cancelation of last Wednesday’s session (February 27), not much has changed since my previous column. There are very few hearings next week and none is particularly interesting.

In last week’s column I wrote about HB 617, raising the gas tax by a whopping 83%! The House will vote on 3/6 so there is time for you to contact your representatives and oppose this tax increase. They likely will respond that our roads and bridges badly need maintenance, but that answer is a non sequitur. It is not necessary to increase taxes; what is needed is to set priorities to use our existing taxes for road maintenance. The new taxes – amounting to $1 billion over the next decade – allow them to spend more money on other programs. I have more to say about the gas tax below.

Last week, I forecast that four gun bills, two bad ones, two good ones, would be recommended Inexpedient to Legislate (ITL) by the committee. I have heard that is what happened although not by the numbers I guessed. The official sources do not yet show the committee report, so I can’t verify the unofficial report.

HB 544, repealing the prohibition on a state health exchange (part of Obamacare) and HB 606, relative to community rating, both had public hearings last week and are scheduled for Executive Session, Tuesday 3/5. I expect the committee Democrats to approve the bad HB 544 and to kill the good HB 606.

We still don’t know much more about Governor Hassan’s proposed budget because she has not delivered her draft of HB 2, which is an essential part of the budget process. By law it was due on February 15. (Repeat.)

Due to the lighter amount of information this week, I am breaking format to include an op-ed I wrote against the gas tax.

Gas tax not needed

If Rep. Campbell and Gov. Hassan were seriously interested in finding more money for roads and bridges, they would find it right in front of their eyes, without having to dig into the pockets of struggling taxpayers. It’s right in Hassan’s budget proposal. The Highway Fund has about $241 million. Hassan’s budget allocates just 67% of that money to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The other one-third of the fund goes to things having nothing to do with constructing or maintaining roads and bridges.

Current law (RSA 9:9-b) requires that not less than 73% of Highway Funds shall be allocated to the DOT. Hassan takes only 67% – she starts out by underfunding roads and bridges, considerably below what the law requires. What the legislature and Governor should do as Step 1 is to allocate 100% of the Highway funds to the DOT. That would be a dramatic increase in money for fixing and improve our highway infrastructure. There would be no need for a massive increase – almost doubling – of the gas tax.

From the Democrats’ perspective the problem with using the Highway Fund only for highways – actually using a fund for its intended purpose – is that it removes any excuse for increasing taxes. They would have more than enough money for their stated purpose – constructing and maintaining our roads and bridges – so they would have to find some other excuse to increase taxes.

More and more it appears that Campbell’s major goal is to get more money – almost one billion dollars – in the hands of government rather than leave it in the hands of struggling taxpayers. In a now infamous letter to fellow Democrats, Campbell describes the gas tax as “the gift that keeps on giving.” The tax will provide “bonus monies” such as $658,000 annually in General Fund revenue, $1,251,000 for Fish & Game, and $593,000 for DRED/Trails. These are not appropriate recipients of gas tax money.

If Democrats truly believe that spending more money on Fish and Game and on DRED trails is a high priority, then let them work with the money currently available from hard-working taxpayers, let them show their priorities in their budget. Find lower priority items where they can reduce spending and then they can spend more on high-priority items.

The last time Democrats controlled the New Hampshire House, they greatly increased spending, then raised more than 100 taxes to pay for it. Now that they are back in charge, it seems they still want to spend more and more money, then raise taxes to pay for it. That seems to be their only tune. Many of us will be watching how they want to spend the taxpayers’ money and what priorities they set in the budget.