Down in Concord

Q: How many politicians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to assure the public that everything possible is being done while the other screws it into a water faucet.

This is the time of year known legislatively as Crossover. House bills cross over to the Senate and Senate bills cross over to the House. The House has a deadline of Thursday, March 14 for some bills; Thursday, March 28 for other bills; and Thursday, April 4 for the big budget bills. With 252 bills left to vote on, the House will be meeting not just on the normal Wednesdays but also on some Thursdays.

The House started with 609 bills. Every single bill has a public hearing, where anyone at all can testify without any advance notice. Then it has one or more committee meetings, all open to the public, a committee vote, and finally a floor vote by the full House. Some bills then go to a second House committee where the process is repeated – another public hearing, a committee vote, then back to the House floor.

The House has passed 106 bills, killed 132, and “retained” 107 bills. Retained means that the committee decided to do further study on the bill later in the Spring, through Summer, and into Fall. They might retain a bill because the idea seems good, but the language of the bill might not be quite right, or perhaps complex enough that they want to spend more time making sure that there aren’t any unintended consequences. I often remark that there is one law that a legislature can never repeal, and that is the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Because the House is so close to its deadlines, the only bills still having public hearings are those that passed the House only to be sent to a second committee, or the big budget bills which have later deadlines.

On Thursday, March 14 at 1:30 there will be a public hearing for HB 617, the monstrous gas tax increase. They have scheduled it in Representatives Hall because they rightly expect a large crowd of people testifying or observing. My guess is that outside the State House will be a large crowd of protesters against the proposed 83% increase of the gasoline tax.

For some families this tax will be an extra $300 they have to cough up every year. By the Democrats own estimates, taxpayers will have to pony up an extra one billion dollars during the next decade. The trucks that deliver almost all of our goods will pay much more in higher diesel taxes, which means that the price of almost every product would go up.

The Democrats claim that the tax is necessary to fix our crumbling roads and bridges but that is almost a bait and switch. More than a million dollars of the new gas tax will go to Fish&Game every year according to the sponsor’s own memo. Other money will go for snowmobile trails; the largest chunk will go toward state police. All of those may be admirable but they have nothing to do with fixing and improving our roads and bridges.

The Highway Fund has more than enough money to construct and maintain our highway infrastructure. The problem is that a large chunk of the Fund is diverted away from the department of Transportation (DOT) to other agencies. The Democrats’ proposed budget spends only 67% on the DOT.

Before we raise the gas tax by 83%, we should dedicate 83% – not just 67% – of the Highway Fund to actual highways. The tax-raising Democrats want taxpayers to pay more money for roads and bridges at the same time their proposed budget diverts $160 million away from roads and bridges. Does that really make sense?

Opponents of this simple idea – that we use the existing money as efficiently as possible before we impose a new burden on struggling taxpayers – raise the absurd objection that this would devastate the state police who dip into the Highway Fund. Does anyone seriously think that the legislature would fail to fund the State Police? This is a standard scare tactic of governments everywhere – they threaten that the most important or most desired programs will be killed if the taxpayers don’t come up with more money.

The total proposed budget is $11 billion. If we took just 1.5% of that budget for state police and related agencies, then we could dedicate 100% of the Highway Fund to the DOT to work on roads and bridges. Does anyone really think that there is not 1.5% of waste or lower priority programs in that massive budget?

Let’s tell our Representatives to stop siphoning gas tax money out of the Highway Fund before telling us to put more money into the fund.

On Monday, March 18 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. we will have a second opportunity to tell them to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. There will be a state budget hearing in Claremont at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center, 111 South Street. I plan to attend and testify that the budget should use realistic – not pie in the sky – revenue estimates, should prioritize spending, and should stop diverting money from the Highway Fund before telling taxpayers to put more money into the fund.

Please join me in opposing the largest tax increase in state history.

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