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House panel recommends killing beer-tax hike, constitutional amendments

A House committee yesterday recommended killing two controversial tax proposals: an increase in the beer tax sponsored by two Democrats, and a Republican-sponsored constitutional amendment that would require a legislative supermajority to raise any tax or fee.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted 14-2 to recommend that the full House kill the beer-tax increase, a bill sponsored by Rep. Chuck Weed of Keene and Rep. Richard Eaton of Greenville. Both are Democrats.

The bill would raise the state’s beer tax from 30 cents a gallon to 40 cents a gallon, generating nearly $4.3 million a year for the state’s alcohol abuse prevention and treatment fund. But the proposal has become a punching bag for Republicans and conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, and Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, came out against it earlier this month.

The panel also voted, 14-3, to recommend the full House reject a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would require a three-fifths vote in the Legislature to increase any tax or fee, or introduce new taxes or fees. The amendment is sponsored by two Republicans, Rep. Jordan Ulery of Hudson and Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry.

The same amendment was proposed during the last legislative session, when Republicans held big majorities in both chambers. It was approved by the Senate on a 14-9 vote last summer, but failed to reach the three-fifths threshold for passage in the House.

Democrats now hold a 221-179 majority in the House, while Republicans have a 13-11 edge in the
Senate.

A second proposed constitutional amendment was debated by the Ways and Means Committee yesterday, a measure that would allow state or local taxes to be graduated. The panel voted 14-2 to recommend the full House kill the amendment, which is sponsored by Weed and Rep. Timothy Robertson, another Keene Democrat.

All three measures will now go to the full House. The constitutional amendments would require three-fifths majorities in both the House and the Senate in order to appear on the ballot in 2014 for ratification, which requires a two-thirds vote.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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