15 cent hike in N.H.’s gas tax endorsed by House, 207-163
Representative William O'Brien and representatives from Americans for Prosperity speak out against raising the gasoline tax in a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Concord; Tuesday, March 5, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Republican Rep. Walter Kolodziej of Windham (top, center) greets Jessica Clark (right) and Alexa Kade (center), who were protesting an abortion bill as he and Democratic Rep. Sylvia Gale of Nashua (left) walked into the State House; Wednesday, March 6, 2013. The bill would establish a 24-hour waiting period for abortions, but a vote was delayed until next week.
(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
Eileen Landies of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance greets representatives as she hands out copies of, "The Gold Standard," Wednesday, March 6, 2013. The New Hampshire Liberty Alliance publishes, "The Gold Standard," weekly as a way for them to explain to representatives why they should vote a certain way on bills that the Alliance views to have an impact on liberty.
(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
The House yesterday endorsed a bill that would increase New Hampshire’s gas tax by 15 cents over the next four years.
After nearly 2½ hours of debate, the Democratic-led House voted to pass the bill, 207-163. Fifteen Republicans and 192 Democrats voted for the bill, while 10 Democrats and 153 Republicans voted against it.
Other than the state budget, the gas tax bill “will be the most important piece of legislation that we pass this year, if not this term,” said Rep. John Cloutier, a Claremont Democrat. “I believe that today is finally the day when this House stands up and says that we’re going to invest in our infrastructure, we’re going to put a halt to the gradual deterioration of our infrastructure and we are going to return to New Hampshire’s traditional, bipartisan policy of caring for its roads and bridges.”
The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for a second look, since it involves state revenue, and will come back to the House floor for a second vote.
If it passes again, it will go to the Senate, where Republicans hold a 13-11 majority.
“Despite the House’s determination to increase the state’s gas tax, this bill will be dead on arrival when it reaches the Senate,” predicted Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
During yesterday’s debate, supporters said revenue from an increase in the gas tax, which has stood at 18 cents since 1991, is needed to complete the widening of Interstate 93 in southern New Hampshire and to repair the state’s deteriorating network of roads and bridges.
“New Hampshire does have an infrastructure crisis, and the problem is getting worse and more expensive each year,” said Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat and the gas tax bill’s sponsor.
He added, “Over the last 22 years, Legislatures have chosen to neglect fixing New Hampshire’s roads and bridges, with opponents each time declaring that the state and its taxpayers could not afford to raise the gas tax. The fact is, we can’t afford not to.”
But Republicans said the 83 percent increase in the gas tax, phased in over four years for gasoline and six years for diesel, would place a heavy burden on residents.
“The party that is supposed to be the champion of the poor seems to be more like champions of making our New Hampshire citizens poor,” said Rep. Leon Rideout, a Lancaster Republican.
Bedford Rep. Laurie Sanborn, the House Republicans’ policy leader, called the tax increase a “stunning overreach of government.”
Sanborn said that “safe roads and bridges are important to the people and the economy of New Hampshire,” but “now is not the time to impose a whopping increase in the price of gasoline, at a time when prices are already soaring, paychecks are smaller, economic growth is anemic and New Hampshire’s middle class and working families are struggling to survive and make ends meet.”
The final vote yesterday came after a series of procedural moves by opponents of the bill.
At the beginning of the day, the House voted to suspend its rules so bills that had been scheduled for last week’s canceled session, including the gas tax bill, could be taken up.
Minority Leader Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, urged members to suspend the rules, calling it “the right and honorable thing to do.” The motion passed on a 321-38 vote.
Later, Rep. Dan Itse, a Fremont Republican, moved to table the gas tax bill without any debate. That motion was defeated, 207-126, with 122 Republicans and four Democrats on the losing side.
Then, Mont Vernon Rep. Bill O’Brien, who was speaker during the last two years of Republican control in the House, attempted to attach an amendment that would ban the state from using money from the state’s highway fund for state troopers and other non-transportation expenses.
That, he said, would free up money for any decaying roads and red-listed bridges.
“Now, we may or may not be in a crisis,” O’Brien said. “There’s some of us that view this concept, this term of ‘red listed bridges,’ as more of a marketing term. . . . But let us assume, let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise, that indeed there is this crisis. This crisis can be addressed by plugging the holes in the leaky bucket that is the highway fund.”
The state Constitution says money in the highway fund “shall be appropriated and used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of public highways within this state,” but also includes “the supervision of traffic thereon.”
The state budget routinely uses highway fund money for the Department of Safety and other agencies.
Hudson Rep. Shawn Jasper, the House Republican whip, called O’Brien’s argument disingenuous.
“Sometimes there are people who only like to read certain parts of the Constitution, and only when it suits them,” Jasper said, adding, “It’s not a leaky bucket. It’s a bucket that we have made allocations from. That is our constitutional duty. That is our constitutional responsibility. And that’s what we should be doing, not hiding behind something like this.”
O’Brien’s amendment was killed on a 251-120 vote. Two Democrats voted with 118 Republicans in favor of the amendment. Chandler and Jasper were among 51 Republicans who voted with 200 Democrats against it.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)
Gas tax roll call
The New Hampshire House yesterday voted, 207-163, to pass a bill that would raise the state’s gas tax by 15 cents over the next four years, from 18 cents to 33 cents per gallon.
The bill must now go to the Ways and Means Committee before coming back to the House floor for a second and final vote. If it passes again, it will go to the Senate.
Here’s how Merrimack County’s representatives voted on the bill, listed alphabetically by last name:
∎ Rep. Caroletta Alicea, Boscawen Democrat
∎ Rep. Chris Andrews, Bow Democrat
∎ Rep. Christy Bartlett, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Candace Bouchard, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Scott Burns, Franklin Democrat
∎ Rep. Lorrie Carey, Boscawen Democrat
∎ Rep. Clyde Carson, Warner Democrat
∎ Rep. Frank Davis, Pembroke Democrat
∎ Rep. Karen Ebel, New London Democrat
∎ Rep. Mary Frambach, Epsom Democrat
∎ Rep. June Frazer, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Barbara French, Henniker Democrat
∎ Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Paul Henle, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. David Hess, Hooksett Republican
∎ Rep. Geoffrey Hirsch, Bradford Democrat
∎ Rep. Jane Hunt, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. David Karrick, Warner Democrat
∎ Rep. Sally Kelly, Chichester Democrat
∎ Rep. David Kidder, New London Republican
∎ Rep. Priscilla Lockwood, Canterbury Republican
∎ Rep. Jim MacKay, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Howard Moffett, Canterbury Democrat
∎ Rep. Mel Myler, Hopkinton Democrat
∎ Rep. Dick Patten, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Mario Ratzki, Andover Democrat
∎ Rep. Chip Rice, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Gary Richardson, Hopkinton Democrat
∎ Rep. Katherine Rogers, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Thomas Schamberg, Wilmot Democrat
∎ Rep. Dianne Schuett, Pembroke Democrat
∎ Rep. Steve Shurtleff, Penacook Democrat
∎ Rep. Joy Tilton, Northfield Democrat
∎ Rep. Alan Turcotte, Allenstown Democrat
∎ Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Mary Beth Walz, Bow Democrat
∎ Rep. Rick Watrous, Concord Democrat
∎ Rep. Leigh Webb, Franklin Democrat
∎ Rep. JR Hoell, Dunbarton Republican
∎ Rep. Carol McGuire, Epsom Republican
∎ Rep. Dan McGuire, Epsom Republican
∎ Rep. Dennis Reed, Franklin Republican
∎ Rep. Todd Smith, Hooksett Republican
∎ Rep. Tom Walsh, Hooksett Republican
∎ Rep. Frank Kotowski, Hooksett Republican
Source: N.H. House