Senate kills House’s 12-cent gas tax increase
A bipartisan majority of the state Senate yesterday rejected the idea of increasing New Hampshire’s gas tax, killing a 12-cent increase passed by the House with a parliamentary maneuver that also takes the issue off the table during budget negotiations next month with the House.
The 18-6 vote to “indefinitely postpone” a vote on the gas tax bill came a day after the House voted, 199-164, to kill a Senate bill that would have allowed a single casino in the state. Both expanded gambling and the gas tax had been touted as sources of revenue for improving the state’s roads and bridges.
“I think all of us know that we need to consider measures that would enhance our roads and bridge fund. Unfortunately, despite a bill that we sent to the House, which was rejected yesterday, our best attempts to do that have failed,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican. “I find it very difficult – at a time when the taxpayers are struggling, when small businesses are struggling – that we would increase the road toll from 18 cents to 30 cents a gallon.”
Rep. David Campbell, a Nashua Democrat and the prime sponsor of the gas tax bill, responded with harsh words for the Senate.
“Their vote today to indefinitely postpone (the gas tax bill) was, by the Senate majority’s own admission, retaliation for the gambling vote yesterday,” Campbell said. “The Senate majority has apparently forgotten or is ignoring that the voters threw out three of the last four House majorities and two of the last four Senate majorities because the voters want us to concentrate on jobs and the economy. Voters have rejected time and again extreme ideology and partisanship, and that is what this is.”
On March 27, the Democratic-led House voted, 206-158, to approve a 12-cent increase in the gas tax, which has stood at 18 cents per gallon since 1991. The House’s bill would have phased in the hike over three years for gasoline and six years for diesel fuel.
But yesterday, the Republican-led Senate voted, 18-6, to indefinitely postpone a vote on the House’s bill. Five Democrats joined all 13 Republicans in the majority; all six “no” votes came from Democrats.
The motion in effect kills the bill and blocks the Senate from considering any legislation dealing with the same subject matter for the remainder of the two-year legislative session.
Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, said that doesn’t mean the Senate couldn’t consider a different bill next year to deal with the state’s roads and bridges.
But, he said, yesterday’s vote means a gas tax hike can’t be part of the state budget. Discussing any increase in the committee of conference that will hammer out a compromise with the House, he said, “is futile, because the Senate cannot accept the report.”
(The House had included the gas tax hike in its budget. The Senate will vote on its own budget by June 6, and a committee of conference will then negotiate a final budget.)
Sen. Jim Rausch, a Derry Republican, said he and the public supported expanded gambling as a solution for the state’s infrastructure woes.
“In Salem, 81 percent of the people wanted it, and statewide, 63 percent of the people wanted it because it was a nontax solution to our roads, bridges and infrastructure. But the House had other ideas. It’s failed,” Rausch said. “I will support the indefinite (postponement) motion only because I have assurances that next year, not next session but next year, we can have legislation that is different but pertinent to the resolution and solutions of our infrastructure needs.”
Tobacco tax, fees
The House has also proposed raising the state’s tobacco tax, passing a bill March 20 on a 193-167 vote to raise the tax by 20 cents. The Senate rejected that bill yesterday on a 13-11 vote that broke along party lines.
New Hampshire’s tobacco tax now stands at $1.68 per pack. It will go up 10 cents automatically later this year, reversing a cut made two years ago.
In addition to the bill killed yesterday, the House, in its budget, proposed raising the tax by 30 cents, to $1.98 a pack. That hike could be discussed as part of budget negotiations next month.
The Senate did agree yesterday with the House to raise a state fee on heating oil.
The 1-cent per gallon fee goes into a discharge cleanup fund. A bill to raise it by a quarter-cent, to 1.25 cents per gallon, passed the House on March 27 by a 194-156 vote and passed the Senate yesterday on a voice vote after minimal debate.
And on another voice vote, the Senate approved a House bill that repeals a future reduction in boat registration fees, which were set to go into effect in 2015.
Both bills now go to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat.
(Annmarie Timmins contributed to this report. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)