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House passes cut to gas tax

Last modified: 4/28/2011 12:00:00 AM
The full House passed a 5-cent cut to the state's gasoline tax yesterday, but the governor said he's not worried about the fast-tracked Republican proposal, because its prospects of clearing the Senate appear dim.

In a 208-98 vote, lawmakers passed a bill to cut the tax, which has not changed since 1991, from 18 cents per gallon to 13 cents per gallon for the next two months. The vote came just one day after the bill, introduced last week by House Speaker William O'Brien and Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, sailed out of the House Finance Committee.

Supporters say the bill will provide relief to drivers suffering from gas prices that have neared $4 per gallon in recent months while luring tourists and border residents into the state. Opponents say the state's gas tax is already the lowest in the region and the cut won't be passed down to consumers, instead profiting oil companies while the state loses an estimated $6.6 million in revenue for road repairs.

Lynch said yesterday he does not expect the bill to pass the Senate and dismissed questions about whether he would veto it.

"I don't believe it's going to get to me," Lynch said. "I don't worry about political gimmicks."

This wouldn't be the first tax cut to pass out of the House this year and face skepticism in the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans. Yesterday, the Senate tabled a House bill that seeks to lower the cigarette tax by 10 cents.

Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he would not support the gas tax cut, because he doesn't feel the price at the pump will end up reflecting the nickel reduction.

"Obviously, like most people, I feel the price of gas is too high," he said. "Having said that . . . at this point in time, that reduction in the gas tax will never get to the citizens of the state of New Hampshire."

Sen. David Boutin, a Republican from Hooksett, said, "In general, there's some real concerns about its impact on revenues for the Department of Transportation."

On the House floor, Bettencourt contested the criticism that the tax cut is a gimmick and said he simply wants to help drivers at the pump.

"It's hard to believe that sometimes there are altruistic motives" in politics, he said. "This is one."

Bettencourt framed the gas tax cut as the type of move Republicans were elected to make.

"When we ran on cutting taxes, the question now becomes, 'Do we have the courage to follow through?' " he said.

Rep. Ken Weyler, who chairs the House Finance Committee, said the loss of revenue to the state's highway fund wouldn't be significant enough to prevent major repairs from taking place.

Weyler said he always scopes out the cheapest gas near his home in Kingston and expects that competition will bear out the tax cut.

"Any gasoline dealer that doesn't pay attention to this is going to be hounded," Weyler said.

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)


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