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Stupid taxpayers? Too dumb to notice gas tax trick?

February 26. 2013 5:59PM

It appears that state Rep. David Campbell of Nashua not only picked a lousy time to ask New Hampshire drivers to pay a whopping increase for their gasoline, he also made the politicians' classic mistake of promising, in writing no less, all things to all people. If his fellow House Democrats go along with him today, they will really be telling their constituents how little they think of them.

Union Leader senior political reporter John Distaso reported Monday that Campbell, while claiming publicly that the gas tax money is desperately needed to fix our roads, was also promising his fellow pols that the tax hike is a "gift that keeps on giving."

As his daddy used to say, Campbell told select Democrats in an ill-advised email, "don't spend it all in one place.'' (One can almost hear him guffaw and slap his knee.)

Campbell explained a little-known and little used provision in law that allows agencies other than the transportation department to gain millions of dollars from his gas tax hike. Consumers can seek a partial tax refund for gasoline purchased for things other than their cars. But they don't know about it, Campbell said, and therefore the state can count on raking in millions of dollars beyond his own high estimates of what highways need.

Of course, Campbell has been saying that every penny of a 15-cent per gallon tax increase must and will go to fix roads and bridges. It's in the state Constitution, he has been saying.

Caught red-handed, Campbell's lame response was to tell Distaso that his email boast is a good thing because now consumers will know to apply for the gas tax refund.

Even before his blunder, Campbell's timing was dreadful. In the event anyone in the Legislature hasn't noticed, gasoline prices are soaring. The increase in price has placed enormous strain on family budgets.

It is undermining economic growth and is putting inflationary pressure on an already stressed economy. It also comes at a time when the logic of giving government more money to spend is under serious challenge.

At the federal level, the debate, the fight, is over cutting government spending — not finding ways to increase it. No less can be said or done at the state level.

Roads and bridges are important. The need to maintain the infrastructure, built at significant taxpayer expense in the first place, goes without saying. But should it require steep new taxes to do that job? Should additional spending be the only solution?

The government — at all levels — needs to be held accountable for the money it already receives. It is time to demand that government live within its means, which is to say the people's means.

"Don't spend it all in one place" must give way to "don't spend what the people don't have."

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