After the Democrats took the state House of Representatives and the corner office last fall, we wondered how far into the legislative session they would get before they went for a really big tax increase. The answer came on Wednesday: 35 days.
Gov. Maggie Hassan got this year's session started on the right foot when she announced she would veto a beer tax increase proposed by Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene. That allowed her to take the middle ground between Republicans who wanted no tax hikes and the far left wing of her party, which thinks the government never has enough revenue to spend on all the good things liberals dream up.
Then, in her budget address, she proposed a tobacco tax increase three times the size of the one she campaigned on. But who cares about filthy smokers? Her inclusion of $80 million in gambling revenue in her budget sent the signal that she was unlikely to press for big tax hikes this year.
Then came last week's 207-163 vote to increase the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon
Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, who has long wanted a gas tax hike, proposed a 12-cents per gallon increase along with a hike in vehicle registration fees. His bill was amended to remove the registration fee increase and raise the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon.
The current tax is 18 cents per gallon, the lowest in New England. Campbell's bill would increase it by 83 percent over four years. The 10-year impact is expected to be about $1 billion, dedicated to the state's roads, bridges and highways.
So it took the House all of 35 days to vote for a $1 billion tax increase.
In the weeks leading up to the sequester, President Obama said the automatic cuts would take a "meat cleaver" to the federal budget. He said it was irresponsible to chop away without precision (even though the sequester was his proposal). This $1 billion gas tax hike is the sequester in reverse. Instead of doing the hard work of figuring out precisely how much money is needed to fix roads and bridges - after the Department of Transportation budget is prioritized to eliminate non-essential spending - 207 representatives voted to simply throw $1 billion at the issue and proclaim it fixed.
This is not responsible budgeting. This is lazy tax hiking for the sake of tax hiking. And the worst bit is, the House is only getting started. We have months to go.