Swept into office in a Democratic tide, Gov. Maggie Hassan could have read her election and the Democrats' retaking of the state House of Representatives last November as a mandate for left-wing governance. Wisely, she has kept her party's left wing at arm's (wing's?) length instead.
Helpfully, the far left gave her an early opportunity to move to the middle when Rep. Charles Weed, D-Keene, proposed a 33 percent increase in the beer tax. Hassan was not about to hand Republicans such a valuable gift.
"As the Patriots head to the Super Bowl, I don’t think now is the time to increase the beer tax," she said as she promised to veto the bill if it got to her desk.
Here the left was about to push a tax hike on Joe Sixpack, letting Republicans step in as defenders of the working man, and Hassan, realizing the political peril, immediately squashed the proposal.
That came after her post-election announcement, since repeated, that the state cannot afford to "restore" funding to all of the services Republicans cut in the last legislative session, so the people (read: liberal activists) will need to be patient.
Hassan has not said what she would do about the gas tax (which some Democrats have already proposed raising). But that is also smart. President Obama has shown that Democrats can raise spending and taxes with less backlash by tying them to "infrastructure investments." Gas taxes by law must go to road maintenance and construction. Hassan could, after taking some time to "study" the issue, offer a small gas tax increase as a necessary "investment" in essential infrastructure and still portray herself as a sensible moderate on taxes because a) this one is tied to a specific need and will not provide general fund revenue for legislators to spend, and b) she already has promised to veto a sales tax, an income tax and an increase in the beer tax.
The trouble with that approach is that Democrats are itching to raise a lot of other taxes and fees, and Hassan would like to have some of that revenue to balance the budget. If she goes forward with a gas tax hike first, it could be harder for her to raise other taxes and fees later. There is only so much tolerance for tax and fee hikes in this state, so she has to be very careful in deciding which increases to push for early in her first term.
She's already on the record promoting a 10-cent increase in the tobacco tax. If she tries to raise the gas tax, that makes two quick tax hikes, one of which will hit everyone every week and yet be unavailable for spending on the university system or other things. Depending on what her budget numbers look like, it might make more sense to pursue another modest tax or fee increase this year, then go for a gas tax hike next year.
We will have to wait for her budget proposal next month to see what her spending priorities will be. But based on her actions thus far, she seems to be leaning toward a status-quo budget or a bigger-spending one in which the new revenue comes from casino gambling. She has not been preparing people to expect big tax increases. Rather, she's been preparing people for the opposite. That suggests that she already is planning for the long term and understands that the key to being a a long-time Democratic governor in New Hampshire is to marginalize both Republicans and the left wing of her own party.