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Not Hassan's week: Raiding the highway fund

March 02. 2013 1:58AM

Last week wasn't the best of times for our new governor.

First, her party's efforts to slap a huge new gasoline tax on already-hard-pressed motorists was severely undermined, both by its sponsor's virtual gloating over what he said was a "gift that keeps on giving'' and by the revelation that Gov. Maggie Hassan herself has plans to take more money from allegedly strapped highway funds than the law allows.

No sooner had that embarrassing information been reported (by the New Hampshire Union Leader, incidentally), then Gov. Hassan's casino gambling revenue, on which her budget greatly relies, was under fire from two fronts, one debatable and one completely unexpected. (See editorial below for more on the gambling issues.)

The proposed 15 cent gas tax hike (over four years) has its sponsor, Nashua Democrat David Campbell, sporting two big, black eyes. Campbell has insisted that ALL that money is desperately needed for our state's roads and bridges. Except for the money that won't go for that purpose.

That's the "gift that keeps on giving'' part in Campbell's now memorable phrase. In what he thought was a confidential email to fellow Democrat committee chairmen, he explained that the tax hike would benefit non-highway coffers, such as the general fund and various departments, to the tune of millions of dollars.

How? Because the public doesn't know that gasoline used for anything besides their cars (motor boats, snowmobiles, lawn mowers, you name it) is exempt from the gas tax. What you pay for it is refundable. But, according to Campbell math: Ignorant consumers plus a big tax hike equals more money to spend on non-highway goodies.

Campbell said he was just kidding and had chosen his words poorly. You bet he did. And the Democrats, who have just been returned to power in the House, are going to have to think very carefully now before voting for this supposedly desperately needed tax increase.

Gov Hassan, meanwhile, further undermined the "need'' argument. The highway fund has been so often raided for non-highway uses that the Legislature finally passed a law requiring that a minimum 73 percent of its monies actually go to highway uses.

The last (Republican) House voted to override that requirement and, surprise, Hassan intends to do the same, raiding $26 million of highway funds to hire more state police.

So if Gov. Hassan thinks the present level of highway funding can do without millions of dollars, how are Campbell and company supposed to justify a big tax hike, with "gifts'' included?

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