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Gas tax hike or else? Is this New Jersey, Sen. Rausch?

March 01. 2014 10:51PM

For people who say they want to see an increase in the state gasoline tax, state Sen. Jim Rausch and Highway boss Christopher Clement have been taking some strange routes.

Clement recently decided it was in his interest to tell the Legislature that it should not just increase the gas tax but should also bring expanded gambling to the state in the form of a new casino. Having the Department of Transportation head stick his nose into that very contentious issue was a bit startling. One would guess that Clement is carrying water for his boss, Gov. Maggie Hassan.

Even more startling was gas tax sponsor Rausch's recent peevishness with the state truckers association. That group, understandably, sees a gas (and diesel) tax increase as a direct threat to its livelihood. Its representatives said as much in testimony on Rausch's bill.

That is the truckers' right, of course. But Rausch's response was right out of the backrooms of Tammany Hall, or perhaps Chris Christie's New Jersey School of Bridge Diplomacy.

He fumed that truckers had benefited from past legislative action that raised the legal weight limit on New Hampshire roads and highways and maybe he would have to propose dropping those limits. He also said that maybe New Hampshire should increase its weight fine on our interstate highways to be as onerous as those in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Mind you, Rausch is not just any political hack talking through his hat.

He is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He carries some weight and apparently thinks he can throw it around at will. But is this really the way New Hampshire's Legislature wants to do business?

Meanwhile, we understand that Rausch will withdraw a particularly odious part of his bill, which would automatically impose future tax hikes, removing the Legislature's prerogative - and responsibility - to do so.

The Business and Industry Association was among many opposed to that undemocratic and dangerous plan. While supporting an increase in the tax, the BIA also had other concerns.

The BIA says 100 percent of any tax increase should be directed "solely to the maintenance and improvement'' of roads and bridges. It also wants the Legislature, on a biennial basis, to "assess whether current and anticipated highway fund revenues meet road and bridge infrastructure needs.''

The Legislature would be wise to address these issues before proceeding further.

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