HOOKSETT — Count Toni Aoude among those local business owners who believe their bottom line will be adversely impacted by the 4.2-cent statewide gas tax increase that went into effect as of midnight today.
Aoude owns Global Gas Station in Londonderry and Mr. Gas Plus in Hooksett, and he’s opening up another Mr. Gas Plus in Raymond this week.
“We’re not making money off gas as it is,” he said, “and we’re going to be making even less money because we’re going to be forced to eat the 4.2 cents (per gallon) because of the competition, especially in the Manchester area, or if we go up, customers are not going to be happy and we’re going to lose business.”
Aoude said he and many of his competitors are forced to keep prices low, even if it means breaking even or losing money on gas, in an attempt to draw customers inside to purchase profit-turning items in the convenience store.
On Monday, Aoude opened up his Hooksett gas station to Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire (AFP-NH) for an organized protest against the passing of Senate Bill 367, which was signed into law on May 20.
Proponents of the bipartisan bill, such as state Sen. Jim Rausch, have touted the fact the gas increase will cost $16 a year for a driver who commutes 10,000 miles annually in a vehicle that gets 25 miles per gallon, but those protesting in Hooksett Monday said that view narrows the scope of the overall impact of the 23-percent bump, New Hampshire’s first state gas tax increase since 1992.
“I’ll tell you that in the trucking industry, it’s a whole different story,” said Tom Thomson, an outspoken anti-tax advocate who owns Thomson Timber Harvesting and Trucking, LLC, in Orford.
Thomson, honorary chairman for AFP-NH and the son of former New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thomson, said most diesel trucks operate at 3.5- to 4-miles per gallon, on an average of 64,000 miles per year. He said he’s currently paying nearly $3,300 per truck annually in gas tax alone and expects that number to rise to more than $4,000 because of today’s increase to the tax.
“That’s either going to be passed onto the consumer, or some companies are just going to eat it, and that means some will go out of business,” he said. “This is going to kill a lot of businesses and when they go out of business, what happens? Jobs are lost.”
It’s not just gas and diesel prices Thomson is worried about. He said he’s concerned with the everyday consumers who will feel most anywhere they pull out their wallets.
“Everything consumers consume moves on diesel, and it moves as many as five or six times before consumers purchase it,” he said. “That’s why you see all the increases in the grocery stores, and it’s only going to get worse.”
In addition, Thomson said he’s worried about the New Hampshire advantage, which has long included the lowest gas tax in northern New England.
“Now we’re only a couple cents less than Massachusetts. Is someone going to cross the border now for a couple cents? Probably not, unless they’re going to pick up some of our tobacco or alcohol products,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think tourism is going to be impacted, in terms of people coming into the state, but what I am concerned with is that those people may no longer be able to afford going out for one more meal or paying admission to one more of our attractions. That’s where we’ll see the impact of this.”
AFP-NH State Director Greg Moore, who helped organize Monday’s protest, said blocking a gas tax increase has long been a priority for his organization, especially when New Hampshire’s legislature was contemplating tax hikes of 12- and 18-cents per gallon, in addition to surcharges on vehicle registration.
“The total amount of this tax increase is about $65 million over a biennium, so that’s more than $30 million a year, which is a substantial amount in state like New Hampshire,” said Moore. “I mean, according to Bloomberg, we’re at a six-year gas high right now, just as we’re entering the peak summer driving season, so this is coming at precisely the wrong time for New Hampshire consumers.”
Though there’s no denying New Hampshire needs funding for it’s many backlogged highway and bridge repairs, Moore said 33 percent of the previous 18-cent gas tax was being allocated to departments such as the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Fish and Game and the the Department of Safety.
“The focus needs to be on making sure the current tax is being used for roads and bridges,” he said. “This is a public trust issue, and a government transparency issue. People ought to have the comfort of knowing their (gas tax) dollars are actually going toward our highways.”