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Hidden taxes: Legislature takes back control

May 24. 2018 8:10PM

What is a politician to do when he wants to raise taxes, but doesn’t want to face angry voters?

A creative politician might farm out the tax increase to an unelected bureaucrat. People pay more, government gets the revenue, and the politician gets to run for reelection claiming to have not voted to increase taxes.

As it approved electric restructuring in 1996, the New Hampshire Legislature included a new tax on electricity called the System Benefits Charge (SBC), which funds programs for low-income electric customers, as well as energy efficiency programs.

The Legislature does not set the rate of the SBC. That is left to the unelected officials on the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

It is a small tax, costing the average ratepayer a little more than $2 per month. Of course, large, industrial customers pay a lot more, and small margins count in a state with crippling electric rates.

In 2017, the PUC increased the SBC for the first time since 2001, prompting lawmakers to reassert their authority to set taxes and fees.

House Bill 317 would require legislative approval for any future increase in the SBC, though the Legislature agreed to leave the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, another hidden tax, in the hands of bureaucrats.

No matter the merit of programs funded by the System Benefits Charge, authority to tax New Hampshire electric bills should remain with lawmakers accountable to New Hampshire voters.


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