By John Toole
---- — Looks like last call is coming early for a proposed increase in New Hampshire’s beer tax.
But the Statehouse could be heading toward an old-fashioned, barroom brawl over a gas tax increase.
Gov. Maggie Hassan yesterday said she will veto the beer tax hike if it comes to her desk.
“She feels that raising the beer tax would negatively impact the economy and hurt New Hampshire brewers, small and large, who are important employers throughout the state,” Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said yesterday.
But Hassan didn’t rule out increasing the gas tax to fund highway work, setting up a possible conflict with Republican legislative leaders.
Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, is proposing raising the gas tax 4 cents a gallon in each of the next three years to pay for highway work, including finishing the Interstate 93 widening project. The tax is now 18 cents a gallon.
The proposals to hike the beer tax and gas tax are both in trouble in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I do not think that any tax hike from the House will be warmly received in the Senate, the beer tax included,” Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, said yesterday. “The overall sentiment is this is not the time to be raising taxes on New Hampshire families.”.
One senator was ready to drink to Hassan’s opposition to the beer tax hike.
“Perhaps Gov. Hassan and I should go have a beer and celebrate that we both oppose an increase in the beer tax,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said. “I hope the governor takes a similar view of the proposed gas tax hike.”
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said the beer tax bill has no chance of passage in the Senate.
“We’re not going to tax and spend our way out of our budget problem,” Morse said.
Morse also intends to oppose an increase in the gas tax.
“I will not support it,” he said.
The beer tax hike, sponsored by Reps. Charles Weed, D-Keene, and Richard Eaton, D-Greenville, would raise the beer tax 33 percent, from 30 to 40 cents a gallon.
An estimated $4.3 million in revenue generated by their proposal would be put aside for prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse.
But brewers, distributors and grocers are fighting House Bill 168 because they say it could hurt sales and the state economy, negatively affecting consumers, the workforce and state coffers.
In Southern New Hampshire, there is concern that a beer tax hike would curtail spending by Massachusetts shoppers driving across the border for better prices.
The bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Committee that oversees state tax policy.
Hassan’s threatened veto was greeted positively in the business community.
“That’s wonderful,” said John Dumais, president of the New Hampshire Grocers Association. “The governor ran on a pledge of no additional taxes and she is keeping her promise there.”
Hassan also is showing she understands the major impact on consumer buying power when taxes are raised, as well as how an increase can hurt businesses, he said.
Hassan’s opposition also pleased beer distributors.
“We’re pleased that Gov. Hassan is committed to protecting the ‘New Hampshire Advantage’ and understands how significantly this tax might negatively affect jobs and the local economy,” said Scott Schaier, executive director of the Beer Distributors of New Hampshire.