By John Toole
---- — CONCORD — A revised proposal to increase the gas tax by 12 cents easily cleared the House yesterday, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, criticized the tax hike plan during the two hours of debate.
“We’re supposed to be for the little people,” Baldasaro said. “You’re taxing them left and right.”
The proposed tax hike also potentially pushes New Hampshire’s tax beyond that of neighboring Massachusetts, leaving New Hampshire at a competitive disadvantage, he said.
“The New Hampshire advantage, slowly but surely, goes out the window,” Baldasaro said.
The proposal is 3 cents less than the 15-cent hike approved in the House three weeks ago. Even so, there’s a tough road ahead when the bill moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.
GOP leaders there have said they oppose raising the gas tax and would prefer to fund highway improvements by licensing a casino.
The latest proposal calls for phasing the hike in the 18-cent-a-gallon tax over three years for regular fuel and six years for diesel.
Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, chairman of Public Works and Highways, led the fight in the House.
He said 3 cents would fund completion of the Interstate 93 widening and repairs to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Portsmouth.
Another 2.5 cents would go to municipal projects, 3.5 cents for state bridges and highways, and 3 cents for maintenance and preservation work.
Campbell argued the tax increase is far smaller than gas price swings consumers regularly see at the pumps and is necessary for infrastructure improvements, jobs and the economy.
“When the roof leaks in your home, you do not ignore it,” Campbell said. “You fix it.”
Rep. Patricia Lovejoy, D-Stratham, assured House members the money will go into highways and bridges, not other purposes. Spreading the diesel increase over six years would help business, she said.
“For the trucking industry, it’s very important,” Lovejoy said.
Proponents said a motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 22 miles to the gallon would pay about $65 more per year.
Rep. Kevin Waterhouse, R-Windham, argued that consumers are hurt more by price swings in the market.
“The price of gasoline is what does that, not the tax,” Waterhouse said.
But Rep. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, disagreed with the notion consumers wouldn’t suffer, predicting more families will need food stamps.
“Stand up for our middle class and poor families,” Rideout told the House. “I believe any (representative) who votes for this tax deserves to be fired.”
House Republican Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, asked the House to reject the tax hike.
“A gas tax is simply growing government on the backs of taxpayers,” Chandler said.
Rep. Andrew Renzullo, R-Hudson, who represents Pelham, predicted the tax hike won’t make it through the Senate.
“The real irony is the folks across the hall are going to kill this bill,” Renzullo said. “The bleeding will have been for nothing.”