Gas Tax Tussle: State Reps Prep for Floor Fight
Former House Speaker cries foul over supposed missing revenue spreadsheet. Bill sponsor: 'I wasn't hiding anything.'
Rep. Bill O'Brien, the former House Speaker, fired off emails Feb. 25 charging the sponsor of a bill to raise the gas tax of withholding documents from fellow legislators, namely the Republican caucus.
O'Brien (R-Mont Vernon) emailed Rep. David Campbell (D-Nashua) to challenge the bill sponsor's remarks that "every penny" of revenue raised from the gas tax increase would be dedicated to roads and bridges. O'Brien pointed to a spreadsheet he claims only certain committeemen and Democratic leaders were previously privy to. The document shows revenue going to other accounts, including general fund and "$1,251,000 to Fish & Game and $593,000 for DRED/Trails," according to O'Brien.
"This is such an unexpected (and, heretofore, undisclosed) multi-million dollar windfall (taken, of course, from the wallets of our constituents, who are already paying 50 cents more a gallon for gas since the election), that you went on to advise the Democratic leaders who received your email that they 'don't spend it all in one place,'" O'Brien emailed to Campbell.
Campbell, chairman of the House Public Works and Highways Committee, soon emailed the spreadsheet to O'Brien and offered an explanation. (Patch received copies of both lawmakers' emails.)
The projected funds to those accounts not specifically regarding roads and bridges are bound by current state law regarding the gas tax for boats, snowmobiles and off-highway recreational vehicles, he said. The law governs how unrefunded road toll revenue is distributed, Campbell said. People who buy gas for non-highway purposes may submit receipts to the state Department of Safety/Road Toll Bureau and get "a refund for the tax on the corresponding gallons of gasoline purchased."
"It's a user fee," Campbell said in a phone interview Monday night. "I wasn't hiding anything."
So what is the proposal to raise the state's gasoline tax? It would, according to the bill and Campbell:
- increase the gas tax by 4 cents per gallon in each of the next three years, and 3 cents in the fourth year, for a total of 15 cents by fiscal year 2017.
- raise just under $1 billion over 10 years.
- mean $200 million more in municipal aid for towns and cities to fix their roads and bridges.
Here is the bill as introduced. The House is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday. The version before the House includes an amendment, which would strip away language calling for any increase in the vehicle registration fee.