In an email sent yesterday to the House Republican Alliance, the group of more conservative Republicans, former Speaker Bill O'Brien has made clear his intentions not only to continue to fight Democrats but to fight any moderate remnants of his own party as well.
I'm not on the HRA email list, but a paper copy was circulated throughout the State House today.
Here's what O'Brien says:
"Unfortunately there will be members of caucus leadership who think that by joining the Dems in raising taxes, they are included in the governing of NH. Fat chance. We need to be able to go to the people in 2014 as the party that did not agree to raise or increase the scores of tax and fees that the Dems will champion. The Dems will want nothing more than to dilute our brand by saying some or all these increases are bi-partisan."
O'Brien appears to be referring specifically to the proposal from Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, to raise the gasoline tax by 12 cents over three years (four cents a year). The heading for the email is "Re HB617 Increasing taxes again".
The former Speaker, who many (including I) contend did more than any single human being to defeat the New Hampshire Grand Old Party in 2012, concludes his email by urging Republican leaders to abandon moderation. He writes, "Let's try to convince the moderate members of our caucus not to go along and let's make sure that all of us HRA members avoid the Dems' siren call of legislative relevance this term as reason to join them in raising taxes."
Believe it or not, I tend to agree with the former speaker, at least on raising taxes and fees. That's why I posed a question on the floor last week challenging the wisdom of a 25 percent increase in the tax on home heating oil.
Democrats don't need any Republicans to pass their gas tax increase, but it'll be interesting to see how many O'Brien convinces not to go along with the tax.
I'm somewhat in the middle on this one because I tend to look at the gas tax more of a true user fee than an onerous tax. The more you drive, the more you "use" the roads; so you should probably be paying more for upkeep. It seems to me to be a fairer way to raise money for road and bridge repairs than sharply increasing car registrations. After all, you need to register your car whether you drive 1000 or 10,000 miles a year; thus, the inherent unfairness.
Bottom line--the gas tax is about the only one I'll consider increasing, but only with certain provisions and probably not the full 12 cents.
O'Brien seems to be telling the HRA, probably about half of House Republicans, to just say no to any increase. The originator of the opposition to the gas tax increase has written, “HB617 will increase the gas tax 65 percent over four years; and increase registrations 30 percent in three years. These taxes will hit the poor and lower income people the hardest, those with little discretionary income, if any. It is illogical and irresponsible to balance increased spending on the backs of those who can ill afford it.”
Included is a revelation of strategy, "They will pass it in PW, then table it on the house floor and put in the budget. There is a Republican sponsor: McConkey."
The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 10:30a.m. in the Public Works Committee (LOB 201). Who chairs Public Works, you may ask.
That would be David Campbell.