Opinion: Hassan's War on the NH Commuter
Hundreds of thousands of New Hampshire drivers hit the roads and highways every day. Regardless of their destination, a vast majority of residents, who are of driving age, are commuters. In 2013, the US Census Bureau estimated that over 674,000 Granite Staters used a car, truck, or van to drive to work. Countless retired and younger New Hampshire residents also use cars and trucks daily to get to school, run errands, or visit friends and family. All of the data clearly shows that Granite State families rely heavily on their vehicles.
One would hope that given this fact, our state’s chief executive would focus on policies that would benefit the hundreds of thousands of drivers who call New Hampshire home. Governor Maggie Hassan has instead been launching an all-out war on them for years.
Her first attack began in 2009 when then State Senator Hassan supported a massive hike in the cost to register a vehicle. Specifically, she supported a two-year increase in registration fees that would have equated to a new $30 per year charge for each automobile. Vehicles weighing between 5,000 and 8,000 pounds would have to pay an additional $45 per year, trucks would be assessed at even higher rates depending on weight, and registering trailers of all sizes would cost extra, too. This was the first sign of what was to come for New Hampshire drivers.
Looking for a way to climb the political ladder, Maggie Hassan decided to run for governor. While on the stump in October of 2012, she told a tourism group during a forum that, “any increase in the gas tax or tolls is unlikely in the near future.” Her position was consistent with that of former Democratic Governor John Lynch, who fought increase in the state’s gas tax during his tenure.
In hindsight, those attending the forum should have pressed Hassan to quantify her understanding of the term “near future.” In less than two years, on May 20, 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a 23% increase in the state’s gas tax into law.
The governor then shockingly signaled she might also be open to supporting efforts that would force Granite Staters to pay even more at the pump. Shortly after signing her own gas tax hike into law, a reporter from the Valley News caught up with Governor Hassan. When asked whether she thought lawmakers should raise the federal gas tax to stabilize highway funding, the governor refused to oppose additional gas tax increases from Washington. She then artfully dodged the reporter. To this day, we still do not know where Governor Hassan stands on raising in the federal gas tax, but she has not publicly opposed it.
Now that she had her state gas tax hike, was our governor finally finished with her assault on Granite State drivers? Had she proposed enough policies that would negatively target New Hampshire commuters? Regrettably, the answer was “no.”
In February of this year, Governor Hassan released her budget proposal for the 2016 – 2017 fiscal year. While it included multiple new tax increases, true to her anti-commuter record, a hike in the state’s vehicle registration fee was among them. This time, despite reports of Granite Staters paying some of the highest registration fees in the nation, she proposed an outlandish 35% increase. The New Hampshire legislature rightfully came out in opposition to Hassan’s tax-and-spend funding proposal, but she countered with a second budget proposal. Predictably, even this funding bill included a hike in vehicle registration fees. It was not until Republicans in the legislature forced her to abdicate in recent days as a budget deal was finally reached that she finally abandoned her current efforts to hike the vehicle registration fee.
Granite Staters are well aware that Governor Maggie Hassan has supported raising taxes and fees on multiple occasions to pay for her out-of-control spending. However, it has become as clear as a freshly washed windshield that she has a particular affinity towards hikes that hurt New Hampshire commuters the most. Perhaps she is pandering to the environmental extremists in her liberal base, or maybe she is working hard to keep Washington lobbyists happy as she prepares to climb up the next rung of the political ladder. Only Maggie Hassan can explain why she has decided to single out the New Hampshire taxpayers who are forced to pay more to keep their cars and trucks on the road because of her policies. Regardless of why, Governor Maggie Hassan has an indisputable record of declaring war on the commuters of this state – and regrettably, she has shown no sign of letting up on the gas peddle unless the legislature forces her to do so.
Derek Dufresne is the spokesman for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, which is a diverse, nonpartisan coalition of concerned citizens, community leaders and other stakeholders concerned with promoting and preserving strong families and a strong economy for New Hampshire.